Faculty of Science responds to industry needs in the chemical and bioeconomy sectors

Science student in a lab

By Elaine Smith

To meet the changing needs of the chemical and bioeconomy sectors, the Faculty of Science is offering several new educational opportunities to ensure people working in science-related positions have the best possible education to meet evolving industry demands.

The Faculty has recently introduced two new biotechnology programs at the Markham Campus – the Master’s in Biotechnology Management and the Graduate Diploma in Biotechnology – as well as a new micro-credential in Vaccine Production and Quality Control that is aligned with these programs. 

The Faculty also introduced its first micro-credential, NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) Spectroscopy for Industry at the Keele Campus. NMR spectroscopy is an advanced characterization technique used to determine the molecular structure of a sample at the atomic level. 

“We want to offer our students programs and courses that lead to career success,” said Hovig Kouyoumdjian, associate dean of curriculum and pedagogy for the Faculty.  

Luz Adriana Puentes Jácome
Luz Adriana Puentes Jácome

Slated to launch in Fall 2024, the Graduate Diploma in Biotechnology and the Master’s in Biotechnology Management are the culmination of research and planning done over the past few years. Professor Mark Bayfield and associate deans Kouyoumdjian and Michael Scheid led the program design and development. Now, Jade Atallah and Luz Adriana Puentes Jácome, assistant professors of biology, teaching stream, have taken the reins and will oversee the two programs. 

“Both programs are rooted in industry needs,” Atallah said. “Our colleagues did extensive research to ensure industry alignment; an evidence-based approach is driving them.”  

The Toronto Business Development Centre, for example, notes that “Canada has experienced a 77.2 per cent growth in biotech companies in the past two decades, with hundreds of small startups working to bring scientific discoveries to market.” 

The two programs will share biotechnology courses for the first year, but the master’s students will also take management courses through the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies that will allow them to graduate with the degree and diploma in under two years. The integrative program also includes a capstone course and a paid internship component with industry. The diploma program requires only two semesters of coursework.  

“They are both full-time programs but are designed to accommodate mature, working students in terms of scheduling,” said Atallah.  

The master’s program aims to meld scientific knowledge with business skills. 

“The interdisciplinary approach better reflects the workplace reality and maximizes understanding of the overall product lifecycle from conception to commercialization,” said Atallah. “It’s a marriage of two Faculties and will provide well-rounded knowledge and skills in both areas. It will increase the students’ competitiveness while benefiting the biotech economy.” 

Puentes Jácome agreed, noting, “We want these students to be very versatile. They need the professional biotechnology knowledge, but the business background will be very useful in the startup economy, while in established companies, it will give them the skills to move around.” 

The two programs have a joint lab component, and students in both programs will benefit from industry guest speakers and networking opportunities. 

“We want our students to have hands-on insights and experiential opportunities,” Atallah said. 

The lab component of the course will give students a condensed experience in biotechnology laboratory techniques.  

“It is not a cookbook lab,” said Atallah, referring to the usual step-by-step instructions students receive for lab experiments. “Students will be able to make decisions on the best protocol to use, and there’s room for mistakes, so they can troubleshoot and adjust. It will mimic a real-life scenario.” 

The master’s degree internships, arranged in collaboration with the experiential education office at the Markham Campus, will last between eight and 12 months. Students will have the opportunity to put their theory to the test. The capstone course, which is project-based, will also provide a real-world opportunity. 

Alongside these programs, the Faculty of Science at Markham Campus will also introduce a micro-credential on Vaccine Production and Quality Control. This specialized course aims to provide participants with the essential skills required to use biotechnological tools for the development of vaccines. 

The introduction of the micro-credential in NMR is spurred by the government of Ontario’s push for and support of post-secondary education rapid training programs designed to help people retrain or upgrade their skills to meet the needs of employers.   

Now, the Faculty of Science is dipping its toes in those waters, inaugurating the NMR Spectroscopy for Industry micro-credential during the Winter 2024 term and developing the micro-credential addressing Vaccine Production and Quality Control. 

“We’re very excited about this,” said Kouyoumdjian. “We looked at the demands of the job market, as well as the gaps in training, and gauged the need for these skills.” 

The NMR micro-credential course is taught by York University instructor Howard Hunter. Students will learn the basic theory behind NMR spectroscopy, as well as its practical applications. They will learn to successfully process and analyze raw NMR data to understand a sample’s composition or chemical structure, a skill applicable to employees in both chemical and biotechnological fields.   

The course is held in the evening, so people employed in related fields can fit it into their schedules. The hybrid course is pass/fail, with a lab component included.  

“For us, as scientists, the hands-on aspect is important,” Kouyoumdjian said. “It’s the nature of our field. We design our micro-credentials to contain in-person experiential components and avoid the fully asynchronous online model as much as possible.” 

Those who pass will receive both a certificate of completion and an electronic credential badge to affix to a resume or a LinkedIn profile. Kouyoumdjian will approve the badges based on course results; they are authenticated and traceable. 

Much like the students are learning new skills, Kouyoumdjian and his team did, too. Throughout the process, they had to learn how to create a micro-credential offering, from proposal to approval to creating contracts, hiring an instructor and promoting the program online. This accumulated knowledge will be used for introducing the aforementioned Vaccine Production and Quality Control micro-credential course. 

“As biotechnology continues reshaping how health care works, professionals with such expertise play an important role in progressing this field, especially with the urgent global need for effective disease prevention.” Kouyoumdjian said. “We are looking forward to offering the new micro-credentials, as well as the two new graduate programs.” 

Kouyoumdjian applauds the Faculty for making these new offerings possible. 

“Like any new initiative, it takes a team to bring these programs to fruition,” he said. “We are looking forward to expanding the knowledge of many students and observing their subsequent career accomplishments.”