For starters, let’s debunk some popular myths surrounding this department. Even though the name does entail the application and understanding of basic concepts in biology, it is far from true that one needs to have a prior background in it! The department of biochemical engineering and biotechnology here at IIT Delhi (I might even take the liberty of calling it the first and only consortia of the like in the country) does a good job of amalgamating the biological analogue of classical chemical engineering – think enzymes replacing catalysts in reactors – with the boldly emerging field that biotechnology is (genetic engineering, anyone?). The designed curriculum is strewn with courses ranging from molecular biology and genetics to process control and dynamics, from downstream processing to various other transfer and transport operations. In addition to the mandatory courses, one can choose from a fascinating repertoire of electives that the department is replete with. For a promising career in biochemistry and biotechnology, here is a more in-depth analysis of the various realms of this field that one can explore at IIT Delhi:
- X-men, Spider-man and so on: Yeah, that’s right, thanks to Hollywood propaganda you are probably familiar with and fascinated by all that noise around mutation theories and genetic studies. Courses like molecular biology and genetics, cancer cell biology, basic biochemistry etc. provide an insight into how the cell machinery is built up and how it can be reprogrammed to achieve desirable traits.
- Dolly? Human Insulin? Tissue regeneration? You probably guessed it again – cloning and therapeutic biotechnology (which has gained enormous popularity thanks to research on stem cells and GMO) forms a good part of the curriculum through courses like recombinant DNA technology, current topics in biotechnology to name a few.
- Towards a cleaner environment: This vast field of renewable energy and alternative fuels is fast becoming one of the hottest areas of research. The curriculum gives a flavour of how one who is interested might pursue this field further.
- Pfizer, Novartis, Biocon? These are the first few names that pop into one’s head when one hears “pharmaceuticals”. A considerable part of the curriculum is designed on the two major aspects that a typical pharma industry is based on – drug design and synthesis, and downstream processing. While courses on the former give an idea of how novel drugs are synthesised (and existing optimised), courses on the latter focus on how to increase product recovery, improve yields and various other extraction, purification and separation technologies that a process relies upon.
- Data crunching and analysis: The term you’re looking out for here is “Bioinformatics” – a computational field in biology that has made possible milestones in the history of medicine such as the Human Genome Project. With how genomic data collection is getting bigger and sequencing faster than ever, leveraging the power of computers to recognise sequences, match fragments of information and spit of meaningful annotations has made possible (at least in concept) the phenomena that personalised medicine might be.
- Next generation biotechnology: with applications from point of care diagnostic tools (such as gluco-meter) to microfluidic chips, a few courses such as nano-biotechnology deal with the emerging, application-based concepts fast developing in the area. With technology getting more collaborative and more accessible each day, this might be an interesting field to consider for someone looking to pursue higher studies.
What to expect in a career in biochemistry and biotechnology?
All in all, here are some realities on what to expect and what not to expect:
- “I do not want to get into biology”: Again, this branch hasn’t got much to do with human biology, so don’t confuse it with medicine. There WILL be a few courses to get one into the basics of how living organisms function, but most of it is application based and some mathematical. It is certain that it will tinker with your creative side. Almost a third of the curriculum is merged with the chemical engineering department.
- “It does not get me the job of a banker/consultant”: Wrong, one can always take additional courses and drift away from the field and become a management consultant, coder or banker. But yes, this will not be easy as all these courses will be very far from what the department would expect from you. So it can get a bit challenging to shift completely without hassle.
- “What would I do after graduating from DBEB?” Well, a bunch of things! As far as higher studies and research aspects are concerned, I daresay it is one of the best branches that one can get into. Given how vastly developed a field this is abroad (especially in countries like USA, France, Germany, Switzerland, UK and Japan to name a few), there’s plenty to explore through summer internships and projects. However, if you do end up discovering that research is not for you, taking additional/extra courses in other departments might be a useful idea.
- “What are the options in core for me apart from research?” Well, this is probably a downside given the industry isn’t well developed to cater to capital intensive facilities that biotechnology requires in India. As of now, at least. If a job in a technical field immediately after college is what you demand, then this probably isn’t the best place to realise that goal.
- “I don’t like being in the lab”: Well, this is an inescapable truth of the department – that it involves a lot of wet lab work. So for those who like getting their hands dirty on cool apparatus, you have lots to learn through experiments (biotech labs are one of the most expensive places you can find yourself in!).
All in all, a career in biochemistry and biotechnology is rewarding because Biochemical Engineering and Biotechnology is an emerging field – something that most students don’t realise until they’re (mostly forcefully) into it.
The focus is largely bilateral,
Biochemical engineering and b) Biotechnology. As for the program, a student looking to get into
research should strongly consider a dual degree as it involves one dedicated year of project work and program electives which might help in deciding a path of interest. For those looking to take up a job or apply for a more comprehensive masters’ degree, the B.Tech program might be a better choice.
Senior, DBEB, IIT Delhi