Training the Next Generation of Leaders in Synthetic Biology

A Small Overview of a Piece We Recently Published in Science Careers


Training the next generation of leaders for the bio-industry is a great challenge. Most graduate programs are still geared towards tenure track and do not reflect the reality of the work place. Data published in the National Science Board’s 2014 Science and Engineering Indicators show that a mere 29% of newly graduated life science PhDs will find a full time faculty position.

With our colleague, Dr. Jim Philp from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, we wrote a small piece for Science Careers to assess the situation and give pointers to better train the next generation of leaders in the Synthetic Biology industry. We provide here a few takeaways, but make sure to read the full article on Science Careers.

As defined by the European Commission, Synthetic Biology is “the application of science, technology and engineering to facilitate and accelerate the design, manufacture and/or modification of genetic materials in living organisms.” Although the field is in its infancy stage, it has been estimated that the global market for synthetic biology will reach $39 billion by 2020 in industries such as climate change, energy consumption, environmental protection, and health care. Facing such a potential, educational institutions ought to adapt and propose a diverse range of programs spanning not only basic science but also entrepreneurship and management.

A great getaway for students to get involved in the synthetic biology industry is to compete in an international synthetic biology competition such as the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition (iGEM). There are also more than 100 universities now involved in educating future synthetic biologists at the Masters and Ph.D. levels. Scientists interested in the field usually have backgrounds in mathematics, physics, computer sciences, chemistry, biology, and medicine.  This diversity of backgrounds and inherent interdisciplinary nature of the field makes for interesting educational challenges.

Beyond academic programs, navigating and understanding and capitalizing on the exciting options to transition into business and entrepreneurship might prove overwhelming. There are no MBAs specific for the synthetic biology industry, MBAs geared towards the biotechnology and chemical industries may be a good starting. Beyond this the international Synthetic Biology Leadership Accelerator Program (LEAP) can help synthetic biology change-makers and support them to positively impact the field. Last but not least, a number of startup accelerator such as Indie.Bio are starting to provide financial support and mentorship to early-stage synthetic biology startups.

Make sure to read the full article on Science Careers and let us know if you have any questions!

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