Preparing Bachelors of Science to Work in Bioprocessing

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People employed in production and development for life science industries not only need solid knowledge of the scientific bases of modern biotechnology. They also have to be familiar with the working conditions and regulations applicable when working in the field of bioprocessing. Academic curricula in biotechnology and related fields such as bioprocess engineering traditionally prepare students for careers in basic research at public institutions such as universities or research institutes. Students typically study cell biology, biochemistry, genetics, molecular biology, bioinformatics, biochemical engineering, and scientific writing and documentation. Graduates from such programs often find themselves missing skills necessary for working in industry. Such crucial skills that are generally not trained in universities include experience with general and specific working conditions (such as professional project management); a knowledge of standards and regulations; an understanding of economics and markets; and global competencies such as mobility, language, and so on.

Filling the Gap

There seems to be an obvious gap in many biotechnology study programs. To provide a framework for professional training of scientists to work in the industrial environment, TiGer BioTec (the “learner’s company”) was founded at the University of Applied Sciences Bremen in Germany. We direct it with our personal experience from several years’ work in the biotech industry.

Initially, the company was conceived as part of a bachelor program in biology, presenting a setting for the final semester’s project work. Final-year students interested in preparing for a job in industry enroll for five months as employees of TiGer BioTec’s R&D department. Each course puts students in charge of one specific project (e.g., developing an innovative process or product). Based on market studies, economic calculations, patent analyses, and experimental work, students devise decisive arguments for further developing and marketing their respective products. The extent of this effort is such that it can be accomplished only through efficient teamwork; nevertheless, each member of a team is responsible for a clearly defined working package. Most projects have dealt with industrial enzymes: upgrading food wastes, biofuels, polysaccharide degrading enzymes, and phytases.

Student projects are divided into three phases: scientific and (more important) economic data gathering, validation, and experimentation. During the first part of their study, students data-mine relevant literature (including patents), establish contact with companies and experts of scientific research labs, carry out market analysis and shop for existing products, work out a product specification, and build a web page for their project. Furthermore, they plan for a 10-week period as precisely as possible using the tools of professional project management. Regular meetings facilitate communication. The validation phase serves to work out standard protocols for experimentation and testing in the context of a quality management system with standard operation procedures (SOPs) and assay validation in a GLP environment. During the experimentation phase, validated methods are used to carry out planned experiments.

Finally, participants prepare and present a summary report to the board of directors of TiGer BioTec as well as an industrial advisory board of four recognized individuals with strong scientific and industrial backgrounds. Students submit a feasibility study on the economics of their product and process based on costs and market analysis as well as their own experimental results. Over the course of their project, they experience everyday situations in the biotechnology industry. TiGer BioTec emphasizes teamwork, dealing with limited resources (information-, time- and budget-wise), planning and implementation, quality management, documentation, and presentation.

Proof of Concept

After over four years of practical experience with the concept of this virtual “learner’s company” in academic education, we regard this as a highly effective concept. Unlike those with bachelor degrees from other German universities, most ISTAB graduates have found positions in industry (or equivalent) shortly after graduation. This concept of the virtual company might well be implemented outside our study program.

TiGer BioTec is not linked nor limited to the training of students enrolled in a given program. Other students can come and experience the real-life working conditions of industry, such as decision-making in a complex situation under constraints of time, information, budget, and equipment. They’ll learn teamwork including professional project and information management. Training within TiGer BioTec could also be offered to companies that wish to familiarize new employees (e.g., from overseas) to their working conditions (seminars, summer school). As in real-life companies, TiGer BioTec may also employ graduates from other study programs such as marketing, accounting, and engineering. To this end, cooperation with such study programs and/or industry could enlarge the spectrum of projects and experiences available.

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