Going Behind The Scenes With Industry Experts

Shobhit Patoria (MBP '18) explains how MBP-organized site visits offer students a unique look at the biotech field.

By Shobhit Patoria (MBP '18)

I have a strong interest in applied research, so the Master of Science in Biotechnology program (MBP) at Northwestern Engineering made perfect sense to me.

The program offered a plethora of research labs where I could conduct my 1,000 hours of research, and it gave me the freedom and flexibility to design my grad school experience the way I wanted to. I got to pursue research in a field of my choice and choose classes that were complementary to my research interests and goals.

Shobhit PatoriaOne of the best parts of my experience was the site visits we were able to take in San Francisco toward the end of my time in the program. My classmates and I visited Genentech, Celgene, Zymergen and Bolt Threads, and I thought these visits were important in the sense that they gave me a closer view of how the industry functions and the way they think about solving problems.

During our visits, we were able to listen to discussion panels that allowed us to network with industry leaders and ask them for pertinent career-related advice.

For me, there were two big learnings. First, I previously thought of career trajectories as a generally linear upward line, where a person started at a certain level and then gradually moved upward in terms of role and responsibilities. I thought this generally happened in a standard time frame and within a sector of industry. The industry leaders I spoke to, though, talked to us about “zig-zag” career trajectories where they started out doing something completely different and then switched tracks a couple of times. The lesson for me was that ultimately, the path doesn’t matter. It is the end goal that is important.

Secondly, it seems the industry is moving toward high-throughput, big data-oriented decision making that will be catalysed by innovations in automation and robotics. This could, in likelihood, become the norm in the next 10 years.

One memorable site visit for me was at Zymergen, a company that “uses biology as a source of new chemical building blocks that enable the development of novel products and materials.” During the visit, I had a really engaging conversation with one of their scientists. He asked me to send him an email when I had a chance, and he went on to give a glowing referral of me to one of their recruiters. One thing led to another, and I ended up getting a verbal job offer from them.

Although I didn't end up taking the job, I think the story demonstrates how powerful the MBP site visits can be.

I obviously can’t guarantee you’ll receive a job offer if you go on a site visit — and neither can the MBP team — but I would recommend that as you think about MBP, think about what you want to get out of it. The program offers a lot of flexibility to design your own academic experience. It’s up to you to make the most of the opportunity.