My First Quarter in MBP at Northwestern

Connor Forsyth reflects on his introduction to the Master of Biotechnology Program.

Connor Forsyth recently wrapped up his first quarter in Northwestern's Master of Biotechnology Program (MBP) — a 10-week stretch Forsyth described as a sprint. For Forsyth, who entered the program with a Bachelor of Science in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the quarter was an opportunity to adjust to the program's rigor, get to know his classmates, faculty and potential preceptors, and experience first-hand how the program can prepare him to achieve his professional goals.

Connor ForsythNow, as he prepares to enter his second quarter, Forsyth took time to look back on why he chose MBP at Northwestern, his first-quarter experience and what he's excited to learn about moving forward.

What was it about MBP that appealed to you?

The Master of Science in Biotechnology at Northwestern offered me the ability to diversify my professional experience. MBP’s holistic approach to preparing students for careers in and beyond the biotechnology field was the biggest factor I considered while searching for a graduate program. I have been able to tailor my laboratory experience and class schedule to fit my personal career goals and explore disciplines — like business and nanotechnology — that I wouldn't have otherwise been exposed to had I immediately entered another post-graduate program.

What is it that you want to do professionally?

After completing this degree, I hope to pursue an MD-PhD program to become a physician-scientist within the field of oncology. Physician-scientists play an integral role as liaisons between science and medicine with the goal of bringing revolutionary medical treatments from theory to reality.

How do you think MBP will prepare you for that?

Through its practicum, MBP ensures that its students closely follow trends in biotechnology with guidance from our industrial advisory board. In courses and in lab work, I have already learned a great deal about the medical and pharmaceutical industries from the perspective of both a scientist and a business person. Not only have I expanded my skill set as a researcher, but I now have a much broader understanding of how these industries operate and intersect – important knowledge that is seldom taught to those who traditionally think of themselves as scientists.

In addition to the practical experience and relevant course load, the program emphasizes the development of soft skills that are necessary for the success of all professionals. I have grown immensely in my ability to work in teams, communicate effectively, and think critically. These soft-skills that I continue to practice in this program will ultimately set me apart from other candidates in the job force and allow me to grow into a successful professional.

How important was MBP's research requirement — specifically the 1,000 hours — in your decision to attend Northwestern?

The research requirement was a must when I was searching for a post-graduate program. As someone who has previous laboratory experience in biochemistry and tumor biology, I was keen on using the research requirement in this program as a mechanism by which I could explore a new area of research before committing to a specific field as a PhD student. Both the number of faculty members and the diverse array of research projects available at Northwestern made it easy for me to explore options and meet with professors before making a final decision. I elected to pursue research in the growing field of nanotechnology because it provides me with the opportunity to expand upon my knowledge of both biology and chemistry.

Regardless of one’s career goals, it’s important to understand the function and process of basic science within biotechnology. The 1,000-hour research project is an excellent way to ensure students have the tools to succeed after graduation.

How would you describe your first quarter in the program?

The first quarter of the program was a sprint. From orientation week to finals week, the program was always presenting me with new challenges that kept me engaged with everything we were learning. The first quarter was especially important for me and my colleagues as we adjusted to the program’s rigor, found research preceptors, and applied to internships.

What were one or two highlights from your first quarter?

The biggest highlights of my first quarter were choosing a research preceptor and completing final presentations for both the core Technology Commercialization course and my NUvention: Medical elective. Most important for me was finding a suitable research preceptor and accompanying project. After searching for positions throughout the entire quarter, it was a very rewarding experience to commit to a lab that fit my interests and goals. Final presentations in both Technology Commercialization and NUvention: Medical marked the culmination of my teams’ respective work throughout the quarter and highlighted how much everyone had learned in 10 short weeks.

What surprised you during your first quarter in the program?

Coming from a large university, I was particularly delighted to learn that MBP faculty members are exceptionally transparent and accessible to students. Our faculty is always willing to help students navigate within and beyond the program. I greatly appreciate that the MBP administration is always trying to improve the program with advice from both students and the industrial advisory board.