Supplement: Creating Roots

1 Getting students to the region is not so much the issue as is keeping them here after graduation. To that end, the region's academic institutions are taking steps to counter any trend of brain drain. The partnership, Campus Philly, seeks to match students with local employment opportunities and maintains Careerphilly.com, where students can find information on jobs and internships in the region. "We work with the Life Science Career Alliance (a local organization that promotes workforce

Jan 1, 2008
Karen Pallarito
1

Getting students to the region is not so much the issue as is keeping them here after graduation.

To that end, the region's academic institutions are taking steps to counter any trend of brain drain. The partnership, Campus Philly, seeks to match students with local employment opportunities and maintains Careerphilly.com, where students can find information on jobs and internships in the region. "We work with the Life Science Career Alliance (a local organization that promotes workforce development), and it tells us that companies are always looking for students who are interested in the careers they have to offer, but they're having a hard time finding (those people)," says Quanda Garrison, senior manager of career programs at Campus Philly.

Universities are limited, to some extent, in what they can do to keep grads from fleeing to other life science hubs. One significant obstacle: PhDs typically don't stick around for their postdoctoral work. "We actively encourage students to go elsewhere for their postdoctoral training, because it's just considered a good thing to get exposure to the greater scientific community ... and that usually means leaving the Delaware Valley area," explains Susan Ross, associate dean for graduate education and director of biomedical graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. But Penn's Office of Postdoctoral Programs does sponsor an annual career fair for PhD students and postdoctoral fellows. This year's event drew roughly 25 different employers, mainly from the Delaware Valley, "so that's one way we do actually help to keep people in the area," Ross acknowledges.

Likewise Penn's MD-PhD graduates apply for residencies all over the country. Penn, itself, scours the country when seeking to fill faculty positions, says Lawrence (Skip) Brass, associate dean and director of the combined-degree and physician-scholar programs at Penn. Yet the short supply of dual-degree physician scientists has altered the equation a bit, he explains.

"As much as every program likes to say, 'Gee, we don't take any of our own offspring because we want to consider everybody' ... when you're looking at a job pool that is not very deep, when there are positions that need to be filled and you have great people locally, you certainly consider them," Brass says.

"...if you build the right infrastructure, then you don't need to worry too much about losing people." --David Weir

At Temple University, many students already have roots in the region, "so we have a vested interest as a university to really create job opportunities for them," says Chris Pavlides, executive director of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute (IEI) at Temple's Fox School of Business and Management. To help stem the outflow of MBAs, Temple's IEI sponsors an annual business innovations competition to foster potential entrepreneurs throughout the university and support their efforts to commercialize in the region.

IEI also seeks to cultivate early-stage life science companies, including Temple-led business teams, by connecting them with investors in the region through its affiliate Mid-Atlantic Diamond Ventures (MADV). The university's most promising MBAs are invited to attend MADV forums held throughout the year where fledgling companies present before investors. It gives students a chance to network with investors in the region, Pavlides says.

In addition, as chair of the education and outreach committee of the Mid-Atlantic Capital Alliance, an association of venture capitalists and entrepreneurs, Pavlides has organized breakfast meetings with graduate students to expose them to local internship and job opportunities. One of the group's objectives, he says, is "to stem the outflow of MBAs and very promising graduate students ... and have them stay in the Philadelphia region."

Another way to keep talent in the region: Teach the specific skills needed to help support Big Pharma. In 2003 Drexel University College of Medicine launched a graduate-level program in Clinical Research Organization & Management. It's designed to create a critical mass of people who are highly skilled in managing clinical trials. "There's a major push to manage these clinical trials really efficiently and get the drug out the door as quickly as possible to save money," says Linda DiMario, an assistant professor and executive director of the program.

Most of the students in the program already work for pharmaceutical companies in the region, and many of them travel frequently, DiMario notes. Because the program is taught completely online, students can access it anytime, anywhere. "So if they want to log-in in India at three o'clock in the morning and log onto their lecture, they can do that," she says.

In another effort targeting workforce needs, the board of trustees of the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia (USP) in September 2007 approved a plan to establish the Mayes College of Healthcare Business and Policy. The new college will integrate a variety of existing graduate and undergraduate healthcare programs and create new ones, with the goal of preparing students for the diversity of skills that today's healthcare professionals require, says William Ashton, the college's interim dean. The college also will seek to strengthen existing relationships with local employers, already a source of internships, externships, and graduate projects for USP students.

Academia is also pursuing undergraduates. In 2000 The Wistar Institute partnered with the Community College of Philadelphia to prepare students to work as biomedical technicians in academic and commercial laboratories throughout the region. The program began as a way to curtail the technician turnover at Wistar, and it's done that and more, says William Wunner, director of Wistar's Biotechnology Training Program. "We are feeding the region," he says.

In Delaware, industry and academia are focused on expanding the life sciences segment of the economy. "We've hired about 40 new faculty into the academic segment [of most of the region's colleges and universities], because if you build the right infrastructure, then you don't need to worry too much about losing people," reasons David Weir, director of the Delaware Biotechnology Institute. "People will want to come here," he says, envisioning a robust life science community that attracts undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and companies in the pharmaceutical and biotech sectors.

Delaware Technical and Community College, for example, recently received a grant of nearly $500,000 from the National Science Foundation to better prepare students for jobs in the region's biotechnology industry. The money will go toward upgrading lab facilities, funding faculty and secondary-school science teacher training, and expanding opportunities for biotechnology students to participate in research.

"Ninety-four percent of our students are Delawareans who come to us wanting to acquire the skills they need to get good-paying local jobs," says Lisa Hastings-Sheppard, director of college relations. "If there is no demand for a particular skill set in the state, we won't offer the program." According to a 2006 survey, 84% of graduates landed jobs in the state.

It remains to be seen whether efforts like these will convince more graduates to make the Greater Philadelphia region their home.

Reference
1. "The Greater Philadelphia life sciences cluster: an economic and comparative assessment," The Milken Institute, June 2005.