In the past couple of years, I got to speak with many final-year biotechnology & life science students seeking career advice and study abroad guidance. A significant majority of those students expressed interest to study MS Biotechnology abroad. They wish to stay in the biotechnology (or life sciences) industry, but not on the research track. As we all know, biotechnology is an extremely research-oriented field. In this post, we will discuss how to get into biotechnology management & consulting jobs without a traditional MBA.
First of all, let’s have a quick look at the different types of Masters Programs and how to select the right program.
MS Biotechnology in USA – How to Choose the Right One
MS Biotechnology with Thesis
This is an ideal option for the folks who wish to get prepared for research (usually in the lab) roles in the industry and academia. Even if you are not looking to do PhD right after MS, this is a great option.
One clear advantage of the MS with Thesis option is that the chances of getting a tuition fee waiver (40 – 100%) along with a monthly stipend (through RA/TA) are very high.
Sometimes, MS with a thesis can take longer (say 2.5 to 3 years) to complete. But, more often than not, students do get paid monthly (as RA/TA) during that extension. However, there are also instances of students finishing MS with a Thesis in the US in 3 semesters (1.5 years).
Another advantage with this option is that if you are really motivated for a research career and if you gel well with your MS thesis supervisor, you can switch to the PhD-track faster.
So, instead of spending 2 years for MS and 5-6 years for PhD, you might finish MS+PhD in ~6 years (you might save 6 – 18 months).
MS Biotechnology with Coursework or Project
This is pretty much like MS with thesis option, except that students don’t need to complete a thesis (typically, 10,000 – 40,000 words). Instead, students go for a research project (that requires a report of a few pages) or internship/Co-op.
Related Post: Co-op Programs in US & Canada
The benefits of an internship – networking and practical experience – might outweigh the benefits of a research project.
Although you can expect to make some money through Co-op, not all internships are paid. Additionally, a chance of getting scholarships and/or financial aid is also on the lower side as compared to the MS-thesis track.
Finally, this might not be the right program if you wish to do a PhD right after MS. However, once you spend some time in the research lab for 1-2 years, you get accepted to a PhD program.
Professional Science Master’s (PSM) in Biotechnology is a great option for the folks who like research or lab work, but do not want to stay on the research track for a long time.
PSM Biotechnology programs in the US put 60 – 70% emphasis on core biotechnology modules (molecular biology, genetics, biochemistry, immunology, bioinformatics, etc.) and put 30 – 40% focus on business modules like Finance, Marketing, Entrepreneurship, Strategy, etc.
However, you can’t stereotype PSM and MS. I meant to say, don’t get deceived by the degree name.
PSM graduates from UPenn and Penn State do get absorbed for core lab-based research roles. PSM is a pretty useful degree and the brand name doesn’t always matter. For instance, the PSM programs at universities like Northeastern University and the University of San Francisco have got a very high employability rate. The main reason is that those universities are close to biotech-pharma clusters.
After finishing a PSM degree, don’t assume that you can always end up in a desk job (consulting, marketing, or business development role). You will be spending most of your time in the lab doing experiments. However, you will also be responsible for product launch, marketing & business development, regulatory affairs, IP & patent-related stuff, etc.
However, after gaining 2 – 4 years of work experience after PSM, you can switch to a non-lab-based job function.
Now, what if you do not want to spend time in the lab at all? As a final-year Biotechnology student, you cannot target the top-tier MBA programs due to a lack of professional experience (unless you apply for deferred MBA programs). This is where MS Biotechnology Management or MBS programs come in handy.
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Biotechnology Management (MS / MBS)
These degrees give you a better edge than the typical PSM programs. You can end up in a business role (consulting, marketing, finance, sales, business development, or HR) within the biotechnology & life sciences industry without the need to spending any significant time doing bench/lab research.
Typical modules within a Biotechnology Management Program:
- Molecular Biology
- Computational Biology / Bioinformatics
- Medical Devices
- Drug (or Vaccine) Discovery & Development
- Research Ethics / Bioethics
- Marketing / Marketing Management
- Finance / Finance for Startups and Entrepreneurial Ventures
- Regulatory Affairs
- Clinical Trials & Research Management
- Entrepreneurship / Technological Entrepreneurship / Bio-Entrepreneurship & Innovation
It is heavily oriented towards the business aspects of science and all business courses are taught by industrial people in the life science industry.
Normally, a degree with business courses tends to be such that business courses are taken in the B-school and are disconnected from the science aspect. So, this is not really a typical MBA program.
Apart from biotechnology and life science modules, Biotechnology Management students –
- Participate in case analysis, group problem solving, and group presentations as a means of developing the skills and strategies associated with effective managerial action
- Undergo an experiential learning component where student teams, under the guidance of professors, conduct a consulting project with a biotechnology or biological sciences-based company.
- Learn how to develop a formal business plan during either the Entrepreneurship or New Venture Management elective courses.
- Get exposed to capstone projects to get familiar with a number of management issues in the biotech industry including finance, product development, pharmaceuticals, project management, regulatory affairs and ethics.
Biotechnology Management Graduates will be able to –
- Lead life-science / biotech teams and/or organizations
- Assess potential therapeutics values of the molecules in the R&D pipeline and evaluate ways to accelerate the lab-to-market process
- Understand financial underpinnings of investment decisions in the life sciences, including real-option approaches to investments
- Develop approaches to ethical dilemmas, including investment in neglected diseases, and the pricing of medicines
Best Universities for Biotechnology Management & Consulting
So, which are the right Masters programs? Here is a list (not exhaustive) of Best Masters Programs for Business Management & Consulting Roles in the Biotech & Life Sciences Domain
- Harvard University
- Keck Graduate Institute
- UC Irvine
- Georgetown University
- Johns Hopkins University
- Rutgers University
- University of Maryland Baltimore
- University of Southern California
- University of Delaware
- Brown University
- University of Houston Clear Lake
- University of San Francisco
- Columbia University
- Yeshiva University
Job Prospects for Biotechnology Management Graduates
According to the US Bureau of Labor & Statistics (BLS) data, professionals who manage biologists, chemists, and other scientists are in the top 25 of all occupations when it comes to median pay. Job titles can be health sciences manager, laboratory manager, research and development director, research manager, senior investigator, and senior scientist.
Biotechnology Management & Consulting Salaries
After finishing Masters Degrees (PSM or MS / MBS), you can expect to earn between USD $70,000 – 95,000 per annum. With 3 years of experience, you can expect annual salaries in the range of USD $135,000 – $160,000.
Top Locations for Biotechnology Management & Consulting Jobs in the US
- New York
- San Francisco
- Palo Alto
- Los Angeles
- Washington DC
- Stamford CT
- New Haven CT
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Getting into Management Consulting within the Biotech & Life Sciences Industry
Management consulting is always a popular career option for a majority of people. If you are looking for a consulting role within the pharma-biotech domain, there is a lot of opportunities even if you don’t end up in the biggest management consulting companies. There are several small and medium niche-based consulting companies in the biotech-pharma or life sciences vertical.
However, if you wish to make it to bigger firms like McKinsey, Bain, Accenture, LEK, etc., a PhD is kind of mandatory. See this page for reference.
Getting into small and medium-sized firms would be comparatively easier. In fact, there are a few pros of joining a small firm as well. Unlike the larger firms, smaller firms tend to have much more reasonable hours. In terms of careers, a lot of consultants often end up working for one of their clients.
Related Post: Resume Tips for Strategy and Management Consulting Jobs
Usually, after gaining experience as a consultant you can get a foothold in various markets or research fields. Additionally, you end up growing your own network considerably because you’re constantly talking to and interviewing people. So consulting can certainly prepare you for a career in managing or marketing as well as lead to those types of opportunities.
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