The Benefits of a Broad Curriculum

Asha Varghese

A web search on non-treatable or inefficient treatment of diseases and conditions that affect the ears, nose, and throat produces a long list. Asha Varghese (MBP ‘18) is working to help make that list a little shorter.  

Varghese is a clinical research project manager at UT Southwestern Medical Center in the department of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery – more commonly known as Ear, Nose, and Throat, or ENT. 

For the past year, she has helped manage and coordinate drug trials aimed at eliminating or alleviating the common and uncommon conditions that plague parts of the population, ranging from hearing loss to head and neck cancer.  

To find success, she leans on the lessons she learned as a student in Northwestern Engineering's Master of Biotechnology Program (MBP). 

“The MBP program is really broad,” she said. “It teaches you bioprocessing, business management, as well as about clinical trials. The key is about what excites you.”  

These days, what excites Varghese in the field of clinical research is helping patients find a quality of life amidst the suffering caused by their condition or disorder. Her job as a clinical research project manager is to guide studies from startup through study close out, including contracts and budget negotiations.  

Her role also involves managing FDA and non-FDA regulated clinical trials. 

Witnessing and hearing patients' stories about their quality-of-life improvement thanks to a successful clinical trial is what keeps her enthused. 

“Whenever I see a patient, even if it's one patient, who is cured from any diagnosis that he or she might have been facing for years, that is really rewarding,” she said. “That's what keeps me going in this role.” 

Varghese came to MBP in 2016 after earning her bachelor’s degree in India in genetic engineering the year before. She said she was attracted to the program because of its wide array of classes and the possibility of building meaningful connections with those who could help her advance in the areas involved in biotech research and development. 

“It lets you meet people from different professions,” she said. “The program doesn't bring people with just one professional expertise, but it brings together people with different areas of interest.”  

Varghese joined UT Southwestern Medical Center in 2018 as a benchwork academic researcher. She transitioned to being a clinical research coordinator in 2021.  

Her research department is a team of six research coordinators with more than 80 clinical trials that involve both adult and children patient populations. 

The biggest challenge in her job is to ensure studies are being conducted in compliance with the FDA and institutional policies. Those regulations grow even more stringent when the study involves vulnerable populations. 

Varghese said her MBP education helped prepare her for the rigors of the regulatory environment in which she now works – even though in hindsight, she realized she could have been even more prepared. 

“There were regulatory courses, but since I was not interested in clinical research at the time, I did not dive much into them,” she said. “But now when I look back, it makes me realize how much MBP broadens your knowledge on biotechnology.” 

Having worked in lab research and now with clinical trials, Varghese said she’s happy to be where she is in her career. Before MBP, she never thought her career would take her down this path.  

Now she can't imagine doing anything else. 

“I just love what I do,” Varghese said. “I don't see myself moving anywhere else.” 

McCormick News Article