Getting Into Agricultural Biotechnology (AgBiotech)

June 28, 2021

Agricultural biotechnology (agbiotech), also known as agricultural technology or agri-foodtech, is a growing field that applies tools and techniques such as RNA interference, transgenics and genome editing to alter parts of living organisms, typically plants. Some examples include using fermentation to manufacture novel plant-based meats and foods, replacing chemicals with microbes for crop protection (e.g., microbial pesticides) or making biological fertilizers from microbes to promote crop growth. Twenty years ago, agbiotech was not a popular career. However, this is changing as indicated by an increase in investments into agbiotech companies, further pointing towards the growth of the field and a potential area for jobs that need a microbiology background.  

Three scientists with various levels of expertise who work in biotechnology share their recommendations on how to enter agbiotech. To enter this field, network with industry people, volunteer for startups prior to applying for jobs and have excellent job application materials.  

To be successful in entering agbiotech, Camille Delebecque, Ph.D., CEO of Afineur, recommends an interdisciplinary education and extracurricular activities with companies and technology transfer offices. The leap from academia to entrepreneurship/industry happens very gradually. "You need to build the right skills and find experiences as much as possible," says Delebecque. Balaji Vasudevan, Ph.D. a plant pathology/plant biology lead at Tiamat Sciences Corporation, suggests that it’s harder to transition to a full-time job in industry without any industry experience. Therefore, ideally, do an internship or volunteer in industry before applying for jobs.  

Sara Iverson, Director of Biomanufacturing, Fermentation and Downstream Processing at Tepha, Inc., recommends that students have an excellent resume. Create a 1-page resume without grammatical mistakes that is tailored to the job posting. Iverson also recommends creating a LinkedIn profile. Be active on LinkedIn and post occasionally to add credibility to your LinkedIn profile. Many hiring managers will go onto LinkedIn to fill positions at their company.  

Vasudevan recommends that regardless of career level, the most important thing to do is to network with other people in industry. "Go to industry events locally and world-wide to find people in your area of interests and beyond, because 80% of jobs in industry are filled by referrals. That means you need to know someone who can speak about you, otherwise your application goes into a black box." For any person that is geographically restricted or have less biotech companies in the area, gather people together who share your interests and passion. 

While all 3 scientists had different areas of expertise and knowledge that led them to agbiotech, they learned so much on the job. "For every position I’ve held, I learn as much as I can and take that knowledge to the next job, and so on," says Iverson. The learning never stops.  

Author: Shilpa Gadwal

Shilpa Gadwal
Shilpa Gadwal is the Career Resources Specialist at ASM.