Biotech program begins, offers opportunities for more than just scientists

Framingham State now offers a 4+1 program in biotechnology.

Program graduates receive a bachelor’s and master’s degree and gain valuable industry experience over the course of five years at FSU, said Sunny Tam, director of FSU’s professional science master’s degree in biotechnology.

Tam said this program is unique because it is “knowledge”- focused and not research-focused like some comparable programs at larger universities. Although FSU doesn’t have the resources for extensive research programs, it has other strengths.

Class formats are flexible and focus more on interpersonal skills and industry trends than labs. “If it’s snowing, we can just move the class online,” Tam said with a laugh.

Due to FSU’s location in MetroWest, it has access to many major life science corporations, such as Sanofi in Framingham and G.E. Life Science in Marlborough. Representatives from these companies serve as adjunct faculty members and on the program’s advisory board. This network helps build credibility for students who are applying for internships at one of these companies.

“This program will be ideal to bring young talent to these corporations in a cost-effective way,” said Tam.

Students in the 4+1 program take classes alongside traditional graduate students, which leads to valuable mentors or “role models” for younger students who begin taking graduate courses the summer before their senior year, said Tam.

During students’ fifth year of the program, their classes are held at night. This allows them to work lower-level jobs or complete internships in their field of study, which can help students pay for the program while they’re still completing it.

Yaser Najjar, dean of graduate studies, said, “The arrangement allows students to save time and money and get a leg up on their peers enrolling in traditional graduate programs.”

Tam said traditional graduate programs in this field can take two or three years to complete if students are taking three classes per semester, including the summer. This program allows students to take three graduate courses before they graduate with their bachelor’s degree.

The credits from these courses transfer to their master’s degree, allowing them to receive a master’s degree in one year if they attend classes full time for the summer following their senior year, as well as the fall and spring semesters immediately after that and complete an internship, said Tam.

“So, in a way, it’s like these students are getting two courses for the price of one,” he said.

“Biotech is here to help us make better medicines, better medical devices, to – in a way – lower health care costs, because now we have a lot of testing and a lot of early preventions. So, it’s a win-win. It’s good for society. It’s good for the students and it’s an exciting area” to pursue at this time, said Tam.

He added, “It doesn’t matter if you’re in science or not. You could be in management.” The program recently began a Master of Business Administration (MBA) track for students who want to pursue an MBA after completing their master’s in biotechnology. Students interested in this track can go on to work as business analysts or fundraisers for biotech companies.

He added students majoring in computer science, art and communication arts all have the potential to use their knowledge in the biotech industry.

“It’s not just medicine. It’s about the interactions between people and the instruments and information. All of that is part of biotech right now. To me, whatever background you have, you can find your place in biotech.”

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