UW biotech program launches graduates into evolving industry (part 1)

UW biotech program launches graduates into evolving industry (part 1)

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series looking at the successes of five students from a UW program in biotechnology.
Predicting the future is tricky business.
Yet it is a widely held truth that biotechnology will be an integral part of the future “new economy.” And UW-Madison’s Master of Science in Biotechnology degree program is jump-starting the careers of many who are hoping to succeed in the brave new world of biotech.
“The mission of the program is to provide leaders and advocates for biotechnology through a fusion of science, business and law,” says Richard L. Moss, executive director of the M.S. in Biotechnology Program and chair of the Department of Physiology, where he also serves as a professor. “Once the idea for this program began to develop, the tremendous groundswell of support from across the university, the state and the local industry made it impossible not to develop this program.”
The program’s cross-disciplinary curriculum is offered in a flexible, two-year format geared specifically toward professionals who work full time. Graduates and employers alike value the program’s rigorous, leading-edge courses taught by UW-Madison’s world-class faculty in tandem with leaders from the biotech industry.
“This is a graduate-level biotechnology program of choice for technical professionals, scientists, attorneys and business strategists from around the country,” says Kurt J. Zimmerman, the program’s associate director. “In fact, 90 percent of our graduates cite a considerable impact on their careers even prior to graduation. This program enhances their ability to serve as technological entrepreneurs, facilitating product development and technology transfer — a role that is as valuable in a three-person startup as it is in a Fortune 500 enterprise.”
How is this program transforming professionals into the future leaders of the biotechnology industry?
Just ask some of the M.S. in Biotechnology Program’s recent graduates.
Michael Bragin, Class of 2005
A California native, Michael Bragin was no stranger to biotechnology.

Photo of Michael Bragin in the lab.

Michael Bragin

He had worked and attended school in what many consider to be the “birthplace of biotech” — San Francisco. He also gained significant business experience in biotech while at CIBC World Markets’ Healthcare Investment Banking Division in Menlo Park, Calif., where he helped chalk up more than $1.25 billion dollars in transactions relating to the life sciences.
So when he set his sights on a graduate degree in biotech, you’d think he might have selected one of the Golden State’s prestigious university programs in the field.
Think again.
Bragin chose UW-Madison’s M.S. in Biotechnology Program, hands down.
“What sets the UW program apart from others is the all-encompassing approach to business, science, law and ethics,” Bragin says. “It helps turn scientists into better business people, and vice versa.”
While Bragin already had a strong business and economic background, he says he appreciated the program’s “firm commitment to teaching business, finance, marketing and management principles.”
Not only did he strengthen his theoretical understanding of scientific principles, but he also found that he immediately could apply what he learned in practical settings.
“While I was enrolled in the program, I worked for Bone Care International, Inc., in Madison,” he recalls. “Someone at work had been discussing the complications of running and interpreting results for certain tests on potential drug compounds, and right away I understood what they were talking about, as we had discussed these tests in class the week before.”
For Bragin, the UW’s M.S. in Biotechnology Program has paved his path to the future.
Erik Dersch, Class of 2004
As a Laboratory Technician working at the Monsanto Co.’s Agracetus Campus in Middleton, Wis., Erik Dersch had been putting his scientific background to good use. But after about two and a half years, he wanted to further his scientific career.

Photo of Erik Dersch in the lab.

Erik Dersch

“While I enjoyed my work on genetically modified soybeans, I didn’t want to limit myself to a graduate degree focused on soy genetics,” he says.
Instead, he wanted to augment his scientific background with business courses.
“But pursuing an MBA was not a good fit for me,” he says. “I wanted a more well-rounded science-business background. That’s why I chose UW-Madison’s M.S. in Biotechnology Program.”
Dersch found that the program’s flexible format accommodated his full-time work schedule at Monsanto. Upon graduation, he was promoted to the position of Research Associate at the company, entailing a higher level of responsibility in the realm of research and development.
“I bring more to the table now, as I have a stronger foundation in licensing, patenting, marketing and regulatory issues,” he notes. “I’m also pursuing science in its purest form, designing and performing experiments that could lead to patents. In short, I enjoy my work more.”
Read about three more M.S. in Biotechnology students and their career paths in part 2.