What to Study

Degrees Explained: Biotechnology

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, where the company has invested US$120 million in biotechnology. Source: Joseph Prezioso/AFP

Modern biotechnology provides products and technology to combat rare diseases, reduce our environmental footprint, feed the hungry, use cleaner energy and have safer industrial manufacturing processes. These are just a sampling. Another recent example? The race to produce the coronavirus vaccines in one year when it usually takes between 10 to 15 years.

The global biotechnology market value is expected to reach US$727.1 billion by 2025; revenue for this industry reached US$108.2 billion in 2020. This which goes to show it’s a hot market to be in for the long run. That includes women scientists too, judging by the progress made in bridging the gender gap in STEM, slow as it may be.


Tharmaceutical plant Recipharm, chosen by the American biotech Moderna to produce part of its candidate vaccine against COVID-19 in France. Source: Guillaume Souvant/AFP

Take South African Angela Hwang for instance, the Group President of the Pfizer Biopharmaceuticals Group. She received her BSc in Microbiology and Biochemistry from the University of Capetown and went on to get her MBA at Cornell University. As Fortune’s “Most Powerful Women of 2020,” her leadership role spans oncology, inflammation and immunology, rare disease, vaccines, and many more.

So what exactly does a degree in biotechnology entail and what does it take to follow in her world-changing footsteps? Below we take a look at what you need, what you will study and what jobs you can get:

Entry requirements

To get your BSc in Biotechnology, you need a minimum of an A in Chemistry, A in Biology, Maths or Physics and an A in another subject for your A Levels. With the International Baccalaureate, a minimum of 38 points is required. As well as excelling in all things science, you have to prove your English language proficiency too.

Course details

This varies from one programme to another but most BSc programmes are three years long. The first year would be learning about the core modules of biological chemistry, cell biology, enzymes, metabolism and molecular biology. Next the fundamentals of molecular biochemistry, genes and genomics, integrative cell biology, and protein science.

The final year would be to learn about science communication and to work on your dissertation. It would also include a research project that would mean practical work in a lab and/or field-based.

Jobs you can get


The E. coli (EHEC) bacteria under the microscope, part of the work of a microbiologist. Source: Manfred Rohde/AFP

The field of biotechnology is broad and goes beyond the initial drug development frontier. Some of these fields include: research and development, manufacturing, software engineering, and the list goes on.

Some of the most popular jobs include biochemist with a median pay of US$91,190, business development manager with an average yearly salary of US$113,769 or a microbiologist with a median annual pay of US$69,960.