How do I Earn a Biotechnology PhD?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 07 December 2018
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Earning a biotechnology PhD helps prepare people to undertake top-level jobs in this diverse field, which includes work in the pharmaceutical industry, agriculture, genetics, and other areas. Like most doctoral programs, rigorous studies are required to complete a PhD. Students also need to be well prepared for program entry, though each school may have slightly different entry requirements.

One of the first questions about admission prerequisites is the type of major and degree needed to apply to biotechnology PhD program. Schools may have specific undergraduate degree requirements and usually expect students to have majored in subjects like biology or biochemistry. Other majors in the sciences might be permissible if applicants have significant work in genetics, biochemistry, and calculus. Some doctoral programs will admit students with only an undergraduate degree, and other programs may prefer students who have completed a master’s degree in biotechnology or fields like biochemistry.


In addition to meeting major and degree requirements, students usually have to have strong grades, particularly in their major. Schools may call for two to three letters of recommendation attesting to the student’s fitness for doctoral studies. These might be either professional, if an applicant has worked in the sciences, or academic, if a person is still in school. Standardized testing, like the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), both general and subject, is a requirement of many schools as well. Additional requirements include proving language competency if attending a school in a country with a language other than the primary one, and strong statements of purpose or examples of academic writing.

Before applying to a school, people need to give some thought to the program's focus and what they plan to do with a biotechnology PhD. Some schools are specifically oriented toward certain applications of biotechnology like pharmaceutical research and development. If people aren’t sure what they’ll do with a degree, they may want to look at schools that have more general programs offering a range of study possibilities. Those who have specific goals might search for specific programs that will most address interests.

Applicants who get accepted to a biotechnology PhD program can expect years of hard work to complete the degree. Though variable, most students take about four to seven years to finish a program, and will have numerous requirements to fill in order to earn a doctorate. Several years of classes, which combine required work and elective studies are needed, and students often have to fulfill teaching or research requirements, for which they may be paid, as part of the degree.

Significant focus is given to the dissertation, on which work usually begins after coursework is completed. This is an extensive research project that typically takes a couple of years or more to complete. Faculty must approve it upon completion, and students must defend their work in a public venue. After successful approval of the dissertation and completion of all other degree requirements, the student earns the biotechnology PhD.



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