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The future of biotechnology holds the keys to solving some of today’s biggest problems, such as developing life-saving vaccines and curing diseases. We spoke to Hazel Sive and Jared R. Auclair from Northeastern’s College of Science about how students in the Master of Science in Biotechnology program are ready to tackle these problems and bring fresh perspectives. This fall, the Master of Science in Biotechnology (MS BIOT) will launch its first cohort at Northeastern University-Toronto. We learned more about what’s in store for biotech and bio pharma in Toronto and how Northeastern is preparing graduates to help shape the future.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your history at Northeastern?
Hazel Sive (HS): I’ve been at Northeastern for a year and a half as Dean. Before that, I was at MIT for 28 years as a professor of biology.
Jared R. Auclair (JRA): I came to Northeastern in 2013 as a postdoctoral student. And then, through a number of different roles and positions in the college, joined Hazel as the Associate Dean of Professional Programs and Graduate Affairs. In this role, I oversee all of the master’s and PhD programs in the College of Science. I’m also a faculty member in chemistry and have fun directing and operating Northeastern’s COVID testing lab at the moment.
What makes Toronto a great place for the international expansion of the MS BIOT program?
HS: This is a big deal for us and we’re totally committed to making sure that our students in Toronto get the same education as our students in Boston, that they are empowered, and that they are able to enter the workforce with the same success as our students everywhere else. And we have absolutely no reason to doubt that will happen.
JRA: Toronto is one of those places that sort of stands out to me. A number of industry colleagues have been telling me about how companies have been opening offices just in or outside of Toronto—so there’s a real opportunity for biotechnology in Toronto as an industry. But it’s also a great opportunity for us to expand the biotechnology program beyond the Boston campus and to really bolster our program, the biotechnology industry, and our support of students.
I also think that from a global perspective, it’s a great opportunity to think about how mobility might factor in for students or what international co-ops might look like over time – for students both here in Boston and in Toronto.
How do you think students in the MS BIOT program would be positioned to compete and succeed?
JRA: I think graduates of the Master of Science in Biotechnology are very competitive in the workforce for a number of different reasons. One reason relates to how the program is designed. Our program is developed in collaboration with industry, faculty, and government. It is meant to address the needs that exist in the industry.
In addition, we take a very holistic view of what biotechnology is. Our courses cover technical skills, how to deal with data, and regulatory science. We also provide a perspective on the business of biotechnology and the process of getting a drug from research and development to commercialization.
And, lastly, our experiential learning gives students an advantage. Our students do a mandatory co-op which makes them very marketable when they are ready to seek full-time employment.
How can graduates of the MS BIOT program help employers and the biotech industry as a whole?
HS: The power of biotech and biopharma is just fantastic. The number of people who are helped by products that come out of this industry is in the billions. For example, with the COVID vaccine, there are about 7 billion doses that have been given around the world. It takes a huge workforce to meet the needs of the biotech industry in order to address human health in the most powerful and useful ways. The Northeastern biotech program is a wonderful way to educate and train people who can step into this very important sector. The program is like very few others in that it involves work experience for all of our students. About 93-95% of graduating students walk right into a job in biopharma.
JRA: It’s a really powerful program and one that excites me because, generally speaking, the two reasons I work at the university are to support students and to support patients.
We train students to be leaders and thinkers, to go into an industry that can have an immediate impact on patient health, human health, and quality of life, and add value with new ideas and directions. Our students bring a huge energy to the industry because they’re new and excited, but they also bring their training, leveraging all the advantages Northeastern has to offer to really bolster the ecosystem of biotech. And we expect the students to do the same in in Toronto. We’re excited to get in on the ground floor and really help drive the biotech ecosystem in Toronto, Ontario, and Canada and think about new and innovative ways that both the university and students can help the industry.
What would you say are some major trends in the biotech and biopharma industries? Are there trends that students need to be prepared for in the future?
JRA: When I am trying to be provocative with my students, I point out that humanity hasn’t really cured any disease. We can treat a lot of things: we can get rid of infections, we can prevent things through vaccines but it is hard to think of examples of a true cure. Thinking about where the industry is going, the immediate horizon is really going to be in cell and gene therapies and developing actual cures to diseases.
I think that, at this moment, COVID has really accelerated RNA and DNA technologies, and the potential they hold. Those are two of the things on the horizon that we’re preparing our students for and are super excited to support them in pursuing.
As I think about the program and what might lie ahead in the next 5 to 10 years, we’re also trying to prepare our students for opportunities, which will not only be in drug development, but all kinds of other aspects of biotech like agricultural biotech and biofuels. We’re thinking about and really preparing our students to be leaders in those spaces of the future.
What piece of advice would you share with someone interested in applying to the program?
JRA: I think that we’re transitioning into a time where the world is going to be driven by the sciences and the life sciences and the good power of science. COVID has made the value of science very obvious to the world. I think that biotech is going to be driving economic development in the future.
HS: It’s interesting to think about the breadth of opportunities across the world. We think about the breadth in North America, but there are continents where biotech is in short supply, the biotech landscape is really nascent, and the need in those areas to actually build biotech industries is great. It’s an opportunity for students to come and study with us, partly remotely, partly in person, and it’s an opportunity for Northeastern to really consider its partnerships in other parts of the world to promote this very important set of industries.
How does Northeastern’s global campus network give MS BIOT students an advantage in biotech?
HS: One of the opportunities of being a global university is that our students at all levels, including master and PhD students, come out really sophisticated, or cosmopolitan. We would like students to feel comfortable working across a whole barrage of different places and different cultures, to feel that there are no barriers to working successfully and productively anywhere in the world. This requires a special kind of training and empowerment, which the biotech masters program gives.
What does diversity mean to the College of Science?
HS: When I came to Northeastern, we committed together to build a culture of respect and action towards equity across the college. And we’re working very hard to do that, to foster a culture where every person is valued for who they are and what they bring to the college, regardless of their ethnicity or demographic. We are committed to bringing in students, faculty, and staff across the demographic of society. That’s what we really think about with diversity: How can we both respect everyone in the college, regardless of who they are, and how we can really make sure that we are working towards representing our college people, as across the demographic of society.
Learn more about the Master of Science in Biotechnology program and how you can launch a successful career in a growing industry. If you are a biotech or biopharma company interested in hiring co-op students or working with us, please email [email protected].