B.Tech in Biotechnology

Biotechnology started with a big bang in India a few decades back. Touted as the next big thing, B.Tech Biotechnology courses attracted a lot of eager students interested in research oriented careers such as genetic engineering, stem cell biology, drug discovery etc. However, this field’s popularity started waning due to the lack of job opportunities and research prospects in India. Placements were negligible and most biotech students ended up in software and IT companies. However, for the past few years, research and development in biotechnology has been picking up momentum in India with more public grants and funding being allocated for setting up national institutes in India for the purpose of conducting high quality research and development, specifically in areas such as stem cells, neuroscience, genetics, molecular biology and bioinformatics. However, the opportunities abroad have always been tremendous for this field and many students who pursue higher studies in biotech and related fields find fulfilling careers in countries such as the US, UK, Australia, Singapore and Canada. If you are contemplating on majoring in this field for your undergraduate studies, then read on to discover the realm of biotechnology in-depth.

Biotechnology is a highly interdisciplinary field that combines biological sciences with engineering technologies to manipulate living organisms and biological systems to produce products that advances healthcare, medicine, agriculture, food, pharmaceuticals and the environment. Biotechnology can be classified into two broad categories: R&D in biological sciences and industrial processes. The biological sciences aspect deals with research and development in areas such as microbiology, cell biology, genetics, molecular biology etc. for understanding the occurrence and treatment of diseases, development of agriculture and food production and many more. Most of the R&D work in biological sciences is carried out in the laboratory. The industrial processes aspect deals with the production of drugs, vaccines, biofuels and pharmaceuticals on an industrial scale using biochemical processes and techniques.

A B.Tech degree in biotechnology exposes students to both the biological sciences and industrial processes aspects of biotechnology, thereby giving students a well rounded education with skill sets to work in both labs and industries alike. Apart from learning about the basic biological sciences subjects, modern biotechnology subjects such as genetic engineering, stem cells and bioinformatics are also covered in the curriculum. The foundation for biotechnology lies in the basic sciences - mathematics, physics, biology and chemistry. A strong foundation in the basic sciences will help students grasp the sciences and engineering principles and concepts with relative ease.

Since this field is highly research oriented, most core companies prefer students with an M.Tech or PhD in a specialized field of biotechnology. For this reason, most biotech students pursue their higher studies either abroad or in India. Not many universities in the United States offer biotechnology as a program. Even if they do, it is usually master’s and not PhD. The number of US universities offering a PhD in biotech is very few and limited in number. What they instead do is cover biotechnology principles, concepts and techniques under courses such as biological sciences, biomedical sciences, bioengineering and chemical engineering. For this reason, Indian students usually specialize in fields such as biological sciences (cell biology, molecular biology, cell and developmental biology, genetics etc.), bioinformatics, biochemical engineering and bioprocess engineering for their higher studies. Considering how research oriented this field is, even a master’s degree will not be sufficient for a biotech student to move ahead in their career, especially within the biological sciences fields. If you are very ambitious and keen on climbing up the ladder in biotechnology, then it is imperative that you get a doctorate degree.

Apart from Biotechnology, many universities in India offer courses such as biological engineering, biochemical engineering, bioinformatics and biomedical engineering. Following is a brief explanation for each of these fields

Biochemical engineering: This is a subdiscipline of biotechnology (and chemical engineering) that primarily deals with the development and operation of equipments such as bioreactors and biochemical processes such as cell culture processes, separation processes etc. to convert raw materials into useful, high quality products such as biofuels, antibiotics and pharmaceutical drugs. This field is mathematics, physics and engineering intensive.

Bioinformatics: This is another sub discipline of computer science as it involves the combination of computer science, mathematics, statistics and engineering to store, maintain, organize, process and analyze biological and chemical data in order to advance medicine and healthcare. The data is of the form of DNA sequencing and protein coordinates, to name a few. Presently, this is a very hot field and United States is at the forefront of research and development in bioinformatics. This field is heavy in programming, database management, statistics and probability, mathematical modeling, algorithm development etc and the biology requirements are a strong understanding of fields such as genetics, genomics and molecular biology.

Biomedical engineering: Biomedical engineering is a field of it’s own and is based on the fundamentals of engineering, mathematics, physics and biological sciences. Biomedical engineering combines mathematics, physics, engineering principles (electrical, electronics and mechanical engineering) and basic biological sciences (biochemistry, immunology, molecular biology) to develop devices and products that advances medicine and healthcare. Some of the best innovations of this field are non invasive medical devices, robotic surgeries and prosthetics, to name a few. Many biotech students who are interested in seeing their research being turned into a product or medical device that significantly impacts human lives will enjoy this course.

Biological engineering: A few universities in India offer a program called biological engineering which has the same curriculum as biotechnology. Therefore, before you apply to this program, please look at the curriculum to see what it is all about.

Industrial biotechnology: This is simply just another name for biotechnology courses. Many Indian colleges offer biotech courses titled as industrial biotechnology but there is really no difference between a B.Tech in Biotechnology or a B.Tech in Industrial Biotechnology.

B.Tech: A B.Tech degree in biotechnology, which is of 4 years duration, is offered by numerous private and government universities across India.

Integrated M.Tech: This is a 5-year dual degree course and offered by the IITs and a few other universities. IIT Madras offers a B.Tech and M.Tech in biotechnology. IIT Delhi offers a B.Tech and M.Tech in biochemical engineering and biotechnology.

Many students wonder if they should go for an integrated dual degree course or do their B.Tech and then follow it up with an M.Tech. If you have secured admission in an integrated M.Tech degree from universities such as the IITs or NITs, then it is highly recommended that you take it up as an M.Tech degree gives you significant research experience, which is imperative for a career in biotechnology. You will have a greater chance of being hired by prestigious core companies and you will get a much better pay package when compared with B.Tech students. If you are interested in pursuing further studies abroad, you will have a greater chance to be fully funded and secure admissions to top-tier universities. However, there are plenty of relatively unknown private universities that offer these types of programs which may not be good in quality. So, please research thoroughly on the university before enrolling in such programs.

First year of engineering is devoted to fundamental subjects and an introduction to other engineering disciplines as well . You will be studying physics, chemistry, mathematics, engineering drawing, electronics, engineering mechanics, civil engineering, introduction to computing etc.

Second year comprises of core courses from biological sciences and chemical engineering fields such as cell biology, biochemistry, microbiology, fluid mechanics & heat transfer, molecular biology & genetics, thermodynamics, process calculations and mass transfer.

Third year introduces more core courses such as bioreaction engineering, fundamentals of bioprocess engineering, genetic engineering, engineering economics and accountancy, advanced bioprocess engineering, bioprocess control and instrumentation, downstream processing in biotechnology and two elective subjects. The elective subjects are great for you to start figuring out where you want to specialize within biotechnology for your further studies or career.

Fourth year includes courses related to management, patent rights and economics such as industrial management, bioethics, biosafety and IPR issues and a couple of core subjects such as bioinformatics, modeling and simulation of bioprocesses, bioprocess plant design along with a few electives. There will be a final year project/thesis which might stretch from six months to one full year based on the university’s curriculum and you can do your project in any specialized area of biotechnology that you are interested. If you are planning to do your final year project in a biological sciences field such as molecular biology or plant biotechnology, be assured that these experiments take time and may result in a lot of errors for students who are being exposed to research for the first time in their lives. For this reason alone, it is important that you do your project for a full year instead of just 6 months. If your university allocates only the last 6 months for the final year project, you can start laying down the groundwork and logistics right from the beginning of the final year and not wait until the last semester begins.

Considering that there is no proper accredited ranking system for engineering in India, we chose to use a popular world ranking system to find universities in India that are recognised globally for their work in biotechnology. The QS World University Rankings are annual university rankings published by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) which provides overall rankings as well as ranking for individual subjects. The QS World University Rankings is regarded as one of the three most influential and widely observed international university rankings, along with the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and the Academic Ranking of World Universities. Since there was no ranking available for biotechnology, we chose to bring to you universities ranked highly for biological sciences worldwide. The following universities from India appeared in the QS world ranking for top 200 universities in the world for biological sciences.

  • IISc, Bangalore

The following universities from India appeared in the QS world ranking for top 200 universities in Asia for biological sciences. (In no particular order)

  • IISc, Bangalore
  • IIT Kanpur
  • Pune University
  • Calcutta University

Apart from the above mentioned universities, other prestigious universities in India such as the NITs, BITs Pilani, Delhi University, JNU, TIFR etc are renowned for biotechnology and biological sciences. If you are unable to get a seat in any one of the above mentioned universities or reputed state government funded colleges within your state, then try working with professors in these prestigious universities for your internships and final year projects. This will give you the much needed high quality research experience, which is imperative for admissions to top-tier universities across the world for master’s and PhD studies.

Following is a set of facts about this field that every biotech student must be aware of. They are as follows

  • Biotechnology is based on the fundamentals of the basic sciences - biology, mathematics, physics and chemistry. Therefore, you have to be good in these fields in order to excel in biotechnology and allied areas.
  • If you are planning to specialize in the biological sciences aspect of biotechnology such as genetic engineering or molecular biology, then be prepared to do a LOT of intensive reading. Also, biological experiments require a lot of patience and perseverance as they are time and labor intensive.
  • If you are planning to specialize in the engineering aspect of biotechnology such as bioprocess engineering or chemical engineering, then be prepared to do a lot of engineering work related to mathematics and physics.
  • The number of job openings for biotechnology in India is not as high as the software and IT industry. The same applies for the pay packages as well, specifically in research institutions. This is something that you must be very aware of before taking this course. If you are working in the engineering aspects of biotech, then your pay will be higher when compared with R&D in biological sciences.
  • There are very few core companies in India and most of them go only to prestigious institutions such as the IITs, DU for campus placements. If your college is not nationally reputed, then chances of any core companies coming for placements sessions will be next to nil.
  • Biotechnology R&D scene in India is still developing and will take time to catch up with other leading nations such as USA and UK in terms of breakthroughs and innovations. For this purpose, many students go abroad for their higher studies as the opportunities and prospects are tremendous in developed nations.
  • In the United States, very few universities offer a course titled as biotechnology. So, dont be alarmed if you don’t find many courses with that name. Instead, students usually do their masters/PhD in areas such as biomedical sciences, bioinformatics, biological sciences, biomedical engineering, bioprocess engineering, biochemical engineering etc where biotechnology concepts and techniques will be covered as part of the curriculum.
  • If you are ambitious and want to make a name for yourself in this field, then it is imperative that you get a PhD. This field is highly research oriented and even students with a master’s degree can only go upto a certain level. Beyond that, they need a PhD to start their own research lab or lead a team of researchers, be it in industry or in universities and research institutions.
  • To know more about this field, please read this interview.

PCM-Biology/Biotechnology will be perfect for this field. If you are a PCM-Computer science and interested in taking up biotechnology in college, you can still do so as the eligibility criteria for the engineering course is physics, chemistry and mathematics in 11th & 12th. Also, engineering courses in college start everything from the basics, so don’t worry about not being able to catch up with biology related subjects.

Jobs: Unlike software and IT industry, biotech sector does not have plenty of job openings. Also, India is still in the developmental stage in terms of research and development, innovations and breakthroughs in this field. If you take a look at the placement statistics of many universities, you will find very few core biotechnology companies coming for placement sessions. If your college is not nationally reputed, then forget seeing any core company for placements. However, presently things are looking up and there is a lot of momentum happening in this space with more government funding being allocated to biotech, specifically in areas such as biomedical and biological sciences. More labs and national research institutes are being set up and a lot of skilled biologists and biotechnologists trained abroad are coming back to establish their own research labs in India. Presently, biotechnology students find jobs in the following sectors: pharmaceuticals, biological sciences research institutions, healthcare, banking and software. Following is a list of companies that hire biotech students from these sectors.

Pharmaceuticals: Biocon, IFGL Bioceramics Limited, Orbees medical, Invitrogen, Glaxosmithkline, Reliance life sciences, CTS life sciences, Dr.Reddy’s labs, Cipla, Jubilant life sciences, Wockhardt, Torrent pharma, Cadila healthcare and Ranbaxy.

Universities and research institutions: IISC, TIFR, IITs and IISERs.

Research institution: Center for Cell and Molecular Biology (CSIR - CCMB), Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), CSIR - Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (CSIR-IGIB), National Institute of Plant Genome Research (NIPGR), National Institute of Oceanography ( NIO), National Brain Research Centre (NBRC) , National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), National Chemical Laboratories (NCL), National Centre for Cell Science (NCCS), Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology ( RGCB), Institute of Microbial Technology (CSIR-IMTech) , MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), National Institute of Immunology (NII), AU-KBC research centre, Centre for Stem Cell Research (CSCR).

Healthcare: Cerner corporation, Unitedhealth Group.

Some of the above mentioned companies only hire M.Tech or MSc students as opposed to a fresh B.Tech graduate as they need students with significant research experience and some of the jobs in these core companies, specifically pharmaceuticals, may be more towards sales, marketing, management and little to do with innovation, research and development. Apart from the core sectors, many students get hired by banking, consulting and software companies. Bangalore and Hyderabad have a lot of small biotech companies that students can try finding jobs in. However, if you want to increase your chances of getting a good job, it is highly recommended that you get a master’s or a doctorate degree.

Salaries: Salaries in pharmaceutical companies are higher than that of research labs and universities. However, please keep in mind that biotechnology salaries are nowhere as high as software, IT or banking salaries and this is something you must be aware as plenty of biotech students tend to get disillusioned after seeing their CS and IT peers making way more money than them.

Studies: Due to the lack of good job oppurtunities in India, many biotech students pursue higher studies abroad in places such as USA, UK, Canada, Singapore and Australia. Many students do their master’s or PhD in areas such as biomedical sciences, biological sciences, bioinformatics, bioprocess engineering, biological engineering, biochemical engineering etc. Some also do their MBA in healthcare management or just a regular MBA. Plenty of students also go for direct PhD right after the completion of their B.Tech studies. For detailed information on the various higher studies opportunities in Biotechnology, please read this article.

United States and other nations: Very vulnerable. The 2008 recession that plagued the United States resulted in plenty of budget cuts in education and research. Since public institutions are the largest provider of grants and funding to american universities, many colleges had to scale back on hiring more PhD students and postdocs for work. Masters students had very little chances of being funded and many PhD students had difficulty finding jobs and therefore had to extend their PhD studies. Presently, as of 2014, things are looking up and the grant and funding flow is slowly getting back on track.

India: The 2008 recession in the United States and subsequently worldwide did not affect the biotech and pharmaceutical sector as much as software, banking and the IT industry in India. However, in the past few years, the Indian government has set up up many public research institutes committed towards high quality research in biotechnology, specifically in biological and biomedical sciences. Also, the past 4-5 years have seen quite a large number of USA/UK trained Indian biologists who have migrated back to India to set up their own research labs and the Indian government is tapping into this talent pool by allocating more funds and grants to biotech research. For more information on this, please read this interview.