iSpeak Blog

Brunch with Biotech Connects Students with Industry Professionals

Andria Thomas, BS
Ernest Kenneth Strehlow, Jr.
Sahiti Gajjala
Semaj Troupe
Brunch with Biotech Connects Students with Industry Professionals

As Industry professionals devoted to developing and inspiring the love of STEM, it has always been our goal to share our knowledge and expertise with those who may be curious about the diverse roles available in the growing biotech industry, while also helping them to grow their professional networks to assist them with their future educational and career goals. Many of us began our own educational journeys at junior colleges and remember the struggles we faced trying to compete for a coveted internship or interview for our first job. Given the experience we as industry professionals now have, it’s vital that we “pay it forward” to the next generation of up-and-coming junior college students to help pave the way to a path to success. ISPE San Francisco Bay Area Chapter therefore presented “Brunch with Biotech” as part of our new initiative: Project LIFT.

Conferences, seminars, and webinars are abundant in this day and age, but they have some major flaws regarding students. Often these events are not accessible to students as they are industry events organized by industry professionals, for industry professionals. While these events can be awe-inspiring for those already in the industry, they can also be too formal and intimidating for students who are not familiar with industry-relevant verbiage. Additionally, these events do not provide adequate time to create a dialogue of growth for students due to the rigorous attendance schedule for relevant panels/sessions.

Held in October 2021 one of the goals of “Brunch with Biotech” was to host an event that was accessible and relevant to students. Julia Rogers, a Biochemistry student at the College of San Mateo remarked, “Something that stood out to me from the event was how diverse the speakers were. It seemed like every speaker had a different backstory of how they ended up in biotech. This was encouraging to listen to and assured me that anyone can work in such an industry as long as they have perseverance. Regardless of how much experience and expertise a professional had, they were all extremely supportive of the students’ ambitions. I greatly appreciated the advice about summer internships that the speakers shared with me and hope to attend future Brunch with Biotech events.”

The planners of the event focused on organizing an event specifically geared towards students to give them access to some of the best industry professionals available. “Having an opportunity to have a face-to-face conversation with an industry professional, to me, is like being able to ‘test drive’ your career of choice. I wish I had this kind of event when I was a student,” said To Tran, event organizer. By pairing professionals, with diverse career and educational backgrounds, with students in a round robin style fashion utilizing a hybrid in-person/virtual format, we allowed students to thoroughly “test drive” the careers of all industry volunteers present. Students had the opportunity to learn more about the interests of the professionals, how their interests shaped their career goals, and how they were able to grow into the positions they hold today. We also tackled difficult questions such as getting internships, applying to your first job, dealing with difficult workplace situations, and understanding that your career is a learning process in which you are expected to continually learn and grow within your respective roles.

Industry professionals were also encouraged to have in-depth and meaningful conversations with many of the impressive and ambitious students present at the event and were able to provide actionable and relatable advice to students while taking into consideration their specific majors and career paths. Many of the professionals in attendance formed personal connections with these students based on their own individual experiences concerning their shared educational backgrounds and past struggles. These shared experiences made the students optimistic about their own future in STEM, a sentiment best expressed in this quote from Laura Hyatt, event organizer, “This career event turned out to benefit our students and the professionals who came to mentor them. For many of our first-generation students, meeting someone of a shared background who has managed to navigate higher education and found a rewarding career in the pharmaceutical industry was a first. They were really humbled to realize how much support the mentors wanted to provide. By the same token, I think many of the volunteer mentors were taken back to their college experiences and very thoughtfully shared what they wished they’d known at the time.”

Many students were proactive at the event, searching for internships to ignite their early careers and were very excited to engage with industry professionals to talk about their career aspirations to pursue a career in STEM. It was thrilling to see how their aspirations grew as opportunities they had not been aware of until this event were presented. Alexandra Awdow, an Engineering student at West Valley College shared her experience “In the beginning of my college journey, my only concern was getting an engineering degree in either Biomedical or Chemical. I knew about the job prospect of working in biotech companies, but I wanted something more adventurous and unique. Any engineer can work in a lab, but I wanted something with more excitement. At the Brunch with Biotech event, I met a mechanical engineer who worked on converting geothermal energy into electricity in rural Indonesia. This really opened my eyes to the possibilities of travel as well as helping under-resourced communities to have access to modern day technologies such as electricity. I hope that once I am an experienced engineer, I can travel and help different communities around the world. Whether it be to help introduce modern day technology to these communities, or address and help with health concerns. I highly recommend anyone who wants to network and hear stories from skilled engineers to come to the next Brunch with Biotech!”

Brunch with Biotech Connects Students with Industry Professionals

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The enthusiasm, passion and personal connections formed during this event has encouraged the ISPE San Francisco Chapter to continue to offer many more “Brunch with Biotech'' sessions at a variety of junior colleges in the future. We plan to expand our outreach sessions to reach as many students as possible thanks to Project LIFT. To accomplish this goal, we will continue to work closely with the Associated Student Government (ASG) to ensure optimal communication and future marketing promotions for this event. In addition, we will continue to utilize the in-person/virtual hybrid model which was directly related to an increased attendance of 40% more students than would have otherwise been possible without offering the virtual attendance option. It is our mission for the Brunch with Biotech program to increase our scope to include partnerships with STEM-based companies to set aside dedicated paid internship positions specifically for junior college students. It is also on our agenda to create scholarships for promising young junior college students pursuing careers in STEM as well as to provide mentorships and support well into their young professional careers. ISPE San Francisco is truly looking forward to investing in these bright young individuals and welcoming them into the ISPE community as some of the best and brightest in the Biotech Industry.