MS Medical Biotechnology at University of Illinois: Admissions, Curriculum and Placements for Indian Students
The US has been a leading choice among international students for pursuing masters in biotechnology and biomedical sciences. Approximately, 40 US universities feature among the top 100 universities for biotechnology and life sciences. So, there literally is no dearth of choices for MS applicants.
But, sometimes, too many choices is confusing. Secondly, in the US, not all the leading universities offer Masters programs in Biotechnology and related areas. Many students also get confused when it comes to choosing between an MS program and a PSM program. Lastly, the majority of Indian students are also concerned about job prospects after MS Biotechnology in the US.
In this post, Dr. Khalifah Sidik, Director of MS Medical Biotechnology (MBT) program at the University of Illinois (College of Medicine, Rockford Campus), sheds light on the frequently asked questions by prospective MS Biotechnology students. The MBT program at Illinois is among the best programs for MS Biotechnology in USA. A unique aspect of this program is the focus on biotechnology in medicine.
The MBT program is a two-year lab/research-based program training you to be technically competent and ready to work in industry/academia or to use as a stepping stone to Ph.D., MD, and DDS degree program. The general outline of the program is one year of coursework and one year of a research project or 600 hours of internship. The program is flexible to allow you to tailor the program to your interests and end goals.
MS Medical Biotechnology at University of Illinois
Admission Requirements, Class Profile, Curriculum and Placement Statistics for Indian Students
Q&A with Dr. Khalifah Sidik, Program Director
1. How would you differentiate between an MS and a PSM program?
Khalifah: A PSM program is a STEM-designated degree program that includes training in business, management, and policy. To be considered as a PSM program, the curriculum must include at least 30% courses in the area of business/management/policy, while MS degree programs are not required to include any business/management/policy courses.
PSM degree programs are also required to provide exposure to industrial settings in the form of an internship or co-op training. MS programs are not required to include an internship or co-op training.
Typically an MS program will offer a course-work only option, an internship option, a research project option or a thesis option.
In my opinion, an MS program with extensive technical training, with some training in management is more flexible and advantageous to the students with more options for their career.
2. According to you, who should pursue the MBT program at UIC?
Khalifah: The MBT program is for someone who is motivated to gain experience in bench or clinical research and who has the ambition to pursue their career in the biotech industry or plans to further their higher education with a Ph.D. degree.
“The MBT program is definitely one of my most rewarding academic experiences thus far. It is from here that I gained my love for science and respect for the research process. I was equipped with excellent research experience and hands-on skill sets through the cutting-edge research ongoing as well as through several lab rotations, departmental seminars, and talks inside the campus.
The staff and faculties pour immense effort in supporting students, which definitely boosted our confidence in successfully completing the program. The extensive experience I gained during the MBT program helped me get my current job and it has been crucial to my career building efforts. I would highly recommend this program to others for both personal and professional development.” – Pooja Vinay, MBT 2017
3. Could you please share a few unique features about the MBT program?
1. Our curriculum aims to produce technically competent graduates, and as such, our courses are planned with sufficient laboratory components. Small class size in our laboratory courses offers extensive hands-on experience and close supervision by the instructor and the teaching assistant. Through the program, the students will gain excellent technical skills upon graduation. Several employers are specifically looking for these unique skills that our students acquire through our program.
2. Since the department is small, the students are in direct contact with their research supervisors and professors. The professors and supervisors are able to monitor and help out the students one-on-one and are very accessible.
3. Students can choose to conduct their research project on a diverse area of research available at the campus. The research area includes; vaccine development, immunotherapy, colitis, cancer therapy, and cancer biology, medical implants, stem cell research, regenerative medicine, nanomedicine, and drug delivery.
4. Another major advantage is that our students could choose to complete their research project with mentors from any of the other campuses of the University of Illinois or with any of the mentors from other research institutions within the US.
5. The program places a strong emphasis on career development as well as interpersonal skill development for our students. This ensures that our students will be able to fit in well with the American workforce and work culture successfully.
“The MBT program @UIC is a rich learning culture which strives to bring the best out of every student. There is freedom to pursue our line of interest carving into our future paths. My experience being a part of the MBT family has molded me towards becoming a skilled biotech professional. I am very grateful to the staff and faculty for their continued support and guidance in shaping my career. I am proud to be an alumna of the MBT family!!” – Pooja Narendra, MBT 2016
4. What are the admission requirements?
In addition to the UIC Graduate College minimum requirements, applicants must meet the following admissions requirements:
- Baccalaureate Degree
A baccalaureate degree or its equivalent in a science- or engineering-related field from an accredited college or university.
- Grade Point Average
At least 3.00/4.00 for the final 60 semester hours (90 quarter hours) of undergraduate study. Exceptions to this requirement may be considered on a case-by-case basis.
- GRE General Test is required. Results should be less than two years old.
- TOEFL or IELTS
TOEFL: The TOEFL score cannot be more than two years old. Internet-Based Test (iBT)–total score of 80 or greater, with subscores of Reading 19, Listening 17, Speaking 20, and Writing 21; or
IELTS: 6.5 average Band score, with subscores of at least 6.0 (Band 6: Competent user) in all subcategories (Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking)
- Letters of Recommendation (Three required)
- Personal Statement
5. Could you please share a few stats on the class profile (last 2 – 3 years).
Khalifah: Admitted applicants to the MS in Medical Biotechnology program have an average GPA of 3.34, average GRE combined score of 303, average TOEFL total score of 98 and IELTS average Band score of 7.3. The male/female ratio of applicants to our program is 20% male to 80% female.
6. What are the usual academic backgrounds (undergraduate major) of the students?
Majority of our students come from India and are holders of:
- Bachelor of Technology in Biotechnology, Bachelor of Engineering in Biotechnology or Bachelor of Biotechnology degrees.
- A 3 year Bachelor of Science degree. To meet the requirement of UIC admissions (4-year undergraduate degree), students with a 3 year Bachelor of Science degree must also complete any of the following education after their 3-year bachelor’s degree before enrolling into our program:
- A one year or a two-year postgraduate degree program.
- Complete year one of a two year Master’s degree program.
- A one year Post Graduate Diploma program.
- A five-year integrated Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degree.
7. Do the applicants need to find and contact potential supervisors before submitting the formal application for the MBT program?
Khalifah: No, the applicants do not have to find or contact potential supervisors before submitting their formal application. Our students do not decide on their research project or their supervisor until the end of their first semester.
It is important that they not only decide on the area of research that they are passionate about, but also get to know the faculty and laboratory members before deciding on their research project. Working on a research topic that they are passionate about and working under the supervision of a supervisor that they get along well with is crucial to their success.
8. Any common mistake(s) that you see quite often in the applicants from Indian and/or International students?
Khalifah: During the application process, a lot of applicants do not seem to read the information available online or materials that are emailed to them. The application process will be much smoother if they read the information and follow the instructions correctly.
9. How does the Department evaluate the applications?
Khalifah: We evaluate each applicant in detail. The applicant must meet the minimum GRE scores and, the TOEFL /IELTS Scores. We also consider the grades they obtained for relevant courses.
In some instances, a lower grade or cGPA can be compensated by a good GRE score and, vice versa.
We also consider critically the reference letters written by their recommenders, and weight is given for their Statement of Purpose. Thus a student with a low grade should still apply if they have strong GRE scores or strong research experience.
10. Should the applicants, who are not too keen to pursue a Ph.D. and interested in the industry, choose the MBT program?
Khalifah: Yes, Definitely.
Of the 66 students admitted into the program between 2012 and 2016, only 6 students went on to their Ph.D. program after graduation. Most students have an education loan to pay back and therefore would prefer to work for 2 to 3 years before continuing to apply for further studies.
11. There are few Masters Programs in the US (and other countries) that purely concentrate on research. Do you think that the universities should include one or two modules around biotechnology commercialization and business development?
Khalifah: Most Master Programs in Biology/Molecular Biology/Chemistry probably will not have any module around biotechnology commercialization and business development. In my opinion, it will depend on the mission of the program, whether to add or not to add these modules. If the program is aiming to produce graduates to fill research positions, then it is not really necessary for the program to offer modules around biotechnology commercialization and business development.
Our MS in Medical Biotechnology program is primarily a lab-based biotechnology program. However, we do have a few courses covering biotechnology commercialization and business development topics. Majority of our foreign graduates will end up going for the research-based positions. However, we do have domestic graduates who have gone on to management/non-research based positions.
12. Could you please share some stats on the placement/employment rate of the MBT program?
Khalifah: To date, 100% of our graduates from India are placed. They are either:
– Working in the industry as Research Associate or Scientist at pharmaceutical and scientific companies mainly in Massachusetts, California, Maryland, Wisconsin, and Illinois. Our graduates are at various companies in Massachusetts (Intellia Therapeutics, Editas Medicine, LogicBio Therapeutics and Bluebird Bio); in Wisconsin and Illinois (Catalent Pharma Solutions and Abbvie), in Maryland (Champion Oncology and Meso Scale Diagnostics), in California (Kite Pharmaceuticals, and Senti Biosciences).
– Working in the academia as Research Technologist/Assistant at various medical centers such as Memorial Sloan Kettering Medical Center in New York City, New York; MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas; and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, Washington.
Our 43 graduates from India working in pharmaceutical/scientific industries have been able to find employment in cities considered as major biotech hubs (2010-2019).
13. Does the University or Department provide any specific assistance for employment (workshop or career fairs etc.)?
Khalifah: The program organizes a minimum of 2 workshops a year. In the Fall Semester, we run a Networking Workshop and in the Spring Semester, we run a Resume Writing and Interview Workshop. Our alumni work very closely with us and whenever an alumnus is in town, we make arrangement for the students to meet with the alumnus for a Q&A session.
We now have 18 alumni from India working in various pharmaceutical/scientific companies in Boston/Cambridge area, and this worked out to be a good connection for our current students for identifying jobs and finding placement at the many pharmaceutical/start-ups/scientific companies in the East Coast. We also use resources available at the UIC‘s Career Center at the main campus in Chicago for providing career advising to our students.
14. Since last few years, Indian applicants have been a little worried about the immigration policies in the US. The new H1-B rules are quite encouraging though. What are your thoughts on this?
Khalifah: My personal opinion is, if you have the skillsets that fit the job description, there should be no problem being hired. Since our graduates are well equipped technically, they had no issues being hired after graduation and all our graduates (2010 onwards) are still working in the US. Some of them already have an H1 visa.
15. What would be your advice to the students who are considering a Masters in Biotechnology in the US? (How should they choose universities and any other advice related to applications)?
- Look at the placement of their graduates. Most students from India are on education loans from banks. If you can get a job for 3 years (1 year OPT and 2 years STEM extension), you will be able to pay off most, if not all, of your loan.
- Look at their curriculum and see if the program is offering the kind of training you are looking for. Masters in Biotechnology/Medical Biotechnology differs from program to program. It is best to decide what kind of training you are looking for and choose the program accordingly.
16. What would be your advice to the students who are currently studying in the US and looking for employment and PhD opportunities? How can they improve their employability and PhD positions?
Khalifah: For research positions, employers look for graduates with the skill sets they need to fill the open position. My advice will be:
- Have an idea what sort of job you want after graduation. For example, will you be looking for a position as a Research Associate, Regulatory Affair Officer, Quality Control Officer or Clinical Research Coordinator?
- Have an idea what sort of skill sets that job will require.
- Make sure you do have those skill sets by the time you graduate.
Hiring managers are looking for team members who:
- Can work independently and yet can work well with others and be a good team member.
- Has leadership qualities.
- Is a fast learner.
- Fits well with current team members.
- Has appropriate training and skill sets.
For PhD Programs:
Applying for admission to a PhD program has become harder as it is very competitive these days. Again, as an international student applying for a PhD program, you should have some, if not all, of the following criteria:
- A high GPA of >3.5 out of 4.0.
- Have Total GRE scores of more than 310 for both Verbal score and Quantitative score. This year a number of PhD programs at various institutions have dropped the requirement for GRE scores. The good news for international students is that the numbers of institutions dropping this requirement will most likely increase in the future.
- Having prior experience as a Teaching Assistant.
- Having published article(s) from your MSc Research Project /Thesis.
- Good reference letters from your MSc research supervisor and 2 other professors, vouching on your technical skills, dependability, independence, and ability to work as a team member.
- Have excellent communication skills and perform well during the on-site interview.
Author: Tanmoy Ray
I am a Career Adviser & MS Admission Consultant. Additionally, I also manage online marketing at Stoodnt. I did my Masters from the UK (Aston University) and have worked at the University of Oxford (UK), Utrecht University (Netherlands), University of New South Wales (Australia) and MeetUniversity (India).
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