Dear Mentor:

What should my son study for a career in biotechnology?

I am a worried father of a 10th std student. My son wants to study Biotechnology. Now, per my knowledge, one can do: a) B.E. in Biotechnology Engineering, or b) do MBBS and post graduation in Biotechnology, or c) do post B.Sc. programme in Biotechnology. Here problem is that our family has a nursing home (I am not a doctor) and everyone would like him to do MBBS first, and thereafter decide if he wants to do Biotechnology. At the same time, doctors in our family are of the opinion that engineers are being paid handsomely nowadays; and in India, particularly in big cities, there are many quarreling patients who are taking undue advantage since medicos have come under the purview of Consumer Protection Act. So he should opt for engineering. My son is open to any option. My son is too lazy in writing. His maths/science teacher, who is a B.E. says that he would not be able to cope up with Biology as one is required to write a lot. Please advise.

Worried Father, Mumbai, India

Dear Worried Father:

We are happy to express our views, but in the end, the decision is obviously yours and your son's to make.

Biotechnology deals with the application of advances made in the knowledge, techniques, and instruments of research in the biological sciences. It is a combination of expertise in the biological sciences - namely, biology, chemistry and physics - and technology. While biotechnology has been around for a while, it is just emerging as a potential growth area for the future. Biotech programs of studies at the Bachelor's level are beginning to emerge, but they are still rare, in the US for example, where biotech is arguably most advanced.

We can assume that your son would want work in biotech. There is no single or unique path to achieve that, as you have noted in your inquiry. Our advice would be to select a path that is: 1) of interest to him, and 2) closely related to biotech. That is, pursue a Bachelor's degree in a related area and not in biotech itself. What is important is that the selection should be of interest to him, and in which he is likely to excel.

Whether your son is likely to do well in MBBS or Engineering is very difficult for us to say. We do however suggest that you keep the endgame in mind - that is, working in biotech - and explore all paths that can lead him there. Then select the path that best matches his ambitions, goals, interests, skills and abilities.

You may also wish to read a related article: How can I transition from biochem to biotech?

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