MBP director Danielle Tullman-Ercek and two current students talked about the American Chemical Society’s massive spring gathering and how Northwestern Engineering’s Master of Biotechnology Program (MBP) is preparing students for new trends and innovations.
There was a lot of “new” for Olivia Meyer and Byron Fan when they attended the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) spring meeting in March.
The conference, which brought together more than 10,000 industry professionals and members of academia for five days in San Diego, was an opportunity for the two students in Northwestern Engineering’s Master of Biotechnology Program (MBP) to network with new contacts and hear about emerging trends and innovations in biotechnology.
“I learned more about various positions in biotech and pharma from the industry professionals I talked to,” Fan said. “In addition, I obtained a better understanding on how to progress my career when I start working this summer.”
Many of the topics for the conference’s biochemical technology (BIOT) division sessions were hardly new to the duo. In fact, they closely mirrored what Meyer, Fan, and their fellow classmates have learned in MBP.
“It goes to show how much time and effort we put into developing the MBP curriculum that there is a topic at such an important conference for every course or minor certificate we offer,” said Danielle Tullman-Ercek, MBP director and co-chair of the conference’s BIOT division. “We’ve worked hard to make the MBP curriculum comprehensive and reflective of what we see in industry.”
That the topics students learn about in MBP so closely mirror the important issues within biotechnology made the difficult job of organizing the nearly 400 individual talks in the BIOT division a bit easier for Tullman-Ercek – but not much. It still meant finding the right speakers and topics to match the interests and needs of a diverse group of attendees.
The meeting was the first large in-person gathering for the ACS BIOT division since the pandemic began, and COVID-19 loomed large among the topics discussed at the conference.
“For years we’ve been teaching biotechnology by talking about penicillin and developing the first antibiotic,” Tullman-Ercek said, “Now, we have the COVID-19 vaccine as a new case study to showcase the biotechnology development process from start to finish.”
By attending the conference, Meyer and Fan were able to hear the lessons they learn in MBP be reinforced, while at the same time affording them the opportunity to pursue their career aspirations.
“I wanted to make connections in the San Diego biotechnology industry,” Meyer said. “Connecting with members of other biotechnology-focused labs at ACS provided a valuable opportunity to learn about available academic experiences while events such as the BIOT SharkTank was wonderful exposure to the commercial requirements of the industry.”
Fan was able to present his research from Tullman-Ercek’s lab as part of a poster session during the conference.
“The presentation helped with my oral scientific communications skills and how to present my research in a way that is understandable and engaging,” he said.
As Tullman-Ercek stepped back from her conference organizer role, she was able to reflect on what the experience provided for those in attendance.
“It showed how important being in person and having conversations outside of Zoom or the virtual world can be,” she said. “We can try to replicate that, but it’s never going to be the same as getting to meet in person and see the science.”
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