Ringa Hangarau Koiora
Biotechnologists use their knowledge of living organisms to create new animal or plant-based products such as pest-resistant crops and pharmaceuticals.
Biotechnologists usually earn
$55K-$75K per year
Senior biotechnologists usually earn
$76K-$130K per year
Source: NZBIO & Universities New Zealand, 'University Staff Academic Salaries and Remuneration', 2012.
Pay for biotechnologists earns depends on their qualifications and experience.
- Biotechnologists with Bachelor's degrees usually start on $40,000-$55,000 a year.
- Those with Master’s degrees usually earn around $55,000-$75,000 a year.
- Senior biotechnologists, who have PhDs, may earn $76,000-$94,000 a year.
- With more responsibility and experience, pay could rise to about $130,000 a year or more.
Source: NZBIO, 2016.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)
What you will do
Biotechnologists may do some or all of the following:
- study the genetic make-up of plants, animals, humans and micro-organisms
- study micro-organisms such as bacteria, fungi, yeast, and their enzymes
- use cellular and molecular techniques to produce novel crops that are more resistant to disease or have increased productivity
- develop and test methods of making new products
- meet with clients to discuss problems and propose solutions using biotechnology
- monitor production trends and data
- work out budget and production costs, and prepare funding or patent applications
- participate in intellectual property negotiations related to their field of expertise.
Skills and knowledge
Biotechnologists need to have:
- knowledge of biochemistry, microbiology, molecular biology and physics
- an understanding of industrial processes
- knowledge of safety procedures relating to the hazardous substances they use
- an understanding of statutory and ethical responsibilities relating to genetic engineering
- practical skills for performing experiments and operating scientific equipment
- skill in analysing and interpreting research results
- ability to communicate complex research findings to a range of audiences
- writing skills, for writing reports or proposals.
- usually work regular business hours, but they may also need to work weekends and evenings to complete experiments or reports
- work in laboratories and offices at a range of places, including plants, factories and research organisations
- may need to travel locally and internationally to meet with clients or attend conferences
- may work with hazardous chemicals or in noisy environments.
What's the job really like?
Leading the world in meat research
“In the meat area, New Zealand is pretty much leading the world. This is where it's happening," says senior food engineer and biotechnologist Dr Mike North.
His work at AgResearch's Meat Industry Research Institute of New Zealand (MIRINZ) contributes to one of New Zealand's key export industries.
"My focus is on developing innovations in meat processing and transport technology to help get the products to the marketplace in the right condition."
Juggling 10 projects keeps Mike busy
As well as managing a team of 27 researchers, Mike juggles up to 10 projects at a time. Most days he runs experiments and analyses data, then meets with project teams to discuss results and brainstorm solutions.
He is passionate about this problem-solving part of the job. "The biggest rush is when you solve a problem, think of a way around an issue, or exploit some opportunity. When you do it in a smart way, that's when it's really exciting."
Not just lab work
Mike and his team aren't always locked away in their labs – a major part of their work involves dealing with their clients. "We have to build good relationships with them, understand their problems and what opportunities they want to take advantage of."
Hannah Liddy talks about life as a Biotechnologist – 1.44 mins.
I work in production where we’re purifying proteins from bovine plasma on quite a large scale. The purified proteins are used to manufacture animal and human vaccines, biologics and diagnostics.
Every day when I come to work I get to do practical science. On an average day in production we’ll be making buffers, running filtrations, filtering the plasma and running it through chromatography columns to extract the protein.
A lot of my day is monitoring people’s progress and making sure all the processes are running smoothly.
I think one of the most important skills to be a good biotechnologist is to have really good attention to detail. We follow manufacturing instructions and we can’t miss out any steps.
I found biotechnology interesting because it’s to do with the living animals and plants rather than just chemicals.
I studied a Bachelor of Science at Otago. MP Biomedicals was advertising for science graduates with a life science degree.
If you’re interested in a degree in biotechnology and you enjoy science in Year 9 and 10, definitely choose biology, chemistry, physics, maths as your subjects for NCEA. Also don’t be afraid to take on extracurricular activities like science fairs, problem-solving competitions, maths competitions because they’ll really get you thinking and get you mixing with like-minded people.
I think the coolest thing about my work is, the work we do will eventually go on to help improve people’s lives.
To become a biotechnologist you need to have one of the following qualifications as a minimum:
- Bachelor of Science majoring in biochemistry, genetics, molecular biosciences, food technology, or plant biotechnology
- Bachelor of Engineering majoring in biotechnology
- Bachelor of Technology majoring in biotechnology, industrial bioscience, biochemical engineering or food technology.
However, a Masters or Doctorate in biotechnology or a relevant field is important for most research jobs.
A tertiary entrance qualification is needed to enter further training. NCEA Level 3 calculus, biology, maths, chemistry and physics are preferred.
Biotechnologists need to be:
- patient and persevering
- investigative and enquiring
- creative and innovative
- good at problem-solving
- good at planning and organising.
In biotechnology research we need people who are highly skilled technically, but they also have to be honest, have a positive attitude and be able to work well in a team. These soft skills are the most important personal attributes to have in the job.
Dr Mike North
Useful experience for biotechnologists includes:
- laboratory work
- research work
- work in quality control
- business-related work.
Find out more about training
- Engineering New Zealand
- (04) 473 9444 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.engineeringnz.org
- Institute of Environmental Science and Research Ltd (ESR)
- (04) 914 0700 - email@example.com - www.esr.cri.nz
- NZ Biotechnology Industry Organisation (NZBio)
- (04) 916 1243 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.nzbio.org.nz
- NZ Institute of Food Science and Technology (NZIFST)
- (06) 356 1686 - email@example.com - www.nzifst.org.nz/index.asp
What are the chances of getting a job?
Biotechnology is a growing field and there are good opportunities for people developing human and animal products because of the need to find solutions to global challenges such as climate change, food sustainability and nutrition, and combatting disease.
Most opportunities in human wellness and animal-based bioscience areas
Biotechnologists work in many different areas, but your chances of getting a job are best if you work in one of the major areas. These are:
- human wellness — for example, developing health-promoting foods
- animal-based bioscience — for example, developing veterinary medicines.
Although this work is spread across New Zealand, almost a quarter of the opportunities are based in the Auckland and Northland regions.
Types of employers varied
Biotechnologists work in:
- private biotechnology companies
- food production companies
- crown research institutes
- private research institutes.
- Barker, W, chief executive officer, NZBIO, Careers New Zealand interview, April 2016.
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, 'Biotechnologist Occupation Outlook', 2016, (www.mbie.govt.nz).
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2006-2014 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2015.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)
Last updated 5 September 2018