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Schooling Scientists in the World of Industry

KGI_SquareIn the small classrooms of the Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) in Claremont, California, a new breed of scientist trains to spread its wings in the corporate world. Open to individuals with a degree in science or strong scientific background, KGI offers hands-on business training through a two-year master’s in biomedical sciences or a one-year post-doctoral master’s program. Susan Bain, professor and program director of Clinical and Regulatory Affairs at KGI, joined the KGI team after working in industry for over 30 years – including a two-year stint as Consumer Safety Officer with the Food and Drug Association. OBR had the opportunity to speak with her about her perspectives on the Institute.

What differentiates KGI from other schools?

We’re very hands-on. The programs are not geared towards working professionals, as many other programs are. At KGI, students can broaden their business, operations and regulatory knowledge, and gain professional experience with plenty of networking opportunities before entering the job market. This design is mutually beneficial; through yearlong capstone Team Master’s Projects and summer internships with industrial partners, students glean the expertise of industry professionals and learn the day-to-day of corporate life. KGI prepares students for the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device industries, not necessarily working in a research and development laboratory. By educating students about clinical and regulatory affairs, business strategies, operations, and marketing concepts, we groom students to be the next project managers and company executives – to allow them to expand into business operations with a PhD or strong science background.

Why is it important to have institutions like KGI?

I see the need for scientifically trained graduates who don’t want to be in the lab anymore, who feel constrained by the academic environment, and think the only way to do so is with on-the-job training. Often, science graduates who wish to work outside of academia consider themselves fortunate to secure an entry-level position that may be well below their level of merit because they are unprepared to tackle positions requiring a business mentality.

What are some of the companies that collaborate with KGI?

Aside from the FDA, some of our major partners for internships come from City of Hope, Amgen, Baxter, Regeneron, Gilead and Claremont Bio, to name a few. Most internship-related companies return yearly, although new ones are also added each year.  We have many. Students are responsible for finding internship opportunities with help from Angela Cossey in Career development. Partners for the Team Master’s Project, also called the Capstone project, are sought by KGI administration.

What kinds of positions do KGI graduates fill?

The job offer rate is quite high immediately upon graduation, although it varies by program.  My guess would be above 70%, but that is just a guess. Some students receive job offers after completing their summer internship with a company, which they can begin upon graduation. Many graduates go on to be consultants at large firms, including DeLoitte and L.E.K. Consulting. Aside from consulting, some students go on to fill positions in Regulatory Affairs, Clinical Research, Manufacturing Operations, Project Management, Business Development, and Quality Assurance. I would expect our graduates to be offered positions ranging from $60,000-$80,000 in these areas. Although KGI currently focuses training for the pharmaceutical sector, programs will eventually include other domains such as fluid dynamics and biofuels.

What are some of the challenges that a KGI student may face that would be different from students in other programs?

Having already completed a lengthy educational process, students at KGI are often older than the typical university or graduate school demographic. Some have families to provide for as well as other expenses and responsibilities. Because the training at KGI involves working on team projects and collaborating with companies, students are required to be on-site on a full time basis. Without the possibility to complete courses online, students at KGI must mobilize themselves to the campus and give up the income they would otherwise earn – a sacrifice many promising candidates simply can’t afford. This is an important concern which KGI is currently working to address.

As you know firsthand, the world of industry – particularly the pharmaceutical branch – is no stranger to allegations of misconduct. How does KGI help students navigate potential ethical issues?

At KGI, students attend ethics courses and seminars, and benefit from interaction with faculty members who have ample experience in the field. I encourage ethical discourse in one of my courses, which involves discussions of pertinent historical cases to expose students to the consequences of violating acceptable standards of professionalism. Educating students on such issues will inform them beyond what they may have encountered throughout their scientific training. Ultimately, we hope that students will use their acquired insights to make recommendations to firms that would strengthen the quality of procedures, product evaluations, and product-related decisions within the corporation.

This post was written by:

Sheida Rabipour View author bio

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