University News

Bio master’s programs see enrollment jump

Biotechnology, biomedical engineering programs offer more off-campus opportunities

By
Staff Writer
Thursday, March 24, 2016

Enrollment in the University’s biotechnology and biomedical engineering master’s programs has increased from 12 to 65 students since 2012, according to a University press release.

The quintupling in enrollment over the past four years comes as the University has invested heavily in the programs, expanding a number of both on- and off-campus opportunities for graduate students, said Master’s Program Director Jacquelyn Schell, who is also an assistant professor of molecular pharmacology, physiology and biotechnology.

One such opportunity is the recent offering of industry co-ops to graduate students. Co-ops are six-month-long, full-time, paid internships at biotechnology or biomedical companies that provide students with course credit and allow them to gain hands-on experience in their industries, Schell said.

When undergraduates from other universities apply, “they always mention that Brown’s one of the few places they’ve heard about with a master’s level co-op,” she added.

Both Erica Kahn GS, a fifth-year biomedical engineering student, and Andrea Chin GS, a fifth-year biotechnology student, identified the co-op option as one of the defining features of the University’s master’s programs. Kahn has worked on drug delivery at a pharmaceutical and biotechnology company, while Chin will begin an internship in Indianapolis in mid-May.

“The co-op option is something that sets the Brown program apart,” Chin said, adding that she feels that her experience in Indianapolis will help her decide what career to pursue in the future. “I’ve always wanted to do medicine, but I also want to see all the other paths.”

New course offerings in biotechnology and biomedical engineering also strengthen the programs, Schell said. Since 2012, five to six new classes have been offered to master’s students that are specifically designed to prepare students for industry jobs or for a PhD program.

The opportunity to work in labs is another factor that has increased the programs’ popularity. Both Chin and Kahn are engaged in research projects: Chin is studying the molecular effects of repetitive traumatic brain injury, while Kahn is working in an orthopedics lab at Rhode Island Hospital.

Many students who participate in research “end up with publications, which are the currency of the science field,” Schell said.

“The master’s students are actually making significant contributions to the research enterprise of Brown,” said Jeffrey Morgan, co-director of the Center of Biomedical Engineering. “They’re really enhancing our research capabilities.”

The University’s effort to increase on- and off-campus opportunities for biotechnology and biomedical engineering students is motivated by both greater student interest and a thriving job market, Schell said.

“In 2012, we decided that this was a very marketable degree,” Schell said. “Students in bio have interest in applied sciences instead of just science for science’s sake,” she added.

In recent years, students have shown an increased desire to use their training in biology to “make a product or to cure a disease,” she added. Morgan agreed that growing student interest is a nationwide phenomenon. Job opportunities for candidates with a master’s degree in these fields are also plentiful, he said.

“If you look to New England and Boston, you see that there are lots and lots of medical device (companies), pharmaceutical companies and biotechnology companies,” he said. Students who graduate from the University’s biotechnology and biomedical engineering programs have many options: jobs in these industries, research at hospitals and universities or the pursuit of a higher degree, Schell added.