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Biotechnology Programme Leader Mark Pickard shares some of the many benefits that come with studying the course here in Shrewsbury. 

Biotechnology is a relatively new area of the biosciences and biotechnology start-up companies are emerging at a rapid rate, so the employment market in this area is buoyant. To enhance your likelihood of success in securing a career in this discipline, we take a special interest in enriching your studies and enhancing your employability skills in a number of different ways.

Laboratory-based practical sessions are an important part of course delivery

In most weeks in the first and second years, you undertake two four hour practical sessions. For this you are paired up with a partner, but you each perform the experiments to obtain maximum benefit. In initial stages, sessions focus on learning basic techniques, then move towards complex mini-projects that can run over several sessions and which model real-life situations in research and industry. Thus, you will leave the institution not only with practical experience of cutting-edge technology, but also of basic laboratory skills that employers so desperately want in new employees. In addition to enhancing your employability skills, this focus on laboratory work allows you to consolidate your subject knowledge and understanding gained in lecture sessions and promotes interactions with your fellow students and staff.

Work-related learning is central to your programme

Once you have completed your second-year exams, you immediately start 'Applied Laboratory Skills’, which is an intensive experiential learning module, similar to work-based learning. You attend sessions which run all day every working day over six weeks. For four weeks running, you are assigned mini-projects each by different lecturers, which requires you to engage in literature research to properly understand the task, plan your week, prepare and collate all your own materials, perform the actual tasks and analyse the outcomes. For example, the week I run is modelled on my previous career in a Contract Research Organisation to Pharma, involves the genetic engineering of bacteria, and culminates in students preparing short reports for external organisations, modelling real-life situations. The module also involves input from the Careers Service and covers CV preparation, job searches and applications, and personal development planning; all of which will be instrumental in securing your first graduate job. Importantly, there are also talks on various careers by external speakers, including laboratory-based research scientists and technicians, representatives from local biotechnology businesses, medical sales representatives and scientific writers, which allows you to forge links with potential employers. In the past, this has resulted in several students undertaking work placements during the summer vacation including in the world-renowned orthopaedic hospital in Oswestry, which pioneers regenerative medicine treatments, and for a stem cell bank, which services veterinary practices.

Scope to pursue your own interests in the final year

Subject knowledge and understanding are central to a future career in biotechnology, and accordingly, you receive a thorough grounding in the scientific principles of biotechnology and their applications in your first two years of study. This continues in your final year with a particular emphasis on cutting-edge developments in the field. Moreover, there is considerable scope to pursue the topics that really interest you in depth and which may be central to your future career aspirations. For example, in the double dissertation module, you are encouraged to formulate a question of your own, with plenty of support from your chosen supervisor. In Current Topics in Biotechnology, external speakers who are experts in their field are invited to talk about their research, which allows you further contact with potential employers. This module allows employers to influence your curricular content, which is considered to be especially good practice in relation to graduate employability. In your core Bio-engineering module, topics as diverse as bioremediation, regenerative medicine, the microbiome and advanced genetic engineering and gene editing are covered, with a strong emphasis on the application and commercialisation of advances in knowledge. Again, there is an opportunity to tailor your coursework assessment to an emerging biotechnology of your own choice, thereby better personalising your degree.

In summary, from a career point of view, your choice of Biotechnology as a degree subject is timely, given the recent rapid expansion of the associated commercial sector. At UCS we strive to enhance your employability through a wide range of activities, as illustrated above. It is notable that of the first cohort of bioscience students that graduated last year, one quarter successfully secured graduate level-entry jobs in local biotechnology-related firms, so we firmly believe that this approach does enhance the employability of our graduates.    

Find out the latest news from the UCS Bioscience department at their Facebook page. If you'd like to learn more about studying Biotechnology at UCS, why not come along to our upcoming Open Evening? You can book your place here

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