Welcome to the Northern Virginia Community College Website

Accessibility Navigation:


FAQ - Biotechnology Program

Frequently Asked Questions about Biotechnology

What is Biotechnology?
Biotechnology is a very broad term for using organisms (or their parts) to do something to benefit humans. It is different than pure biology which studies “life” – in biotechnology, we apply that knowledge to do something positive for us. This could in health fields such as the detection and treatment of different diseases, or also in other fields like agriculture where foods such as corn are genetically modifies or in environmental biotechnology where we use bacteria to clean up different pollutants or create new alternate fuel sources. The set of techniques is similar throughout biotechnology (DNA extraction/analysis, protein identification/purification), the variation is that the techniques are used for different purposes.

How do I know if this field is for me?
Biotechnology is an exciting field that works on cutting-edge scientific techniques and applications. This field does require extensive training and gaining a fundamental understanding of cellular and molecular biology. The students who are the most successful and satisfied in majoring in biotechnology share several characteristics: a sense of curiosity on how the world works, a desire to help people and/or make the world a better place, an aptitude for working with their hands, having good attention to detail, wanting to collaborate with others, and an interest in always learning new things.

If this doesn’t sounds like you but you are still interested in science, NOVA and other colleges/universities offer several other educational options for students. Many students major in health-related fields such as nursing or in medical laboratory technology. These fields are a good fit for you if you are interested in working with patients. Also, some students who are more interested in environmental science can take several courses at NOVA and move onto a transfer institutions.

I am interested in biotechnology, but I don’t know what degree to complete at NOVA. What is the difference between an A.S. in Science versus the A.A.S. in Biotechnology?
There are several different types of curricula offered by NOVA. An Associates of Science degree of any kind (most biology majors pick the A.S. in Science) is geared toward people who want to immediately transfer to a 4-year university. An Associate of Applied (A.A.S.) degree has a different goal: to give student skills to find a job as a biology/biotech lab technician. That said, many of the courses in the A.A.S. in Biotechnology program do transfer to other institutions such as George Mason University. We also have an agreement with the George Washington University who accepts all of the biotech program credits into their new Bachelor’s of Professional Studies in Integrated Information, Science, and Technology program (track in Biotechnology). Students who complete the A.A.S. in Biotechnology can enter GWU as juniors and complete their program in 2 years. In one additional year at GWU, students can complete a Master’s degree in Molecular Biotechnology. The undergraduate program is located at their Arlington Campus and is much lower in cost than their programs offered downtown. For more info on this, please see: http://cps.gwu.edu/bdc/index.html. Many of our students are interested in both finding a job and pursuing a bachelor’s degree. In this case in particular, the A.A.S. in Biotechnology may be a good option. If you are unsure of which degree to pursue, you should talk with a Biotech Faculty Advisor.

What if I already have a college degree but want to take biotechnology classes?
NOVA also offers a Career Studies Certificate for Biotechnology Lab Technicians. This 1-year program is designed for students who already have a college degree. The college degree is commonly from a university in another country, in another field, or issued many years ago. If you do not have any college degree, you should consider the A.A.S. in Biotechnology as your best option as very few employers will hire someone who has no college degree.

If you already have a degree, you should plan on getting official transcripts/evaluations sent directly to NOVA. You must also then ask the counseling department to review them. Forms for this are located in each campus’ counseling department. This is necessary if you have already completed courses equivalent to the ones in the Biotech Program or wish to register for courses that have prerequisites.

What are the admission requirements for getting into the Biotechnology Program?
At the current time, students may sign up for the Biotech curricula when they first apply to NOVA or through visiting a counselor at one of the campuses. However, we strongly advise students to talk with one of the Biotech Faculty before enrolling. These are Dr. Gomez (igomez@nvcc.edu) or Dr. Mucci (dmucci@nvcc.edu). They will help determine whether the Biotech Program is a good fit for you and help you map out your course schedules. Students are also strongly encouraged to take BIO101 – General Biology in their first semester. Students will need at least a C in that course to continue in any of the biotech courses. If students are not eligible for college English or math courses (determining by taking of English and math placement tests), they are strongly encouraged to take developmental courses immediately. Students who are not placed into ENG111 are not eligible to enroll in BIO101.

What kinds of courses are offered by the Biotechnology Program?
Our A.A.S. in Biotechnology includes the following: a core set of basic science courses including 1) general biology, chemistry I/II, cell biology and microbiology, 2) a set of specialized biotech courses including an introductory lecture and lab courses, a Careers in Biotechnology course, a course in Nucleic Acids or Protein research, a course in quality control, and a Capstone Seminar in Biotechnology, 3) an internship or research project, and 4) some general education courses. Students pursuing the Career Certificate will take the specialized biotech courses, the internship, and some basic science courses.

What campuses offer the biotechnology courses, and when are they offered?
The specialized biotech courses are offered by two campuses: the Manassas Campus and the Loudoun Campus. At the current time, these courses rotate semesters between the two campuses. When additional lab facilities open in Spring 2012, more sections of these courses will be run. The following courses are offered every semester: BIO250 - Biotechnology Research Methods and Skills, BIO253 - Biotechnology Concepts, and BIO254 - Capstone Seminar in Biotechnology. BIO252: Nucleic Acid Methods runs in the Spring semester at the MA Campus, and BIO251: Protein Applications in Biotechnology runs in the Fall semester at the LO Campus. Where possible, biotechnology courses are offered in the later afternoon or evening with a start time of 5pm or later. The Biotechnology Concepts course (BIO253) is also offered on-line in the Fall semesters. All of the other general science and general education courses can be taken at any campus and general run each semester. At the current time, none of the specialized biotechnology courses are offered in the summer sessions, except the internship course. We advise students to take their general science and general education courses during this time.

Who teaches the biotechnology courses?
The Biotech Program is coordinated by Dr. Johanna Weiss who also teaches BIO253 - Biotechnology Concepts and BIO254 - Capstone Seminar course at the Manassas Campus. Dr. Ia Gomez teaches BIO250 - Biotechnology Research Methods and Skills and BIO252 – Nucleic Acid Methods at the Manassas Campus. Dr. Diane Mucci is the Biotech Program Head at the Loudoun Campus and offers BIO253 – Biotechnology Concepts on-line, BIO 250 – Biotechnology Research Methods and Skills, and BIO251 – Protein Applications in Biotechnology. All three are Ph.D. level research scientists who have published in the peer-review literature and obtained grant funding.

Does the Biotech Faculty assist in finding me an internship?
All students completing either the A.A.S. in Biotechnology or the Career Studies Certificate for Biotech Lab Technicians are required to either do an internal or external internship. Getting an internship is not guaranteed. In order to eligible for an internship, students must have:

  • Successfully completed BIO250 (formerly BIO 170) and BIO253 with a grade of “B” or better.
  • Demonstrated professional behavior including being on time, completely work in a timely fashion and working well with others.
  • Have strong oral and written communication skills.
  • Be entering their last semester of their program.

If students meet these criteria, the Biotech Program Coordinator will work with them to secure an internship. In addition to students serving as lab assistants in NOVA labs, students have been placed in internships at: American Type Culture Collection, Howard Hughes Medical Institute – Janelia Farm, Bode Technology, and George Mason University. We anticipate having more internship partners in the next academic year. Please note that the internships we have secured for students are largely unpaid. Also keep in mind that there are commonly internships through places such as the National Institute of Health, FBI, or other agencies (deadlines for summer are usually in fall/early winter). We encourage you to be an active participant in finding an internship.

Students who fail to meet the above requirements may choose to re-take classes or take additional classes before they are approved for an internship. For example, if a student does not demonstrate adequate communication or math skills, they may be required to take an additional courses before they qualify for an internship.

In terms of job placement, students are provided assistance with resume writing, job interviewing, and finding job announcements. Furthermore, some of the internships that students have completed have led to paying jobs. However, in the end, we do not offer a job placement service but have the goal of teaching you the skills you need to be competitive and offering job advice. Students are responsible for finding a job after graduation and are encouraged to start looking six months before they plan on graduating.

What kind of job can I get with a Biotech degree from NOVA?
The Washington D.C. metro area is one of the largest bioscience clusters in the world, with federal agencies (i.e. NIH), research institutions and universities (HHMI, GMU, John Hopkins, and bioscience companies located within this region. Many of the jobs in this region are located in Montgomery County in Maryland but a growing number are located in Northern Virginia at places such as American Type Culture Collection, Bode Technology, Covance Laboratories, MediaTech, etc. At such places, graduates will likely serve as lab technicians. These duties could include washing glassware and media preparation, supporting research projects or forensic analyses, maintaining documentation and quality control, helping in the manufacturing of pharmaceutical products. Many of the companies in the D.C. Metro area do have entry-level jobs for people who have Associate degrees. Additional opportunities exist for students who have a Bachelor’s degree and/or extensive lab experience. Entry-level salaries for those with an Associate degree vary dramatically between companies with the range being from $25,000 to over $40,000/yr.