Year of intensive study and internships launch Class of 2016 in new career field
When Jesse Logan applied for a certificate program in applied biotechnology at BU’s BioScience Academy (BSA), she was at loose ends professionally. She’d suffered what she calls an early career “breakup with science” after a job she had taken proved to be a terrible fit. She then earned a master’s degree in journalism and spent a decade working as a copywriter, production assistant, and associate producer at public radio stations, including WGBH and WBUR, but her ambitions were dampened by a shrinking job market. After being accepted into the BSA program, Logan found a group of people of varying ages, origins, and life circumstances, all of them, like her, in flux. But they had a common goal: a stimulating career in the thriving field of biotechnology. Having just completed the one-year program, Logan is now working full-time at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where she is regulatory coordinator for breast oncology clinical research studies.
Logan was class speaker and one of 15 BSA 2016 graduates to receive certificates at a ceremony on the Medical Campus on May 11. Attending were Karen Antman, dean of the School of Medicine and provost of the Medical Campus, Beverly Brown, School of Public Health director of development, industry, who is a champion of the program and one of Logan’s mentors, and Constance Phillips (SPH’91), a MED research assistant professor of instructional medicine/sociomedical sciences and BSA director.
Logan’s new job combines her passions for research and writing. “I coordinate protocol submissions, prepare and submit regulatory documents, and maintain records on assigned studies to ensure regulatory compliance with institutional policies as well as federal regulation and guidelines around good clinical practices,” she said. And this time, she told her fellow BSA classmates at the graduation ceremony, the fit is perfect.
The program was launched four years ago with funding from the US Department of Labor and is administered by Metropolitan College and BUSM. It was designed specifically to help unemployed or underemployed individuals with a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) or health care background develop the skills needed to enter the biotechnology/life sciences field. It offers full-tuition scholarships for eligible individuals.
The academy packs a lot into two semesters: courses in biotechnology and clinical research, a full-time internship, and job search assistance in anticipation of completion. Eligible graduates receive 12 BU credits and all gain a Certificate in Applied Biotechnology. The program is open to US citizens or permanent residents who live in metropolitan Boston, are unemployed or underemployed, have an undergraduate degree in STEM or health care fields, and demonstrate competency in English and math. In fact, the dreaded and much-cited math test has become a kind of trial by fire for BSA applicants, who inevitably joked about it at graduation.
The program is achieving results. Logan is among the 87 percent of certificate holders who have gone on to full employment upon graduation, according to Phillips.
“You’ll be part of a vibrant, fascinating research sector,” Antman told this year’s graduates, adding, “I hope you have accepted the need for lifelong learning.” Phillips kicked off the proceedings with the news that although the initial federal grant that funded the BSA has expired, the program’s future is assured, with the promise of state funding and continued partnerships with the city of Boston and private industry. Massachusetts, Phillips reminded the group, “is number one in life science growth rate.”
“You are entering a field that’s at a crossroad of human history,” said graduation speaker Travis McCready, president and CEO of Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, a BSA partner. “It’s a moment of dramatic evolution in the life sciences, with genomics, neuroscience….BSA is not just about job creation, it’s about you now being participants in, and architects of, these changes. This is not just another internship program. And there is no program like this in any other state.”
Among this year’s BSA graduates are a former mechanical and design engineer who graduated from Northeastern University, a marketing manager trained in design at MIT, a former teacher’s aide with a biology degree from Stonehill College, and a pathologist with a medical degree from Uganda. Another graduate, Christopher Girolamo, a former pharmacy technician for the UK Air Force, was presented with the Paul Queenan Memorial Award, named in honor of a graduate of CityLab Academy, BSA’s predecessor, who died suddenly in 2007.
BSA alums include people returning to the workforce after raising children, former members of the military, and recent immigrants (this year’s graduates include natives of Iran, Uganda, and Mexico). They echo Logan’s sentiment that the program is intensive and demanding, but worth it, and not just for the professional gains. As Logan said, “It was a judgment-free zone, and we all became friends.”
Those interested in applying to the BU BioScience Academy can find more information here.
This BU Today story was written by Susan Seligson. Photos by Cydney Scott.