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MCB to Offer New Master’s Degree in Biotechnology

By Kirsten Mickelwait

 

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Image credit: Elena Zhukova

Until recently, biology graduates had two paths to choose from: either medicine or academia. Within the last decade, however, a third choice has become popular—research careers in the biotechnology industry—but the path to get there has been fairly uncharted. With MCB’s new master’s degree program in biotechnology launching in the summer of 2024, that route just got a whole lot more accessible.
 

According to Kunxin Luo, the Kang Family Faculty Director of the master's program and professor of cell and developmental biology, the one-year accelerated professional program will offer coursework, hands-on training in critical lab skills, professional development, and a capstone project. The initial class will accommodate 12 to 15 students and gradually increase each year until reaching a maximum size of 60. The most distinctive feature will be a three-month internship at a biotech company or campus lab/facility.
 

UC Berkeley already offers two related master’s programs, but they take very different approaches. The Department of Bioengineering’s Master of Translational Medicine (MTM), a joint program with UCSF, focuses on the development of medical devices. The Fung Institute’s Master of Engineering (MEng) degree prepares students to become business professionals in industry. 
 

Kunxin Luo
Kunxin Luo

MCB’s new program, on the other hand, will train professionals from the bench-science perspective. The curriculum will include training in state-of-the-art technologies and analysis, including gene editing, stem cell and genomic analysis; bioinformatics; and data science. Students will also receive coaching on career development—everything from preparing a resumé and interviewing to presentations and communication skills.
 

Students will start in the summer doing full-time lab work, Luo says. “We’ll teach them all the basic skills and new technologies, such as CRISPR/CAS9 gene-editing techniques. They’ll learn how to work with stem cells and how to do various assays, like immunofluorescence and RNA-seq. Then we’ll train them how to perform bioinformatic analysis on the large data set they’ve generated.”
 

The biggest difference between this new program and those at other universities is its guaranteed internship. Before creating the program, Luo spoke with CEOs and high-level managers at various biotech and pharmaceutical companies, asking what kinds of candidates they were seeking for mid-level employment. “They told me they need people who are not only biologists but, more importantly, who understand a bit of the business side—like management, regulatory processes, and product development—so they can engage with other professionals across the company,” she says. Luo anticipates a partnership with MCB’s robust Industrial Affiliates Program, which includes many local biotech firms built by Berkeley faculty, among others.
 

Tsai-Ching “Jack” Hsi
Tsai-Ching “Jack” Hsi

Equally as important, these companies need employees who have hands-on experience in the biotech setting so they can ramp up quickly. This is a combination not offered by similar programs at other institutions. “Many of these programs are only offered online,” Luo says, “so there's no internship experience at all. By contrast, our program will be completely in person and involve many hands-on experiences.”
 

Tsai-Ching “Jack” Hsi is the program's academic coordinator, and a former MCB graduate student researcher in the Bilder Lab. Once the program gets underway, he’ll be an instructor in the core lab courses and will help to mentor students as they navigate future career decisions.
 

“I definitely would have been interested in this program if it had existed when I was an undergrad,” Hsi says. “It opens up another avenue for students who are excited about biomedical research but are hesitant to commit five-plus years to a PhD and don’t feel like medical school is the right fit.”
 

Local firms are already expressing great interest in collaborating with MCB. “There’s so much interest on both sides with these industrial partnerships,” Luo says. “It’s a win-win situation for both the student and the company.”
 

 

Learn more about the new Master’s in Biotechnology program here.

 

 

 

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