The BIO5 Institute mobilizes top researchers in agriculture, engineering, medicine, pharmacy and science to find creative solutions to humanity's most pressing health and environmental challenges. Since 2001, this interdisciplinary approach has been a model of how to conduct collaborative research, and it has resulted in improved food crops, innovative diagnostics and devices, and promising new therapies. Learn more at BIO5.org.
From robotics and artificial intelligence to genomics, biotechnology and quantum computing, the future will be shaped by innovative and translational work being done in the bioscience industry — and a next generation of students willing to be disruptive thinkers and learners.
Since 2009, the University of Arizona's BIO5 Institute has partnered with the Biotechnology Industry Organization of Southern Arizona, or BIOSA, to host an annual event and encourage internships designed to connect UA students to opportunities in the Arizona bioscience industry.
The recent Student Industry Networking Event, or SINE, facilitates interaction between STEM and business students and potential mentors or future employers. Industry leaders and UA alumni who participate in SINE are sought out by students to consult about employment strategies and professional tips to ease the transition from college to the workforce.
One UA alumnus who made such a transition from student to researcher is Bradley Fritz.
"I was a BIO5 intern at Ventana Medical Systems in 2011, and it led me directly into a full-time position," Fritz said. "In the years since my internship, I've returned to SINE to be part of panel discussions with other former interns. The types of panel discussions and presentations at SINE are helpful in many ways. They get students thinking about careers, let them know what options are available nearby and give them experience asking the kinds of questions they will need in order to be successful in their job hunt."
Uwe Hilgert, director of industry relations and workforce development for BIO5, oversees the mission of SINE, building a platform where students and potential mentors can meet face to face.
"SINE satellite workshops are designed to help current students learn from previous SINE participants how they went about securing an internship and the doors this experience opened for them," Hilgert said.
Widening Their Network
Most college students focus on completing their course work and limit themselves to communicating with professors, teaching assistants and fellow students.
According to Hilgert, "The goal of SINE is to give students a glimpse of 'life on land' and ideas about how to get there while they are still swimming in the 'primordial soup.' And none of this would be possible without the support of the companies who generously donate their time to this event. In fact, before working with BIOSA to organize SINE, I had no idea about the number of local biotech companies and entrepreneurs who enjoy giving back to the community and significantly contribute to the UA's ongoing efforts of involving the community to engage students in new ways of learning."
Broadening awareness of bioindustry in Tucson and Arizona is just one benefit to be gleaned from SINE. Historically, SINE has drawn in prominent names from the Arizona bioscience industry, including Ventana Medical Systems/Roche, Raytheon, Icagen, Sanofi, UA CyVerse and UA Tech Launch Arizona. (For the full list of almost 40 organizations participating this year, visit http://education.bio5.org/exhibitorlist.)
"I would think that coming out of a university in a city like Tucson, you may not be aware of the caliber of companies that actually reside here," said Brian Ellerman, managing partner at Southwest Digital Health LLC and former digital initiative lead at Sanofi, a bioscience company and leader in global health care.
"You don’t necessarily know about every R&D organization because we don't make headlines in R&D. The effects of what we are doing are still 10-plus years away. So as a student, I think being able to come to an event like this, see these names, find out about the companies and then think about whether or not that's the kind of career you'd like to have — that's what makes this kind of an event just so valuable."
There are benefits, too, for industry partners that choose to participate.
Richard Austin, formerly with Sanofi and now leading the UA startup Reglagene, spoke to the perks of welcoming student interns to the office.
"Nearly all of Sanofi's life science and chemistry major interns were identified through SINE," Austin said. "The majority of high-quality interns selected by Sanofi were able to advance technology development programs with measurable contributions."
For local bioscience companies, student interns can bring a fresh perspective, youthful energy and creativity to the table. For students, an internship in the career of their choosing can provide mentorship, direction and a dose of reality.
"The student interns receive real-world experience working in a pharmaceutical discovery environment," Austin said. "They gain perspective on the true highs and lows of the industry. Two groups of interns were present for layoff rounds at Sanofi and the sale of the site to a third party. While not pleasant, this experience benefited students going into industrial roles ... and underscores the importance of always being ready for change."
The week marked the 10th year of SINE, and hundreds of students left with resources and contacts to help them toward successful entry into the workforce.