A number of universities and colleges, along with industry and government reports in Canada, have identified a biotechnology skills shortage. This has made graduates more attractive to employers seeking to hire new talent that can adapt to the day-to-day combination of business and science. Student co-op placements, usually lasting eight-to-12 months, have helped provide valuable work experience in those areas.

Learning on the job

Ted Paranjothy was drawn to the growing bioeconomy after completing a Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree with a major in Microbiology. He is currently a student enrolled in a Masters of Biotechnology program at U of T Mississauga as well as a  co-op at AstraZeneca Canada as a marketing associate in the Future Portfolio group.  

“Broadly, business knowledge is important, even if you are working in a scientific capacity, because it deepens your understanding of the company’s core purpose and organizational decision making,” says Paranjothy. “For students, co-op placements are a platform to learn as much as possible about the companies they work for, the products and services they provide, the therapeutic areas that those products fall into, and the industry at large, while getting as much exposure as possible and growing their skillsets.”

Understanding the business side

For Eva Chan, a recent graduate of a Master of Management of Innovation program, also at U of T Mississauga, developing skillsets for analysis, strategy and creative head-on approaches helped “turn the challenges into opportunities”. Applying theory in a practical way changed her business outlook and structured her thinking process, both of which were critical for her current position as a market access strategist at Bayer Canada.

“This combination of practical knowledge and experience ensures students are well trained for careers in biotechnology.”

“It refined my understanding of the different functions within a science or technology company,” says Chan. “I became better equipped to perform my job responsibilities and develop solutions that will encompass a strong understanding of each business function, while also meeting business objectives.”

Both note that small class sizes and extensive case study work in school were key to learning more intimately, with teamwork and leadership skills central to their studies. Speaking in front of groups and communicating information through presentations proved to be an added benefit on the job.

Tailor-made by design

Professor Hugh Gunz, Director of the Institute for Management and Innovation at the University of Toronto, highlights the importance of having programs that are “collaborations with the industry, and advised on an ongoing basis by a board of executives drawn from the industry.”

He adds that prospective students and recruiters will find it valuable that such programs “teach management that’s specific to a particular science, technology, or profession, along with internships and project work in those industries.” He believes this combination of practical knowledge and experience ensures students are well trained for careers in biotechnology.