Are professional science master’s programs worth the investment?

A few days after I posted my last entry, on post-graduate training programs for pharma careers, GenomeWeb posted a link to a recent report from the Council of Graduate Schools which looks at outcomes for graduate from professional science masters programs.

“Professional Science Masters” (PSM) programs are fairly new.  For an overview, you can check out this New York Times article, which describes the way these  programs have grown since their initial introduction:

“I think of it as a 21st-century degree,” said David King, dean of graduate studies and research at the State University of New York College at Oswego. “It’s interdisciplinary. It’s a hybrid, which I think is more agile. It’s responsive to rapidly changing needs in terms of the job market.”

Nature has also written about these programs. As the Student Outcomes Survey report describes them,

“The PSM degree is designed to allow students to pursue advanced training in science, while
simultaneously developing workplace skills highly valued by employers. PSM programs prepare graduates for careers in business, government, and non-profit organizations, combining rigorous study in science and/or mathematics with coursework in management, policy, law, or related fields.

Along with an emphasis on the development of professional skills such as writing, leadership, and communication, most PSM programs require an experiential component that must include a final project that is developed with an employer. The experiential component typically includes an internship in a business or public sector setting.”

More than 50% of students in these programs are in a course of study related to the life sciences.  But are the programs a good career move?  According to the report,

“Since this survey was implemented roughly one to two months after spring 2011 graduation, and approximately six months after December 2010 graduation, the fact that 81.6% of respondents were employed so soon after graduation is an encouraging finding, especially given the current job market and unemployment rate. Among respondents who were working, 88.4% were working in a job that is closely or somewhat related to their field of study.”

The full report also includes some interesting data on what students found themselves doing after graduation, and about the salaries they were receiving.  You can find out more about different PSM programs that are available by checking out www.sciencemasters.com.

(Note that there are lots of postgraduate training programs that follow a ‘professional’ model without being officially part of the PSM program. However, you can be reasonably sure that a program that carries the official PSM brand is not a fly-by-night operation!)


Posted: September 3rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Education, Training | Tags: , | No Comments »

How to choose a clinical research training program

It’s getting to the point where you can’t open a newspaper or current affairs magazine without reading an article about how difficult it is to get a decent job these days. See, for example, “The Youth Unemployment Bomb” in Business Week or “The Outsiders” in the Economist. Many new graduates leave college deep in debt, and find that their degree is not quite the ticket to ride they had thought it would be. As a result, many are deciding to head back to school to pursue career-focused postgraduate education.

Career colleges and ‘practical’ masters degree programs are a very visible example of supply and demand. If a particular job category is seen as ‘hot’, you can bet you’ll be able to find a college ready to sell you a postgraduate program promising to prepare you for the field. Some require a year or more of classwork, whereas others offer results from a short online program. Many promise internships, co-op placements and opportunities to network with industry professionals. This is definitely true of the pharmaceutical sector: there are almost too many programs to count offering classes, certificates and degrees in clinical research, regulatory affairs, pharmaceutical quality control, and just about any other role in the sector.

Personally, I think this is a pretty disgusting development. It used to be that new graduates would be given a chance at an entry-level role, and trained on the job. Their college diploma or graduate degree was sufficient evidence to show that they were smart enough and determined enough to be given a chance to perform. Many of the current leaders in the pharmaceutical industry got where they are after being hired right out of school with little or no ‘real-world’ experience. Nowadays, students pay through the nose for their undergraduate education, only to find that they are expected to pay even more when they finish. They attend career colleges in order to gain access to internships, paying tuition instead of receiving a paycheque as they get that vitally-important entry level experience. It seems like an incredibly exploitative system.

Clearly, this can be a treacherous – and expensive – path for someone who’s simply trying to get their foot in the door to begin their working life. If you are trying to fulfill your career goals of becoming a clinical research associate, for example, how do you navigate this maze of choices, avoid ripoffs and scams, and find a program that’s right for you?

If you have decided that some additional training is the right next step for you, here are some things to look for when researching and choosing which institution will receive your hard-earned dollars:

(1) Bricks and mortar. One of the greatest advantages that a career training program can offer is the opportunity to build your network with people who are, or soon will be working in the pharmaceutical industry. Online programs simply can’t offer the same chance to get to know your classmates and teachers.

(2) Professional faculty: Your program should be taught by people with current, real-world experience in the industry. The program website should offer detailed bios on all lecturers and guest speakers. Google their names, and make sure that their pharmaceutical industry experience is relevant, significant, and recent. Clinical research, regulatory affairs and other pharmaceutical careers are very dynamic. You want to be sure you’re learning from someone who has experience with the most current facets of the industry.

(3) Pedigree/Reputation. In order for the program to add cachet to your resume, people will have to have heard of it. For this reason, a program that’s affiliated with a well-known institution may be better than a small standalone career college. If you’re not sure about the program’s reputation, do some investigating! Post a question to a relevant linkedin group, or ask for recommendations during your informational interviews. You can also check with professional organizations (like ACRP or SoCRA for clinical research) to see what programs they suggest.


Posted: August 25th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Clinical research, Education, Resources, Training | 2 Comments »

Free ICH-GCP Good Clinical Practice training course back online!

Great news! I have been able to find a mirror of the free online ICH-CGP Good Clinical Practice training course developed by MIT. Please see the original post for the updated link.


Posted: March 13th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Education, ICH-GCP, Training | 2 Comments »

An affair to remember: jobs in pharmaceutical regulatory affairs

The Regulatory Science program at the University of Southern California offers a variety of graduate certificates, a Masters program, and a new Doctorate geared towards regulatory affairs professionals. In the Regulatory Science program, students learn how to guide medical products and foods through the complex regulatory and reimbursement paths required to bring them to market. Regulatory Affairs is an incredibly important part of the drug development process, and in a very real sense plays the key role in determining the success or failure of a drug development program. Ultimately, it’s a company’s regulatory affairs team that must make the case to the FDA that a drug is safe, effective, and deserves to be on the market.

Read the rest of this entry »


Posted: February 21st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Education, Regulatory affairs | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

How to sell yourself and manage your career goals — Webcast

Here in Toronto, the MaRS Discovery District is a biotechnology research hub that was specifically developed to connect the science, business and finance communities.

If there is a biotechnology hub like this near you, it can be a great resource for your job search. MaRS frequently holds events and seminars that allow students and interested members of the public to learn more about all aspects of the biotechnology sector.  One series of lectures, called Entrepreneurship 101, is especially useful for getting a behind-the-scenes look at what’s involved in the operation of a biotech business.

Not in Toronto?  Never fear!  The Entrepreneurship 101 lectures are available for free online as webcasts.

This particular session, “Managing your Career – how to sell yourself and manage your career goals“, is of particular relevance for this blog. Teresa Snelgrove, an executive recruiter specializing in the pharmaceutical and biotech sector, and Frederic Sweeney, a scientist who left the lab to start a career in finance, both share insights into the job search and career development.

You can view the webcast here, and download a PDF of the presentation here (requires a free slideshare registration).

A webcast of a previous version of the same presentation can be viewed here.  You may also want to check out the full archive of Entrepreneurship 101 presentations.


Posted: January 23rd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Education, networking, Resources, Resumes & CVs | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

Free online training course in ICH-GCP Good Clinical Practice

[Update 2011: Unfortunately the MIT e-learning site appears to be out of service. However I have been able to find these courses hosted at a new location.  Enjoy them here.]

A thorough knowledge of good clinical practice is essential for landing a job as a clinical research associate, assistant, or coordinator.

Instead of paying a lot for an online ICH-GCP training program, you can learn what you need for free from these video seminars.  The site provides a series of lectures covering various aspects of the GCP guidelines.  It was designed to train physicians in South America and it’s affiliated with Pfizer and MIT, so you can trust what they tell you.  The only bad thing about it is that you’ll need to install RealPlayer (or the Real Alternative codec pack).

Read the rest of this entry »


Posted: January 10th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Clinical research, Education, ICH-GCP, Resources, Training | Tags: , , , , , , | 81 Comments »

Watch out for scams in clinical research training programs

This is a subject that really makes me angry.  If you’re reading this site, it’s probably because you are anxious and hopeful, perhaps even desperate to find your first job in the pharmaceutical industry.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there who are willing to prey on that desperation and take advantage of job-seekers.

A common way to do this is to offer ‘training programs’ of dubious value, usually offered online at a cost ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars.  I’m aware of a number of these courses related to specifically clinical research and so-called ‘CRA training’. These courses will provide you with some information about ICH-GCP (which you could have found online for free), give you some online ‘exams’ (which you can often retake as often as you like) and in the end, give you a ‘certificate’ that you can print out and proudly reference in your resume.  What you don’t know is that industry recruiters are well aware of these scam companies, and the only thing that these certifications will indicate is that you were gullible enough to be taken in by a con artist — probably not the impression you wanted to make!

The most disgusting of these scam companies has created a whole empire of sham companies and organizations, building a web to lure you in.  They have a phony recruiting company, a phony industry association, and several phony ‘biotech companies’ and CROs.  These sham organizations will post fake job advertisements promising entry-level opportunities in clinical research.  When you apply, you’ll get an email telling you that sorry, you aren’t qualified, but you should consider taking a online training program, which they’ll happily refer you to.  If you’re ‘lucky’, you may even be told that you qualify for a special ‘scholarship’, offered by the phony industry association.

I don’t know why the guy behind this scam hasn’t been busted and hauled off to prison.  He’s probably scammed hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars out of desperate job seekers, many of them new immigrants, over the years.

Why aren’t more people aware of this scam?  Well, part of it is that the head of this operation seems to be litigious.  Many discussions about Clinical Research Training programs over at Indeed.com refer to the program, but critical comments are mysteriously removed after the ‘CEO’ of this company posts to ‘respond to his critics’.

If you read enough of these forums, you’ll find that a lot of people are taking these courses, and many of them will even recommend them.  Some of these sound like shills to me… if you’ve created a phony training program, creating phony supporters isn’t that much more difficult.  Others sound like genuine people who don’t want to admit that they’ve invested more than $1000 in a program that won’t help them get where they want to go.

I am not going to directly link to the fraudulent sites in this post because I can’t afford to be sued.  But I will link you to a forum where braver souls than I are discussing this scam.

So, if you are still set on getting some training to help you land that first pharma job, how can you stay safe and avoid getting scammed?

  1.  Avoid online courses if possible. If you must go this route, ensure that the course is offered by a legitimate organization, like an accredited university or a government agency. In-class training is almost always more valuable, especially if it includes a co-op or other hands-on element.
  2. Do your research! Use the power of the internet to search for discussions about the program you’re considering. Be extremely skeptical when reading positive reviews and pay close attention to any negative comments being made.
  3. Ask the experts. Try to speak to people who are actually working in the industry to find out what training programs they recommend. Check out the websites for professional association, and see which programs they recommend.  For clinical research, you should check out the Association for Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP) or the Society of Clinical Research Associates (SoCRA).

Of course, clinical research is not the only area where scam courses and certifications exist. I am also aware of some shady sites related to Medical Science Liaison training. Basically, any career path that is in high demand by job seekers provides an opportunity for con artists to take your hard-earned cash.  Be careful out there.


Posted: January 10th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Clinical research, Clinical Research Associates, Education, Medical Science Liaisons, Training | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »