ABRF (The Association for Biomolecular Resource Facilities) concluded it's annual meeting May 10, 2023. The final day was important this year because ABRF opened the meeting to students, graduates, and faculty from local area community and technical colleges. They were able to attend sessions, and visit the exhibit hall with over 60 companies that make advanced data collection instruments, kits, and provide services. At least 10 of these companies provide products for spatial omics, something our biotech faculty should be investigating, more on that later. The day closed with the annual business meeting and social at Fenway Park.
During this final day, I organized two session to: 1) Introduce students and recent graduates to careers in core facilities, and 2) Introduce the ABRF membership to community college graduates, what they learned in their programs, and what they do at work. The sessions are highlighted below.
Session 1: Careers in Cores: How Did We Get Here?
Abstract: Career journeys are often non-linear and unexpected. Many who work in core facilities love their jobs, but did not begin their career path with such an opportunity in mind. Instead, they found their way into a core facility through some other interaction. Perhaps it was an internship, working with a core facility, purchasing a large instrument, a love of technology, technical work, and the art in science, or simply an act of curiosity. In this session, core facility directors and technicians talked about their paths and how they got into this line of work. Though several brief presentations and Q&A discussions participants learned about well-paying opportunities for working in imaging, genomics, proteomics, and flow cytometry in academic institutions and the applications to industry.
We had five speakers who oversee core facilities (administration) and run antibody, mass spectrometry, imaging, flow cytometry, and genomics cores. Three of the speakers do not have PhDs, demonstrating that one can work their way up from technical positions to leadership. 94 individuals attended in-person and another 62 joined us on-line. Since then the session reply (currently open to meeting attendees) has been viewed over 460 times.
Session 2: Community College Alumni Advise ABRF
Abstract: Community colleges (CCs) play a vital role in preparing the highly skilled technical workforce needed to support the biotechnology industry. CCs offer students hands-on practical experience, certificates, and technical degrees. Students include high-school graduates, individuals changing careers, college graduates, and even PhD holders. As these colleges support the many facets of the biotechnology industry, their labs are equipped to teach modern techniques, including DNA sequencing, mass spectrometry, microscopy, chromatography, immunoassays, and bioinformatics. Importantly, CC graduates have skills well suited for working in core facilities. ABRF members are suffering from a shortage of technical workers with skills in flow cytometry, imaging, genomics, proteomics, and antibody development. CC biotech programs can help increase the supply of technicians with these qualifications. In past meetings, CC faculty described their college program and courses. As part of a continuing series on workforce education, alumni from Boston area biotech programs shared their education and work experiences. Through their stories and discussion, we learned: How they decided to pursue biotech; How they found their college; Where they work; What they do; And, their advice for core lab leaders seeking to connect with CC programs and recruit technicians.
11 graduates from three Boson Area biotech programs (MassBay Community College, Quincy College, and Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute Biotech Academy) gave presentations. Nirmal Singh (MassBay) and John Doyle (GMGI) gave overviews of their programs and shared their journeys from finding a path to biotech, through their education, to work, and what they do now. One student had been homeless for a period of time. Another had worked in the Dana Farber Cancer Research (Harvard) Genomics Lab and was networking with ABRF members as soon as he got to the meeting. Members from the Quincy College group had recently moved to the US from other countries. In a case of biotech irony, one graduate spoke about how he survived severe COVID and now works at Moderna. Interestingly, when the presenters were asked how they heard about biotech and learned about the program they joined, the predominant answer was, "someone (friend, relative) told me." While biotech is booming, and has significant new coverage, it continues to suffer from a lack of career awareness. This session was attended n-person by 56 individuals, and on-line by 15. It has been viewed online over 200 times.
In addition to the above sessions, ABRF also organized "meet the experts" round table lunch. I've heard that was well attended and that students and graduates had many good questions.
Overall the enthusiasm for all the sessions was great. Some said these were a highlight of the conference. We are planning similar sessions and a special day for next year's meeting in Minneapolis, Apr 21-24, 2024.