Education - Page 5 - The biotechnology world

- Page 5
The biotechnology world
Bridging the gap between science and business

By E. Rose Scarff, Contributing Writer

This course exceeded my expectations,” says Gregory S. Hamilton, Ph.D. and a graduate of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) master in professional studies (M.P.S.) program in biotechnology.

Hamilton had already spent many years in the pharmaceutical industry working mostly with intellectual property and patent issues. “Just the intellectual challenge would have been enough,” says Hamilton, “but it has enabled me to get back to the science part of my career.”

“The program is a hybrid between an M.S. and an M.B.A.,” says Sheldon Broedel, Ph.D., associate director, biotechnology and adjunct professor at UMBC. “It is a program for working professionals and all the classes are held in the evening. Most students already have positions in the life sciences, but if they do not, we help them find a position or an internship.”

“I really enjoyed the varied age range and backgrounds of the other students,” says Hamilton of his time as a student.

“We are seeing more students applying right out of college,” says Stephen Miller, Ph.D., associate professor, biological sciences at UMBC.  “They are using this as a testing ground for going into biotechnology. They get the background in the sciences and then add this bridge into the business.” All the faculty are experts in their field and guest lecturers are professionals who bring their view from the real world into the classroom. The class size is small, so students get to know their professors and fellow students.

“They challenge students to think of start-up ideas and then pitch them,” says Hamilton. “I relished the way it fired up my brain.”

The course work encompasses a core of biology and biotechnology courses and a core of business courses as well as electives. The career center also works directly with graduate students on their resume, mock interviews and how to search for a position. “We are proud that all our graduates have landed a job within six months of graduation,” says Broedel.

“We want their background in science to be a bridge to business,” says Miller, “and we work to get them placed where they gain experience.”

Gaining experience is also a goal of the biotechnology master’s degree with a biotechnology management specialization offered through the University of Maryland, University College (UMUC). “The biotechnology program has been around for 15 years,” says Roza Selimyan, Ph.D., program chair of the biotechnology management program at UMUC, “but we saw that there was a real need for a biotechnology management focus and that has been part of our vision from the beginning.”

The program has been developed to advance both science and business management knowledge and skills. “Many of our students come with biotechnology experience,” says Selimyan, “but they find that their studies don’t always prepare them for advancement in a biotechnology company. Our coursework is structured in a way that students will have career choices and can build a career path.”

The program is fully online and attracts students from all over the world. That doesn’t mean they don’t get real life and one on one experience with their professors. “All students must work in a group on a capstone project,” says Selimyan. “We connect them with biotechnology companies who give us projects for them to work on as if they were working in the company. The company gets the work done and the students get real life experience.”

If a student is already working for a biotech company, they are assigned to a different one for the capstone project. “It is also a challenge for students who have just graduated from college and are not yet working,” says Selimyan. “It gives them exposure to real life problems they will be facing at work.”

All the faculty are experts in their field and the courses have a component to prepare students to learn to network with each other. “We also have a mentorship program of people already in the field who mentor current students and graduates,” says Selimyan. “In some instances, the mentor continued to mentor them even after they got a job.” Both students and mentors can come from anywhere in the world.

Another school which offers a fully online program for working adults is Johns Hopkins University. Their master’s degree in biotechnology enterprise and entrepreneurship attracts students from all over the world. All the coursework is taught by either full-time faculty or other experts in their field with a high level of expertise in biotechnology enterprise and entrepreneurship.

“Biotechnology is more than just science,” says Lynn Johnson Langer, Ph.D., M.B.A. and director of the enterprise and regulatory science programs at Johns Hopkins, “so we were developing electives and eventually a certificate program. We couldn’t find a school doing something similar so we gathered a group from 30 different schools around the world to talk about what is needed. Now we have a joint master’s degree in science and business which is geared to those who need to grow or want to start a biotechnology business.

“Many of our students have significant science background but want to move up in their organization,” says Langer, “or they have an entrepreneur bent and want to be part of a team to start a company. We also have students who already have Ph.D.s, or M.D.s or law degrees who are working in biotech and want a greater understanding of the industry.”

The coursework includes a broad range of interdisciplinary offerings that will prepare a student to face the challenges in various aspects of the biotechnology industry. This includes taking a product from inception to production, regulatory matters, organizational problems, and how to analyze risks, to name a few areas covered. Since the whole biotechnology industry is a global field, the scope of this course is wide.

In the final practicum course, students work in teams of four and this is a highly valuable part of the course. “They work with real world companies with real world problems,” says Langer. “The mix of high level people and younger people provides networking opportunities. They chose a project where there is no conflict of interest with their current position.” And of course, they gain a great deal of valuable experience in the process. •

The business of biotech

According to the Biotechnology Institute, employment in the biotechnology field has expanded by 90 percent in the past 10 years, and continues to grow. Those pursuing a career in biotechnology initially need a strong background in the biological sciences.

But to advance in this career they may also need an understanding of research and development, manufacturing, marketing, finance, regulatory matters, law and, of course, computers, to name a few of the aspects of a biotechnology company. This is especially true of biologists who want to start their own company.

The schools featured here each have master’s degree programs that give students the educational background and the practical skills that they need to get a good position or to advance in the field of their interest. Learning to solve the problems that come up day to day in a biotech company is just the beginning. Students pursuing any of the programs featured here also will have the opportunity to build relationships with fellow students, professors and mentors to enlarge their experience in positive and lasting ways. •