Daniel Rubinger, recent grad from the University of Toronto’s Master of Biotechnology program, was one of the 50,000 undergraduate students caught in the three-month strike at York University in 2008-09.
While the experience was a horror story for some, for Daniel, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Extending his stay to ease the compressed school year’s workload, he ended up doing cancer biology research – from which he even got a publication!
And the same year the strike ended, he and several student groups organized York’s first Life Sciences Career Fair. It was through that event that he came across the Master of Biotechnology program, and, intrigued by what he saw, Daniel quickly wanted to find out more.
“The more people I talked to,” he says, “the more I realized that this was a very vast industry that I knew very little about but I wanted to get more involved with, and that’s how I landed in the MBiotech Program.”
What is biotechnology?
Roses are blue, violets are –wait, that can’t be right. Can it? With biotechnology, it absolutely can.
Biotech is a mystery box to most people, a buzzword we don’t know much about.
“Biotech sounds a lot more complicated than it really is,” Daniel states. “Biotech is improving on previous technologies using biological means.”
“I’m going to steal a tagline from my master’s program,” he says, “which is biotechnology is ‘where science meets business.’ Trying to take something that was made in a scientific, academic setting and bring it into the clinic or into the field or somewhere where it can be applied.”
Still confused? By way of example, Daniel points to agriculture. Biotech companies are able to modify the genes of certain crops, making them pest-resistant. They’re taking an existing scientific technology called protein engineering, he explains, and making it accessible in other areas of the world.
It’s the fascinating industry that makes changing the taste or texture of chocolate and growing a blue rose, which doesn’t exist in nature, possible. And don’t forget about the insulin used to help diabetics; that’s one of the more famous examples of biotechnology.
It’s a competitive job market…
We’re still in a tough financial climate that’s making it extremely difficult for biotech and pharma companies to increase their new hires, reveals Daniel.
While further education might help you get a job, he says, having prior work experience in the biotechnology or pharmaceutical industry is important.
“You don’t want to be overqualified yet have your lack of experience holding you back,” he adds.
…so knock on as many doors as you can and get your foot in!
Daniel advises people looking into biotech to search for a co-op internship program or programs with strong connections to the industry.
“It’s a very small industry and people tend to know each other,” he says. “As soon as you get your first job, whatever that is, more opportunities start presenting themselves.”
For people who are not in the position to go back to school, Daniel suggests attending networking events and workshops. They’ll give you the opportunity to meet professionals in the industry and get a glimpse into the business side of biotechnology.
“Most criticism about academics trying to get into the industry is that they don’t understand the business side. Therefore, do whatever you can to understand what’s involved in taking a drug from bench to bedside or a biotech innovation from bench to the field.”
On being a Research Associate
Daniel landed a co-op internship position at a large pharmaceutical company through the MBiotech Program. He worked in the medical division there for two years before starting his current role as a Research Associate at a healthcare research firm that focuses on health economics and medical writing.
“The type of work that we do focuses more on how to get a drug or medical device from regulatory approval into reimbursement, which means getting it paid for by either a public group such as OHIP or a private insurance company,” says Daniel.
It’s a fast-paced job that entails a lot of medical writing and translating dense, scientific jargon into understandable business-speak. It also involves performing economic analyses to compare the healthcare and clinical costs and benefits associated with a drug or medical device. Looking at the report, the politician, government, or private payer can then decide for themselves if the product is worth reimbursement.
Of course the work can get stressful, but Daniel also finds it exciting to be exposed to so much in a very short amount of time. He’s always been interested in roles that involve healthcare, and feels privileged to be a part of the industry.
“There are so many ways to improve patient care,” he says, “and I hope that every role I have in my career involves that.”