Professional Development

Free biotech and pharma training

Consider these classes, courses, seminars and certificate programs
Courtney Chandler
March 26, 2021

I've asked a lot of people for this column about how they prepared for careers in biotech or pharma. Many of them mentioned classes, courses or seminars that they attended to get a feel for the space. This week, I'm highlighting some free options that might be useful as you prepare for a career in these fields.

First, check your university

Several of our past guests (project analyst Surya Sundar, project manager Brandon Anjuwon–Foster and senior scientist Sadiye Amcaoglu Rieder to name a few) started attending workshops or speaker series at their postdoctoral institutions when they began to think about moving into industry. So that would be the first suggestion: See if your university (or nearby institutions) offers seminars, workshops or even courses that you could take. This is a good way to start getting basic information about the field and maybe even in-depth knowledge and career advice.

Not sure where to look for these opportunities? If your school or department has a career-development office, start by contacting them. Although schools variably embrace the nonacademic career path for graduate students, the career-development office should be able to point you toward  resources. Also look for events such as alumni panels to see if anyone from the industry space is speaking.

Free online courses

There are many free online courses on topics that are relevant to anyone trying to get into the biotech space. The specific courses you'll want to take will vary by what your career goals are. If you’re thinking of leaving the bench, courses related to business, regulatory affairs and patent law will help you start familiarizing yourself with lingo and concepts that you probably won’t learn during your academic training.

Surya Sundar, a project analyst for a biopharmaceutical company with whom I spoke before, said he recommends anything related to business or patent law.

“The reason for this being that financial terms take some time to adjust to using in everyday speech, and patent law basics would be useful since biotech is run on intellectual property considerations,” he said.

Along those lines, the Copenhagen Business School offers a patenting in biotechnology course through Coursera that covers the roles and responsibilities surrounding patents and intellectual property rights. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology offers a course on the science and business of biotechnology that gives an overview of the development of early-stage biotechnology companies and will help explain the science and business side of the biotech field.

If you’re hoping to stay at the bench and conduct research in a biotech setting, other courses that focus on relevant scientific concepts and experimental design might be more useful. These include a drug discovery class offered by the University of California, San Diego, and the "Genomics: Decoding the Universal Language of Life" course offered by the University of Illinois, both on Coursera.

Harvard University also offers a whole library of biotechnology courses. Although you have to pay for many of them, some relevant courses are free, including the EdX courses "Prescription Drug Regulation, Cost and Access: Current Controversies in Context" and "Entrepreneurship in Emerging Economies." Note that completing the courses is free, but, if you want a verified certificate of completion, you will have to pay a fee.

Free certificates

If you’re looking for an official certification of course completion or a coordinated training program, you’ll most likely have to pay. But there are a few courses that offer free certificates or free certificate programs.

One place to look is Alison.com, a free online education platform that offers courses and certificates in many workplace-based skills. Relevant to biotechnology jobs are courses covering the fundamentals of project management and a diploma in project management program. There are also certificate courses for bioengineering and biotechnology and a diploma in experimental biotechnology program.

For those looking to stay at the bench and work with big data, IMB offers a data science professional certificate program.

Other resources

Outside of formal classes and courses, there is a ton of online material that gives insight into the biotech industry. These resources can help you familiarize yourself with different job types across the field. Also, many of my past interviewees have mentioned having to learn the vocabulary of the industry. Accessing these industry-focused resources is one way to start doing that.

To start, Sundar recommends looking on LinkedIn for free webinars and career panels.

“I’ve noticed a lot more panels on industry topics on LinkedIn since COVID, so I would suggest attending ones that look interesting. Most of them are free,” he said.

If you’re not on LinkedIn, there are plenty of other resources. Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News is a good website to browse current articles and topics in genetics-related biotech. BioSpace, which describes itself as the web “home of the life sciences industry,” covers topics ranging from biotech to clinical research and has many resources for those interested in getting a flavor of the variety in the field.

The Cell journal Trends in Biotechnology is also a good resource for the latest developments in the field and can be helpful with learning how industry-produced data are presented.

Finally, the Food and Drug Administration offers training and educational resources, including free webinars that cover a range of topics related to drug discovery, biotechnology and regulatory affairs.

Courtney Chandler

Courtney Chandler is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, and an industry careers columnist for ASBMB Today.

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