Recently, we sat down with Concetta Dudley, J.D., M.B.E., program director of UMBC’s graduate program in Biotechnology. She shared her insights about the Biotechnology industry, why it’s an exciting time to be in it, how professionals can best enter into the field, and her personal journey to her career at UMBC.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and readability.
Can you tell us a little bit about your career path and how that led you to your position here at UMBC?
My career path to UMBC is actually a little bit different. I’m an attorney and a bioethicist by training, and that comes after many years doing exactly those things in the biotechnology industry. I actually started off as an adjunct instructor teaching bioethics and law for science professionals. That led me to really love the whole biotechnology education process and wanting to be a bigger part of that. And so when the opportunity came to lead the program, I jumped at it and haven’t looked back.
How important is advanced education in the field?
Advanced education is critical in the biotech space. It’s the key that unlocks a whole new future for students with an interest in biotechnology. UMBC”s Biotechnology program is a foundational one that gives students the business skills, the management skills, the leadership skills to advance in their careers and their companies. If they’re currently working with an existing company, it can change the path for them. To the extent that someone wants to do more in the biotechnology space, graduate education is absolutely essential.
What can a student expect out of the biotechnology program at UMBC?
The M.P.S. in biotechnology is geared toward that student who wants to have practical experiences that contribute to their work life in ways that are easily translatable from the classroom to their work. We teach our students things in the classroom today that they can implement tomorrow at work. It’s a practical program that’s designed to develop biotechnology leaders of tomorrow. This gives students the opportunity to wear a lot of scientific hats. It’s the opportunity to put on that business hat to develop a biotechnology leadership attitude that can enable students to develop themselves in biotechnology, as much as develop innovations that can impact the world.
How does the program prepare students for success?
Our program provides opportunities for success for our students by letting them interact with faculty who are doing the things that they hope to be doing. Our faculty are accomplished in science, bioprocessing, and in the regulatory space. They are passionate about teaching and serve as great role models and mentors for our students.
Can you talk about the nature of biotechnology and why it’s important to the world?
The nature of biotechnology has changed over the years. When we think about biotechnology, from a definitional perspective, we think about people at a bench doing laboratory work. They’re doing some of the nitty gritty, heavy lifting work in the context of biopharma, pharmaceutical development, and new devices. And certainly that’s a part of it. But biotechnology has become a lot more interdisciplinary. It’s transformed to something that’s responsive to the biological needs of our world and finding new ways to provide solutions. This involves a lot of people: scientists, data scientists, lawyers, ethicists, and people who are focused on economics. It’s about bringing these professionals together to solve biological and medical problems. That’s what makes biotechnology unique. It’s not focused so much on one individual molecule or one individual little piece of technology, although those are important. It’s the science of bringing a lot of components together to solve big problems.
What do experts or hiring managers look for in candidates as far as their skills, traits, educational credentials, and experience?
Hiring managers, particularly in the biotechnology space, look for people who not only have those developed technical skills that they may have received in the classroom or through other work experience, but who are primed to be the next generation of biotechnology leaders. They’re looking for people who have a high level of IQ and people who have developed those kinds of intangibles that are essential to becoming leaders in industry. Those professionals who go back to get their master’s degree or other graduate degrees tend to have an open mindedness and a desire to continue their learning. Employers take note of this. At UMBC, we believe in lifelong learning and we believe that our program supports those efforts in lifelong learning. Our program offers professionals a great opportunity to develop themselves and to become the kind of leaders and biotechnology professionals that the industry needs right now.
What kinds of things can somebody expect to do on a day-to-day basis in this field?
That’s actually a really highly individualized question. People who are in biotechnology are engaged in all sorts of activities and career paths. Some are in careers as laboratory managers, as someone responsible for the design of experiments and clinical trials, and as scientists who are leading the advancement and development of new drugs, new biologics, new medical devices. We also have a lot of students who’ve chosen different paths. Some have gone on to medical school, dental school, even law school, to work on dealing with some of the other things that go along with biotechnology. Still others have gone on to become patent attorneys or research physicians. Our program provides a fabulous foundation for people to pursue their goals and their dreams. It’s a great launching pad for accomplishing any number of things that folks want to accomplish in the biotechnology space, which is a rather large.
What advice do you have for someone entering the field?
For people who are just entering the field of biotechnology, it’s an exciting space for a lot of different opportunities. I suggest you explore all of them. Many of our students come into the program thinking that they have to decide before taking one course whether they want to learn more about something specific like bioprocessing, the regulatory world, or project management. But our programs are designed to allow students to get a flavor of all of that. They don’t have to commit to one thing or another from day one. So the best thing I can say is get a lot of experience in areas across the whole biotechnology spectrum. And as you progress through the program, you can concentrate on those things that feel right for you in your own career path and for the goals that you’ve set both in your career and in your life.
I would also suggest that you be open to go into areas that you’ve never gone into before. Try out new aspects of the field to demonstrate both your scientific open mindedness as well as a business open mindedness, both of which are really important to the industry. By opening yourself up to a wide variety of experiences in the classroom that you can translate into your work, you put yourself in a very different position than if you were to focus only on one very small aspect of it. We offer our students every opportunity to get as wide a breadth of experience as they possibly can during their time with us in the program. And we’re proud of each one of them for doing that.
About UMBC’s Graduate Program in Biotechnology
UMBC’s Biotechnology master’s degree is designed to provide students with the skills sought by the biotechnology industry. The curriculum offers advanced instruction in the life sciences, along with coursework in regulatory affairs, leadership, management, commercialization and legal issues inherent to a life science-oriented business.