What skills does a biotechnology technician need to know? This seems like a simple question, but people have been struggling to define biotech skill standards since the early 90's. Complicating this question is that many areas of biotechnology require somewhat different skills. Antibody work requires one set, plant or animal tissue culture, another; fermentation, another; manufacturing, another; DNA sequencing, yet another set. Even skills that you might think are universal, like using a microscope, are not. During my years in graduate school, I never used a microscope; I cloned ... Read more
Over the years, I've seen many biotechnology education programs at community colleges embrace outreach to high schools as part of their mission. This kind of enthusiasm for outreach seems unique to biotech. No other kind of science or engineering program seems to do this sort of thing, at least not on the nationwide basis that I've seen demonstrated in biotechnology. And yet, even though I've always admired and often participated in these efforts, some aspects are a little puzzling. How do the colleges reconcile the energy spent in outreach efforts with the energy spent ... Read more
Long Branch, NJ, is a lovely town on the Atlantic Ocean, with long beaches and brand new shops and condos. It is also part of an area in, central New Jersey, where biotechnology education is entering an exciting time thanks to efforts of NJBEC, Bio-1, and a WIRED grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. NJBEC, Bio-1, WIRED? What do all these acronyms mean? I get these things confused all the time, so I'll take a quick moment and explain. NJBEC is the New Jersey Biotechnology Educators Consortium. Bio-1 is a partnership between five counties and several schools in ... Read more
Students in the United States take many convoluted and unnecessarily complicated paths when it comes to finding careers in biotechnology. If Universities and community colleges worked together, an alternative path could benefit all parties; students, schools, industry, and the community. The image below illustrates the current paths and the approximate time that each one takes.
I'm in Berkeley right now at the annual Bio-Link Summer Fellows forum. We're getting to hear talks from people in the biotech industry, listen to enthusiastic instructors describe their biotech programs and ideas, and try out new educational materials. Yesterday, two speakers (Damon Tighe and Jason Baumohl) from the Joint Genome Institute in Walnut Creek, CA, gave a fun talk about DNA sequencing and sequence assembly. They also showed some very nice Flash animations, made by Damon Tighe, at the JGI, that illustrate how DNA sequencing is done ... Read more
A little over ten years ago, Dr. Elaine Johnson obtained funding from the National Science Foundation to start Bio-Link, an Advanced Technology Education center, focused on biotechnology. Since that time, Dr. Johnson has become a national leader in biotech education, enlisting the country's top educators and industry captains to ensure that community college students receive a quality education and the best preparation possible for entering the workforce. In this radio interview from Tech Nation, Dr. Johnson talks with Dr. Moira Gunn about the ... Read more
In part I, I wrote about the shortage of technicians in the biotechnology industry and the general awareness that this problem is getting worse. This part will address the challenge of getting more students into programs that will prepare them for jobs in the biotech field. I've also been asked to write a bit more about finding jobs in companies, that post will be a bit later. Before proceeding, there are two points that need a bit of discussion. The first point is the whether there's a ... Read more
Community colleges are such extraordinary places that even California's governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger credits his time at Santa Monica community college as one of the secrets to his success. From the SF Chronicle:
"People always ask me 'What is the secret of your success?' " he said Tuesday. "I always say, 'Come to America. Go to community college. And marry a Kennedy. It's all very simple.' "
HT to ... Read more
Bio-Link is accepting applications for this year's National Summer Fellows forum, June 2-6th, in Berkeley, CA. You can get an application at I'll be there, doing some kind of bioinformatics workshop. I'll probably be talking about either metagenomics or comparing protein structures and drug resistance, but if you have topic requests, feel free to submit them in the comments. Read more
i-f0314c04246a8eb4def9774a4817497e-RonM.jpgWe often see memorials written about famous scientists, but we rarely see them about the people who work in the background to help people learn the science in the first place. Ron was one of those people whose work inspired teachers and helped spark excitement in science students throughout the world. I just learned last week that Ron passed away and I'm still in a state of shock. ... Read more

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