Though the Biotechnology Program’s classes are often directly applicable to students’ future jobs, it can be hard to envision yourself utilizing the techniques and processes you’re learning. To find out more about this transition from the Biotechnology Program to a job at a local biotechnology company, I talked to Stephen Serrano, a graduate of the program and former laboratory assistant, who now works at Locus Biosciences.
Stephen studied psychology for his undergraduate degree, and wanted to go on to get a PhD in clinical psychology. After graduating, he started working in an educational research program at NC State, where he helped teach K-12 students. When his students had a science fair one day, he thought, “I wish I’d gotten a life science degree.” He had been interested in the life sciences, he said, “but during my time as an undergrad I thought that I had to just do psychology and nothing else.” He started studying for the GRE, and was accepted into the Integrated Physiology program at NC State just a few months later. At this point, he wanted to continue on to medical school, but then he took BIT 510.
“My mind was completely blown away by biotechnology,” he said. As he hadn’t taken a biology class since high school, most of the content was completely new to him. Beyond taking classes, he also started working as a laboratory assistant for the program because “I felt like I had stumbled into a goldmine of knowledge and I just knew I wanted to be a part of it.”
As a laboratory assistant, he helped prepare materials for lab sections, to ensure that students got a great lab experience on top of the content of their classes. He also helped refine protocols for BIT 410/510, such as Gibson Assembly and RT-qPCR, meaning that biotechnology students got to be exposed to an even wider range of techniques in their classes.
A few months ago, Stephen left the Biotechnology Program to start a new position at Locus Biosciences as a research associate in the Translational Medicine team. “My transition… was pretty seamless,” he said. A lot of the skills he learned as part of the Biotechnology Program transferred to his new job. He said, “One of the most surprising things to me when I first started working at Locus was assuming that everyone got the same exposure to the techniques and assays that I learned in the BIT Program, which is not the case at all.”
Because of the courses and his experience in the Biotechnology Program, “On day one, I was able to directly contribute to a study without worrying about accidentally ruining the experiment!” In fact, a lot of the skills from BIT 410/510 alone transferred well to his new job, including: “Gibson assembly, gel electrophoresis, restriction digest, PCR, DNA isolation, and Western blot.” And even beyond the techniques themselves, he had learned how to design an experiment and analyze the resulting data, another key component of biotechnology courses. “Thanks to the BIT Program I know a little bit of everything, and I have been able to assist other teams here at Locus with my knowledge and skill set,” he said.
While he was still at NC State, Stephen took five biotechnology courses, most of which ended up being directly applicable to his current job. Some of these courses include Virus Biotechnology, Metagenomics, and Gene Manipulation in Zebrafish, though many more classes also teach valuable and relevant skills. “Several of the assays taught in the Biotechnology Program are used throughout the company,” he said.
Stephen recommends that interested students take the BIT 410/510 course because “it is an extremely unique experience.” The course itself provides a good introduction to the most common techniques used in the biotechnology field, while further classes in the Biotechnology Program teach more advanced techniques and allow students to gain a deeper understanding of and appreciation for biotechnology and all it has to offer the world. Stephen said, “Stepping into the world of biotechnology has been great and an eye-opening experience for me, and I have the Biotechnology Program at NC State to thank for that.”