Life-sciences professionals seeking to transition into management careers or simply learn the business side of their jobs will have two new options this fall.
Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business will launch an executive certificate program focused on teaching life-sciences management skills to a target student audience that includes professionals working in the life sciences, from engineers, researchers, and scientists, to product managers and attorneys.
Courses are designed to resemble a traditional MBA program, and modified to incorporatelife-science content, cases, and examples. Details about the certificate program are available here.
At the University of Pennsylvania, meanwhile, the Vagelos Life Sciences & Management program offers an interdisciplinary bioscience and business curriculum toward the completion in four years of a Bachelor of Arts degree in a life science major, as well as a Bachelor of Science degree in economics.
Named for retired Merck CEO and chairman Roy Vagelos, the program is a joint effort of UPenn’s College of Arts & Sciences and the Wharton School and enrolls some 25 students annually, according to its web site.
IU’s program is an outgrowth of its collaboration with San Diego State University on another life sciences business program bring launched this fall — the Life Sciences MBA for Executives, a primarily online program set to start on Aug. 29.
Over a 20-month period, students are required to complete four residency periods, one of them a one-week residency in Indiana; as well as attend seminars from life science executives, and work with executive coaches from another partner school, Gallup University of Princeton, NJ, who serve as mentors to students.
BioRegion News recently spoke with George Telthorst, director of business development for the Kelley School’s Center for the Business of Life Sciences. Telthorst joined CBLS after serving as director of the Bloomington Life Sciences Partnership, and before that general manager of Boston Scientific's technology center in Spencer, Ind.
Can you describe the new executive certificate program and its requirements?
This is a five-course sequence. You take one course at a time, and each successive course builds on the previous course. We start with the industry value chain. Then the next one is accounting, then strategic financial decision making, then the human resource management course, and then we finish with the marketing course.
There’s not a thesis requirement. Each course has a number of assignments. The majority of them are done in groups. Some are done in individual submissions. The courses are done on a pass-fail basis, but the assignments are drawn from and are comparable to MBA-level courses. There is some work here. I would say people taking this should plan on five to seven hours a week between reading, and group participation, and listening to downloaded lectures and assignments.
What kind of jobs are students in this program looking to obtain?
I would think folks taking this are either going to be getting into general management roles, or they’re going to be getting into more senior roles in their specific functional area, but they’re going to be interacting with people outside — a director of product development, say, is going to be interacting with doctors and with marketing folks, when previously they were interacting with other engineers.
How are the executive skills being taught different from those taught by traditional MBA programs?
We deal with questions of reimbursement, regulatory approval, tax haven sourcing, the balance of marketing to consumers versus physicians, and how you market versus FDA label claims. Let me give another example: When we looked at the finance course, traditional MBA finance courses have a significant portion of their time devoted to bonds. And as we talked about this, we said, ‘These guys don’t need to know about bonds. But they sure should understand how tax havens work. A lot of pharma and medical device companies utilize tax havens as part of their siting and sourcing strategy, and engineers should understand that.
What sparked the creation of this certificate program?
I think there are a couple of different things. One is, we have been working with San Diego State University on an executive MBA in the business of life sciences. San Diego State is starting up such a program. Their program is going to have three components: Course skills, quality/regulatory and innovation. They want to do this mostly online, and they contacted IU and said, ‘You have the best regarded online MBA program in the US. Would you be wiling to do the course skills piece for us?’
That was, I think, some of the catalyst, as well as the state setting priorities several years ago, with the current administration [of Gov. Mitch Daniels] saying, ‘Life sciences is one of our economic growth engines’; and the university saying, ‘We want to align ourselves with the state’s priorities’; and then the business school saying, ‘We want to align ourselves with the university’s priorities.’ When San Diego State came calling, people were already thinking about, ‘What can we do to support the life sciences in the state of Indiana?’ San Diego State asked our dean, ‘Are there any companies that would like to have these five courses in effect, a mini-MBA, instead of going the whole-hog MBA route?’ That’s when they asked me to go out and survey firms in the state and the Midwest. I talked to over 20 [companies] last fall, and 85 percent of them said, ‘We think this is really a good idea.’ Several things came together to point the way.
How long was the certificate program in the works?
We actually started talking to companies and doing a market assessment last fall. The genesis for this is really the Kelley Direct MBA program, which has been in operation for nine years. In the Kelley Direct program, we have really honed the techniques to make online learning interactive and efficient. We’re building on the nine years of that, and we’re in the process of retooling the five Kelley Direct core courses to make them very industry-specific.
What sort of industry or professional input was there in the development of the certificate program?
At two levels: I did the market assessment for them last fall, and then I joined the program in February. And I’ve been in the industry 25 years, primarily on the manufacturing and product development side, for Baxter, Johnson and Johnson, and Boston Scientific. One of the things I helped Larry Davidson — the professor leading the life sciences initiative — was setting up an industry advisory board over the last two years. So we also had a summit with advisory board members and the faculty in March, and the faculty stood up and ran up their ideas for what they wanted to incorporate into these retooled classes. And then the advisory board gave them their feedback, kicked things around and brainstormed.
How many students will be taking the certificate program when it kicks off this fall?
Our goal for the first program is 30, with a maximum of 45, and that’s really driven by instructor capacity. The profs can only do so [much] and be able to keep up with the level of detail that we really want.
We have six faculty members on board. We didn’t have to hire them. They were already existing faculty. It was a question of recruiting or seeking them out to be assigned to this.
What is the profile of certificate students? Are these IU grads or industry people taking courses at night?
We are anticipating these are people in the industry that are going to be taking courses at their convenience. The benefit of doing it online is, you can do it at night [or] on weekends. If your company wants to allow you to have some time during the day, you can do it, because very little of this is done live. This is all asynchronous learning. But we’re expecting this to be people at companies making medical products or at companies that support companies making medical products. Or it could be also people desiring to break into the industry.
How will this program stand out from the life sciences business certificate programs at other schools?
We did a bit of research on the web, and most of the certificate programs we found at other business schools were a week in length, or two weeks in length. Or maybe they were granted if you attended two or three of their current offerings. This is a lot more rigorous, a lot meatier. This is kind of a different class or caliber of certificate program because of the [requirement of] five courses, because of the almost year length of the program, because of the rigor involved.
Would this be the equivalent of a two-year or associates’ degree program?
I don’t think it is equivalent to anything. It’s an executive certificate for graduate level work. The best thing I can say is that it’s like a mini-MBA in the business of life sciences.
What are the academic prerequisites for certificate students?
You need to have a BS or a BA from a four-year accredited institution, and you also need to be comfortable dealing with numbers and financial concepts.
Is there any particular space or lab buildout required through the certificate program?
The benefit of the certificate program is that it is being done online. We can largely use existing facilities. And the program is going to have two in-residence periods: A two-day kickoff in September, and then a week-long period next June. We can certainly use existing facilities as well as area hotels.
Is this program seen as a model or a test certificate program that may lead to others in the life sciences?
An interesting question. I think, assuming this is well-received, we’d be interested in adding a counterpart offering more in the hospital and healthcare management sphere. But we want to let this get legs first.