Networking in a growing industry at TEC-SMART

 

Tyler McNeil

Creative Editor

Students in the life sciences field were introduced to potential future employers at TEC-Smart last Friday through Bioconnex, a Center for Economic growth (CEG) program aimed at strengthening the Capital Region’s growth in the biotechnology market.

The event, ran from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Feb. 6 at the TEC-Smart campus in Malta. About 25 students from Union College, Skidmore College and Hudson Valley attended the free event.

Over three hours, students were presented with ways to connect to regional employers in life sciences industries. Employers such as Taconic, Regeneron, and Albany Molecular Research Inc. (AMRI), which comprised three out of five mentors at the event, have used Bioconnex to connect to students.

“What Bioconnex is all about is supporting life sciences across the Capital Region. One of the things [members of Bioconnex] starting talking about is how career development conversation in the life sciences can be somewhat taboo. What we have been trying to do is create an event that stimulates that conversation with students,” said James Grabowski, Associate Director of Mergers & Acquisitions Program Office at AMRI.

“We work with the CEG on a lot of different initiatives, and they’re always great partners because many of their programs can be pushed through the economic impact of Hudson Valley,” said Penny Hill, associate dean of TEC-Smart.

Hill organized the event with Nancy Bush, technical assistant in the department of biology, chemistry and physics at Hudson Valley; Peter Schaefer, dean of the Hudson Valley biology, chemistry and physics department; the CEG; and members of Skidmore College. According to Bush, the location of TEC-Smart acted as a bridge between Hudson Valley, 25 miles south, and Skidmore, 13 miles north.

“I’m just deciding where I want to be. Strong networking is new to me,” said Molly Potter, a biology major at Skidmore College.

The event centered on the challenges of networking and learning about local job opportunities available in the life sciences field. Hudson Valley students, such as Shannon Miller, sought further guidance through the event. “It’s great hearing other people’s perspectives. It’s really what’s going to affect my future, and these groups have been quick but really helpful,” said Miller.

Speed-mentoring sessions at the Friday event lasted about 15 minutes each. Students participated in five different sessions.

“You take a little bit of all of them and absorb them,” said Orion Hamchuk, biotechnology student at Hudson Valley. “There’s so many subdisciplines in this scientific arena, and it’s not always easy to decide what your vocation is.”

“All of them have been really interesting. It’s really going to help me afterwards,” said Allison Sulttiek, a biotechnology student at Hudson Valley who also works as a manager at Hannaford. “I get paid decently [at Hannaford], but it’s not something I’m passionate about. This is something I’ve always loved,” she said.

“I’m really looking forward to talking to human resources [for AMRI]. She’s the one who is going to help me get the job,” said Sulttiek.

“It’s important to be confident in yourself, but not overly confident, but believe in yourself and think, ‘I know I can do the job,’” said Jennifer Preville, a former Hudson Valley student and current HR Specialist at AMRI who hosted the roundtable “Getting the job: It’s self-marketing.”

Preville mentioned the qualities she looks for when interviewing: “We are looking for people who are enthusiastic about the job, who have done their research, [who] know about the position and know about the company.”

About 105 students are currently enrolled in biological sciences at Hudson Valley. Over 7,500 students study science-related fields on campus. Jamie Rusconi, director of research at the Denali Wellness Center in Albany, said that networking in colleges such as Hudson Valley is crucial. “It’s important to use your professors for jobs because even if you think they don’t know people – they know people,” she said.

Grabowski discussed the opportunities for students after graduation. “We at Bioconnex wanted to tell the students that there’s a whole world in front of you that you can get after getting a life sciences degree, not just lab work,” he said.

Grabowski also discussed the economic impact of the emerging biotechnology industry in the Capital Region. “A lot of the major footholds of industry in life sciences that started in the Capital District 20 years are growing,” said Grabowski. Recently, AMRI bought two businesses in the UK and Indiana for $60 million.

“AMRI is a strong component in the biotechnology industry within the [Capital] Region,” said Karin Kasparian, program coordinator for business growth services at the CEG.

Another major local company in the industry is Regeneron, whose East Greenbush plant has hired an additional 300 new workers in the past two years. According to Bioconnex, about 7,900 jobs in the Capital Region are in the life sciences field, with over 55,000 jobs statewide.

52 companies in the Capital Region distribute $520 million in payroll annually through the biopharmacy and life sciences sector. According to Bioconnex, in New York State, members of the biosciences field earn an average of $68,000 yearly.

“It’s great to know that what I’m doing at school is going to get me a job that will have greater implications in the economy, society and the world. The challenge is figuring out what part do I want to play in all three,” said Hamchuk.

 

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