Lab Test

Who can become a biotechnologist? Koustubh Panda gives you a handy checklist

  • Published 10.07.18
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Did you ever dream of assuming control over the process of "life" by mastering the molecular or biochemical switches that run it? Or perhaps your dream is to relieve human suffering from diseases? Then you should consider a career in biotechnology.

As a futuristic technology expected to revolutionise life, biotechnology ranks right at the top, alongside emerging fields such as artificial intelligence. Before enrolling for a course in it, however, you need to understand what the subject is all about and whether, based on your academic and professional capabilities and preferences, it is the right fit for you.

Biotechnology involves improving or manipulating existing biological processes - or creating new ones - to improve the quality of life. For example, a technology to help diabetics produce more insulin (sparing them the pain of insulin injections) or to help a plant resist pests or adverse climatic conditions. Generating biogas out of manure is technically not biotechnology, though it is referred to as such in some institutes.

Strong intuition, focus and perseverance are essential to do well in this field. Being an incorrigible optimist helps as your scientific quest may not only be inordinately long but also infested with obstacles. You should have an innate curiosity about natural processes, too.

Degree dilemma

Everyone who has studied Biology by rote is really not meant to be a biotechnologist.

If you want to study Biotechnology at the master's level, you need to graduate in any life science or applied science subject. If you want to study the subject after Plus Two, opt for a four-year BTech or a five-year integrated MSc programme. It is best to avoid a BSc in Biotechnology. Most academic experts feel that as Biotechnology requires a strong interdisciplinary knowledge of Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics and Biology, one needs to acquire a solid base in these subjects at the bachelor's level before learning the art of mixing them and using them effectively as a problem-solving technological tool.

It is essential that you choose an institution of repute to do your course from, because this is a research-based subject and poor training can ruin your chances of getting a job.

Also, a master's degree may not be sufficient to climb the professional ladder; one would also require a PhD. This is largely due to increasing competition in the job market, rather than the unfounded belief that a doctoral student is better able to manage a research assignment than a postgraduate.

So how do you get a PhD degree in Biotechnology? Earlier, all you needed was a supervisor willing to take you on, but now you have to qualify either the NET (National Eligibility Test) or a RET (Research Eligibility Test) conducted by the concerned university. If you can also ace tests conducted by the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India (DBT-BET), or the Indian Council of Medical Research, you will win a scholarship (about Rs 25,000 per month for a junior research fellow and Rs 28,000 for a senior research fellow).

To pursue a PhD in the US, you have to appear for the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) and, preferably, have some research experience. Most European institutes have a direct admission procedure where evaluation is mostly on the basis of academic achievements and recommendations.

Work opportunities

The fast-growing biotech industry in India needs well-trained personnel. The industry is expected to turn into a major source of employment by 2020.

We need capable teachers to train potential candidates if we have to stake our claim in the global biotech market.

More and more institutes are starting courses in Biotechnology, but there is a lack of good teachers. Teaching, therefore, is an option worth exploring. The revised salary for college and university teachers is now handsome. To be eligible to teach, one has to qualify the NET. Visit the UGC website ( www.ugc.ac.in) for details.

Biotechnology will not only create jobs in India, it can also revolutionise the economy. All we need are dedicated biotechnologists who will carry the baton forward.

The writer is a professor in the department of Biotechnology, Calcutta University

TOP INSTITUTES 

• Department of Biological Sciences and Bioengineering, Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur
https://www.iitk.ac.in/bsbe/

• Department of Biosciences and Bioengineering, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay  
http://www.bio.iitb.ac.in/

• School of Biotechnology, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi 
https://www.jnu.ac.in/sbt 

• Department of Biotechnology, University of Hyderabad
http://www.uohyd.ac.in/index.php/academics/2011-10-27-18-38-04/school-of-life-sciences/dept-biotechnology 

• Department of Biochemical Engineering and Biotechnology, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi
http://beb.iitd.ac.in/

• Department of Biotechnology and Dr. B. C. Guha Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, University of Calcutta 
http://www.caluniv.ac.in/academic/department/Biotechnology.html\

• School of Biotechnology, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi  
http://www.bhu.ac.in/science/biotechnology/

• School of Biotechnology, Madurai Kamaraj University  
http://www.biotechmku.org/ 

• Department of Biotechnology, Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati 
https://www.iitg.ac.in/biotech/

• Department of Biotechnology, Savitribai Phule Pune University
http://www.unipune.ac.in/dept/science/biotechnology/default.htm

FOR DOCTORAL STUDIES 

• Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore
https://www.iisc.ac.in/

• National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore
https://www.ncbs.res.in/ 

• International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, New Delhi  
https://www.icgeb.org/home-nd.html

• Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai
http://www.tifr.res.in/

• National Institute of Immunology, New Delhi
http://www.nii.res.in/

(Institutes have been picked by the writer)

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