5 Misconceptions About Being a Biotechnologist

On April 13th, Dr. Hwei Huih Lee of the University of Hong Kong attended OWN Academy’s OFFx Beijing career fair as a speaker to share her experiences as a biotechnologist with students from the Western Academy of Beijing (WAB) and the International School of Beijing (ISB). Did her account of her experiences change the students’ preconceived notions about a career in biotechnology? Let’s find out.

Myth #1: Biotechnologists always work in labs.

The stereotypical image of a person in a white lab coat working with high-tech machines and mixing hazardous chemicals together in flasks is probably the first thing that comes to everybody’s mind whenever they picture a scientist. And Dr. Lee was no different. Back when she was a student, she also pictured herself working in a lab all day. However, as a biotechnologist, she was surprised to find herself doing a lot of fieldwork, collecting samples in forests and seas, observing animal behavior, and studying plants. 

Myth #2: Only science-related subjects will be useful in the field.

Dr. Lee recalls being put through accounting, business, communication, statistics, and programming classes that seemed irrelevant to a biotechnology major when she was still an undergraduate. It was only later on when she noticed that being a biotechnologist doesn’t only involve being a good researcher; it also involves being a good businessman, statistician, and programmer. Additionally, the fact that biotechnologists know a little bit of pretty much everything means that they have more career choices and flexibility, for individuals who studied biotechnology can branch out to professions like biochemistry, biophysics, biopharmaceutical.

Myth #3: It’s all about the hard skills. 

While getting the science right is important, soft skills are also necessary in the field of biotechnology. According to Dr. Lee, you need to learn how to communicate well with others and be able to develop a good rapport with your peers. You never know when you’re going to need their help. 

Myth #4: Biotechnologists have long working hours.

Dr. Lee admits that being a biotechnologist isn’t always easy—you must be prepared to spend extra hours in the workplace, especially when experiments don’t quite work out the way they should. Fortunately enough, most of her workdays are manageable and are really no different from other professions in terms of maintaining work-life balance. In fact, she highly recommends taking time out for yourself. “Go out during the weekend,” she says. “Enjoy yourself.” 

Myth #5: Biotechnologists are paid well.

While biotechnologists are doctors, they’re not actually paid as well as medical doctors. “Researchers are always underrated,” says Dr. Lee. “Even though we don’t treat humans, we come out and we develop technologies, we produce vaccines and medicines for diseases. We are actually the background people of all doctors.” It’s no wonder that people expect them to earn a lot. Then again, it’s not always about the money. Like Dr. Lee, it’s important to have passion for biotechnology or any other track you want to pursue for that matter. After all, it’s what will ultimately see you through all the challenges you’ll have to face in the working world. 

PHOTO: Pixabay

Picture of Ji Woo Son

Ji Woo Son

(with additional reporting from OWN Academy)