Our friend Tanmoy Ray, who published the highly popular articles on Biomedical Science Jobs and Careers and PhD in Biomedical / Biological / Life Sciences, is back with another post. He writes on how to improve your chances of getting a job after completing an MS in biotechnology, biomedical engineering and life sciences in the U.S.
We all know that the US is by far the most dominant player in the biotechnology and biomedical field in terms of research and innovation. With more than 3,000 colleges and universities in the US, the options are almost limitless (and sometimes even confusing).
There are hundreds of universities that offer good quality Master’s programs in biotechnology and biomedical streams.Studying abroad is a significant investment for the majority of international and Indian students.
Hence, you need to think about return on investment apart from quality education. After all, a Master’s degree is the foundation stone for your immediate goal – getting a job (or a PhD) and long-term career. So, how to choose the right universities for improving to improve your job opportunities after graduation?
Few people might argue that the location of your university doesn’t matter as long as the quality of education and training is good. Few people might also tell you that the location does matter. You might not enjoy studying in a busy city with high rise buildings and skyscrapers if you are of quite nature, and hate busy urban environments. Similarly, if you prefer access to entertainment and urban facilities close to your location, you will get bored (and may be depressed) while living in a small university town.
All the above points are well and valid. What I would like to recommend is that if you are going to study biotechnology, biomedical science or engineering abroad, you must pay attention to the location of your university.
Life and biological sciences domain is an extremely practical-oriented one. You do need to have a solid understanding of the fundamental concepts. But, the practical skills and technicalities are equally important. Now, you must be wondering how the location has a role to play in that.
While making the university list, the majority of students (and parents) focus on rankings, departmental profile & reputation, tuition fees and living expenses and other popular factors. But, for biotechnology and biomedical students, it’s only wise if you choose a university close to a biotech hub (also known as biotech cluster). In the US, there are around quite a few known biotech clusters out there. I will be covering top two ones in this post.
The San Francisco Bay Area has been a key hub for the biotechnology and life sciences industry for a long time. In general, the whole Northern California region hosts several biotechnology and life science companies and start-ups. But, the San Francisco area deserves special mention. San Francisco is considered to be the birthplace of the modern biotech industry. The San Francisco Bay Area hosts some of the top tier universities that include Stanford, UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco, and USF.
But, more importantly, the biotechnology and life science sector in the Bay Area hosts more than 1,400 life science and biotech companies attracts $2.67 billion of VC funding (2016 data by Bloomberg), NIH grants of around $1.2 billion (500 million goes to the companies in the region), 300,000 jobs (across all functions), yields around $95 billion annually in economic activity, close to $30 billion in income (sales revenue), and more than 9,500 patents. The region also hosts top shot companies like BioMarin Pharmaceutical, Genentech, Novartis, Bayer, and Gilead Sciences to name a few.
The average annual pay of biotech professionals in the whole California region (including San Francisco) is around $76,000. For the biotech employees in the San Francisco Bay Area, the average annual salary is $97,000. So, as you can see, you can earn $21,000 more if you are employed in the Bay Area (and that’s quite a significant amount).
The Boston-Cambridge region, also known as the Life Sciences Corridor (LSC), hosts around 450 life sciences and biotech companies. The region is one of the most prolific biotech-pharmahubs in the world. The LSC receives NIH funding of $519 million, $2 billion of VC funding (2016 data by Bloomberg), employs 57,000 biotech-pharma professionals and produces around 5,000 patents.
The region is the home to some of the most prestigious institutes like Harvard & MIT, and also hosts top bio-pharma companies including Merck, Sanofi, Pfizer, Biogen-Idec, Johnson & Johnson, Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Glaxo Smith Klein, Boston Scientific, Haemonetics, and Novartis. The region also ranked no. 1 on GEN’s Top 10 Biopharma Cluster List in 2016.
Few such other top bio-pharma clusters in the US are New York/New Jersey, San Diego (also known as Biotechnology Beach), Seattle, Maryland/DC Metro, Raleigh-Durham, Greater Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Chicago. However, LSC and the Bay Area host the largest concentration of biotech and life science companies and activities in the world. Nearly half of all US biotech investment is made in these regions, and approximately 1/3rd of US biotechnology employees work in these two clusters.
I assume it’s a no-brainer for anyone. First of all, more often than not, the University will have close collaboration with the spin-out companies and start-ups (that’s how it works in the real bio-pharma world). So, access to the companies and working on a couple of commercial projects will help you a lot in the long-term. At the end of the day, the start-ups are looking for free/cheap labour to get their work done. Besides, opportunities of doing a full-fledged internship and landing up with a full-time job after graduation are also very high.
The biotech-pharma clusters contribute a lot to the biomedical and biotechnology research by attracting funds, proximity to the leading research-based universities and availability of talent pool. So, in reality, even these clusters need you.
Obviously it would be anybody’s dream to study at the big brands like Harvard, MIT, UCB, or Stanford. But, even if you don’t have the profile, or somehow don’t end up in those institutes, don’t lose heart. I would strongly recommend to universities in those clusters eve without a big brand.
Here are few universities that are really strong in biotechnology and biomedical engineering even though they don’t possess the brand power like Ivy League and other Elite Universities:
The Boston-Cambridge corridor concentrates more on core biotechnology and pharmaceutical drug research & development. In contrast, the Bay Area has got a broader research base in biotechnology and life sciences. You will find more opportunities in biomedical engineering and medical devices if you are in the Bay Area.
As a Masters graduate, it’s better to target LSC, Bay Area, San Diego, New York/New Jersey, and Los Angeles. Clusters like Greater Philadelphia, DC Metro, Seattle, and Chicago host regulatory bodies and academic research institutes [Federal Drug Administration (FDA), National Institute on Health (NIH), US Pharmacopeial Convention (USP), Frederick National Lab for Cancer Research, and Walter Reed in Maryland/DC Metro] or early-stage start-ups. Hence, the majority of positions are for PhD graduates and post-doctoral scientists.
Stay updated with the recent news in the academia and industry. Seattle has been struggling of late after few investors backed out in 2015. Biotech investments dropped in Washington in 2016 to the lowest levels. However, there have been few recent developments through new accelerator collaboration and convergence of other technology industries in the region. On the other hand, UMass Amherst is eyeing a life sciences cluster from scratch with a major focus on drug delivery, therapeutic targeting and personalized health monitoring. This will not only help you to choose the right university, but also provide you ammunition for your Statement of Purpose for Masters Applications.
If you want to go for PhD straightaway after finishing your MS, then you can concentrate on the programs that are more focussed towards academics, research and thesis work. Otherwise, it’s really important to get exposed to the business and commercialization world during your Master’s program.
After information technology, biotechnology and life science are increasingly recognized as the next wave in the knowledge-based economy. Within the biotechnology sector, the protection of intellectual property and commercialization of the research is the core of the business. The increase in the number of patents in the life sciences and biotechnology is primarily due to the importance given by the sector to the intellectual property, and particularly patents.
The biotech & life sciences domain is largely a research-intensive industry. It can also be described as a product-based sector, and not necessarily a service-based one (except the Diagnostics Vertical). In comparison to the other industries, the biotech industry invests a higher proportion (40 – 50%) of the revenues in the R&D activities (on an average, 5% in Chemical industry, and 13% in pharmaceutical manufacturing industry). So, for such a research-based industry with so much investment at stake, the protection of the research outcomes is a very critical issue.
Secondly, the discoveries of new products and methods (or processes) are very expensive. But, copying those discoveries (imitations, reverse engineering and generic drugs) are relatively very cheap. So, the conducting biotechnology research is not only expensive, but very risky as well. It is also tough to predict if several years of research is going to lead to any breakthrough innovation with a great market demand (and earning revenues).
Thirdly, in the other sectors, usually there is a clear distinction between the basic research (doing by universities and academic or public sector R&D institutes) and applied research (by private sector). But, in the life sciences and biotechnology domain, basic and applied research is extremely inter-linked. In the majority of cases, the research activities at the universities and academic research institutes are the basis for the spin-off companies. Likewise, the biotech companies are often actively involved in the basic research. Read about Translational Research to understand more about this.
Finally, the majority of spin-offs and start-ups in the biotech segment are comparatively very new, with not a very huge team like big companies. In order to maximize output, they partner with universities and research institutes to initiate the research work. Once the final product is ready, they patent them, and license the product (or process) to big pharma-biotech companies. The big companies obviously possess more resources to launch the product in the market. So, apparently, the spin-offs and start-ups are not selling any product. But, they make money by developing, protecting and licensing their research and innovations.
Hence, it’s very critical for the interns and employees at those companies to understand the process in and out. Additionally, they want a workforce that can not only come up with ideas and/or perform research, but can commercialize the ideas and see through the innovation from conceptualization to completion.
Target the Master’s programs with a substantial focus on Biotech Commercialization, Market Research & Analysis, Product Development & Management, Technology Transfer, Intellectual Property& Patent Laws, Regulatory Affairs, Business Development, and Entrepreneurship. Focus on developing skills that can help you to see the “big picture” of life science & biotechnology product development and commercialization.
Pursue programs like Professional Science Master’s (PSM) or Master of Business and Sciences (MBS). Usually, these programs couple research in molecular biology, biotechnology and life sciences with business fundamentals and industrial applications. Additionally, they also offer a Capstone project to all admitted students. Unlike traditional MS programs, PSM or MBS degree will not act as a bridge to a PhD program. But, that doesn’t mean you will be ineligible for undertaking PhD research after your Master’s degree.
In the contemporary biotechnology and life sciences industry, it’s not good enough to possess theoretical concepts and technical skill set. You must acquire strong business, commercialization and technology transfer skills in order to be successful in the job market.
So, what do you think about choosing the right universities for Master’s in Biotechnology , Life Sciences and Biomedical Engineering on the basis of being located close to a biotech cluster and business & commercialization modules? Please post your feedback or queries in the comments below.
Author Bio: Tanmoy Ray (connect with him on LinkedIn) has a Molecular Pharmacology background with 5 years of research experience in the fields of Cardiovascular Medicine, Cancer Biology, Biomarkers and Drug Discovery.
He has worked at the University of Oxford (UK), Utrecht University (Netherlands) and University of New South Wales (Australia). If you are interested in a PhD in Biomedical/Biological/Life Sciences, post your queries in the comments below.