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Biotechnology vs biomedical engineering: Which is best?

If you’ve been considering studying in a STEM-related field you would have come across biotechnology and biomedical engineering as options. We explore what sets them apart and what you can expect.

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If you’re in the process of investigating potential STEM-focused degrees, you’ll have come across biotechnology and biomedical engineering. At this point, you may have more questions than answers and that’s why we’re here. We’ll delve into what biomedical engineering is, what biotechnology technology is and the careers available in both fields. We’re pretty sure you’ve wondered “What do biomedical engineers do?” and “What is meant by biotechnology?”. Read on to find out. 

 

What is biotechnology?

 

Biotechnology focuses on the use, deployment and adaptation of biological processes to develop technology and products that address different needs to solve problems. This can be the use of biological systems and living organisms or their modification to produce the desired results. For example, the production of biofuels or antibiotics. 

 

Biotechnology itself overlaps with several other fields and areas including medicine, chemistry, and biology. You may come across the classification of biotechnology into distinct areas that are often assigned a colour:

 

  • Blue (Marine)
  • Red (Medical)
  • White (Industry)
  • Green (Agriculture)

 

This may also extend to other areas including food and nutrition, law, and computer science

 

Check out these institutions where you could study biotechnology:

 

 

What is biomedical engineering?

 

Biomedical engineering is a multidisciplinary STEM discipline that combines elements of various fields including medicine, biology and engineering. It is often focused on the development of materials and technology to design solutions or new approaches in medicine. For example, you may work on the creation of prosthetics of artificial organs or state-of-the-art surgical equipment. 

 

There are also what can be described as specialisations within the field that include:

 

  • Imaging 
  • Biomechanics 
  • Cellular and tissue engineering
  • Medical devices 
  • Synthetic biology
  • Bionanotechnology
  • Computational biology

 

Explore some of the places where you could study biomedical engineering:

 

 

What are the differences between biotechnology and biomedical engineering?

 

While there is certainly some crossover between the two subject areas, drawing on similar core fields, there are also very clear differences between the two:

 

  • Biomedical engineering draws on engineering principles allied to biology and medicine, with a distinctly multidisciplinary approach. 
  • Biotechnology is essentially an applied biological science, with significant use of chemistry. 
  • Biomedical engineering has a clinical and medical health focus, while biotechnology concentrates on developing solutions in fields from agriculture to medicine. 
  • Biotechnology makes use of organisms, organic systems and biology to develop technological solutions. Biomedical engineering may do so, but also makes use of inorganic materials and advanced human developed technology.
  • For biomedical engineering, you will need to have a very good understanding of mathematics and physics, whereas for biotechnology understanding biology and chemistry is more important. 
  • Biomedical engineering looks for solutions to diagnose, treat, prevent and mitigate disease or disability. Biotechnology is broader in application from genetics to waste management. 
  • The content you will cover in your course will differ significantly with biotechnology focusing on molecular biology and biomedical engineering dealing with areas such as physiology, neurology, and medicine. 

 

Can these disciplines be studied at the postgraduate level?

 

Both biotechnology and biomedical engineering can be studied at a postgraduate level through an MSc degree. You will generally be required to have studied in a related field or the same subject area to be accepted. Both degrees will take you on average one year to complete full-time and two years part-time. Some of the areas you can expect to cover in a master’s degree in biomedical engineering may include:

 

  • Biomechanics 
  • Biomaterials and tissue engineering
  • Imaging 
  • Neurotechnology
  • Audiology
  • Diagnostic systems
  • Orthopaedics 

 

If you choose to study an MSc in biotechnology you may find yourself exploring:

 

  • Bioinformatics
  • Molecular medicine
  • Molecular biotechnology
  • Genomics 
  • Pharmaceuticals 
  • Genetics
  • Industrial biotechnology

 

General entry requirements for an MSc in either of these two subjects will mean you need a good academic record at the undergraduate level (2:1 degree or above B average). If you choose to study in the U.S. this is equivalent to a 3.3 GPA score. You’ll also need to have a good command of English, with an IELTS score of 6.5 with no band lower than 6.0. Don’t forget that there are also pre-sessional English courses that can help you get up to speed and pre-masters courses to do the same. 

 

What career prospects does biomedical engineering offer?

 

If you decide to pursue a degree in biomedical engineering you may find yourself working in a variety of fields or jobs that include:

 

  • Health services
  • Hospitals 
  • Research organisations 
  • Engineering firms 
  • Universities 
  • Charities
  • Biomaterial companies 
  • Orthopaedic manufacturers

 

Day to day you can be involved in everything from designing medical equipment to diagnostics. You’re probably wondering “How much do biomedical engineers make?”. The employment prospects are considered to be good with a biomedical engineer’s salary starting at between GBP 25,000 and GBP 30,000. 

 

Take some time to explore the post-study landscape for international students

 

 

What career prospects does biotechnology offer?

 

Studying a biotechnology degree could see you finding work in a particular area of specialisation or industry, depending on your area of expertise. Working in a biotechnology career may involve conducting experiments in a laboratory, undertaking research or product development. You could find a job in:

 

  • Healthcare
  • Agriculture 
  • Food production 
  • Pharmaceutical science 
  • Marine biotechnology 
  • Biofuels 
  • Research 
  • Virology

 

There are a wide variety of positions available for biotechnology graduates with good prospects as you gain more experience and develop your career. Salaries can start at about GBP 23,000 but can rise to as much GBP 60,000 with experience. 

 

With your newly acquired knowledge, you should be better placed to decide on which degree would suit you best. Remember that much will depend on your skills and ambitions. If you’re looking for further guidance you may find our articles on consulting an education counsellor useful. There’s also our useful university application guide for international students. 

 

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