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how engineer fit in the biotech industry

PostPosted: Fri Dec 03, 2004 1:45 pm
by peter
First I want to thank everyone who has been so generous in providing me with advice and suggestions on my last posting. I truly appreciate it from the bottom of my heart.

Now my next question is a little more specific. How will the role of an engineer fit into the future of biotechnology? I mean, I have applied to both chemical and bioengineering graduate programs from around the country, but my adviser has suggested that I get the degree in chemE but conduct research in bioengineering area. Is that a good advice to follow? How are the two engineering graduate degrees differ if the research being conducted are in the same field? Also, will the majority of engineers move into the field of biomanufacturing eventually, so instead of producing large quantities of chemicals it will be proteins that are produced? I am also interested in finding out programs that offer bioprocess. Could anyone suggest a good program I can look into?

Thank you

how engineer fit in the biotech industry

PostPosted: Fri Dec 03, 2004 2:08 pm
by Dave Jensen
Hi Peter,

You've had some good posts and have gotten a lot of discussion started. Thank you for your participation -- please make sure your colleagues know about this site.

With regards to your last question, of good bioprocessing programs, let me suggest, in a general sense, you can't beat a program such as UC Berkeley or MIT. More specifically, you can tell us what part of the US or Canada you are located in.

I'd like to give you a big warning. (And I know that I'll face some criticism after posting this, but what the heck. There is always SOMEONE somewhere who has done well in every degree choice . . .), My suggestion is this: Stay as far away as you possibly can from the "Bioengineering" field. This is a degree in search of some meaning. You send a resume or CV with Bioengineering on it, and no one seems to know what it means. It is a degree that universities started to pump out because of funding that comes from a large granting non-profit, and NOT because there was a need for the degree in the biotechnology industry. Yes, there are company sectors such as medical device that have had success with bioengineers, but usually this is a decision that leads directly to a VERY difficult job search.

However, classical engineers and biochemical engineers have been in increased demand in biotechnology/pharmaceuticals, primarily because of the number of products that are moving through the R&D pipelines and into process development, scaleup and manufacturing. There is nothing more fun and challenging (because I like engineering -- a personal choice) than to take the handoff from the bench scientists and figure out HOW TO MAKE THAT STUFF for real, in huge tanks and fermentors. As a result of the trend for more products, the trendline for these engineer jobs is going up as well.

Other types of engineers, such as mechanical engineers, have had some success in process/equipment design in biotech, or in metrology, validation, etc. I don't know as much about that career track and hope someone else can add their comments.

You ask a good question about having the same work done but under two different graduate degrees, and how this might impact your job search. My guess is that the FIRST PASS (only) readers, such as HR people, would react to the degree that the hiring manager wants. The Hiring Manager herself is going to know that the work was the same, and be open for that. But, when the HR person sees "bioengineering" instead of "chemical engineering" etc, it won't pass the first hurdle.

Dave Jensen, Moderator

how engineer fit in the biotech industry

PostPosted: Fri Dec 03, 2004 2:40 pm
by peter
Thank you for the reply Dave.

I am currently located in Maryland. I do not want to limit myself to just the NE schools and I am willing to pursue the degree in any area around the states from a good program. Besides Berkely and MIT, are there other schools that are not as overly competitive but at the sametime have a respectible program in bioprocessing?

how engineer fit in the biotech industry

PostPosted: Mon Dec 06, 2004 3:51 pm
by Dave Jensen
Hello Peter,

I just got off the phone with a consultant friend of mine who formerly ran the bioprocessing unit at Chiron. He suggested these schools: University of Wisconsin, Madison -- Rutgers -- UC Davis -- University College, London -- Duke -- and Nebraska, if you can get into Mike Meagher's program.

Also, he said that the University of CT Storrs has a great program for engineers in Lyophilization, and that the University of Tennessee has a great program for engineers in their Pharmacy school, and they even teach GMP's there! (Program run by Dr. Yi Lu).

Wish you all the best,

Dave Jensen

how engineer fit in the biotech industry

PostPosted: Mon Dec 06, 2004 11:01 pm
by Kelly Ann
My brother-in-law is doing his PhD in Chemical Engineering (with an emphasis in biomedical research) at the UConn-Storrs. He also applied to University of Washington, UC San Diego, UC Berkeley, as well as a couple other good programs that I forget. However, while the name can be important, I think it is more important to have an idea of the subspecialization that you are interested in ... which is why my brother-in-law is in Conneticut.

While you are just deciding where you'd like to go for school, you may also consider looking at job descriptions from bigger companies to see how engineers fit into the biotech industry. To do this, all you need to do is type in key words into an internet job board or career section of a company home page (that would likely be hiring engineers). This may sound strange but looking at job descriptions has helped me gain an appreciation for where I would like to end up.

Also, ChemE(s) arn't the only engineers with transferable skills to the biotech field. I have seen mechanical engineers and electrical engineers in both R&D (instrument development) as well as quality control. It really just depends on what you want to do.

how engineer fit in the biotech industry

PostPosted: Mon Dec 06, 2004 11:48 pm
by Dave Jensen
The Professor at CT Storrs who is so well tapped-into industry is Dr. M. Pikal.