MIT professors are famous for spinning off life science companies. But their students don’t always find it easy to break into the industry.
That’s why a quartet of PhD students have launched the MIT Biotech Group, which holds lectures, panels and networking events to connect their fellow students — both undergrads and doctoral candidates — with job opportunities and entrepreneurial training.
“There’s still this pervasive anxiety,” co-founder Nathan Stebbins said. “We see all these people starting companies — how do I do that?”
One problem the group often encounters: Doctoral candidates who have been so focused on working in the lab, they barely consider how to ready themselves for the job market until they’re almost done with their programs. They’ve also heard from students who want more internship opportunities.
“It’s easy for that to fall by the wayside,” said Andrew Warren, who started the group with Stebbins, Vyas Ramanan, and James Weis.
Like any startup, the group is still a work in progress. At a meeting Monday, the conversation turned toward goals for an external advisory board — but when one student asked how the board was looking, Ramanan said the group hadn’t yet assembled it.
“We don’t have one,” he said.
The group, which held its first event in April, does have a slate of lectures and panels scheduled for this fall; a lunch last week featured Elizabeth O’Day, founder of Olaris Therapeutics. Students are putting together course recommendations, compiling job listings, and creating a resume book that companies can browse.
The issue has also caught the industry’s eye.
The Massachusetts Biotechnology Education Foundation plans to start releasing reports on job trends in the coming months. One goal is to “demystify the process” of finding a position, said Peter Abair, executive director of MassBioEd.
“We haven’t done a great job, either on the industry side or the side of educators,” Abair said, “of really presenting what is the pathway from the classroom to the job.”
Two of the top scientists involved in a high-profile patent dispute over genome editing technology are headlining events this month — each near the other’s home turf.
At issue is the patent on using CRISPR-Cas9 systems to selectively edit genes, a technique that has huge implications for medical research and drug development.
Feng Zhang, a scientist at the Broad Institute and MIT, received a key patent in 2014. But Jennifer Doudna, a researcher at the University of California at Berkeley, says she developed the technology first. The University of California system has appealed to US patent officials to review the decision.
Now, Doudna is set to give the inaugural Pfizer (PFE) lecture at MIT’s Kresge Auditorium on Sept. 10 before an expected audience of 900 people. Four days later, Zhang will be in Redwood City for a speech hosted by the MIT Club of Northern California.
Scientists of course travel to other institutions all the time; just last week, Eric Lander, the founding director of the Broad, spoke at a genome editing event at UC Berkeley that Doudna helped organize. But the heaps of attention the patent fight has received — combined with the scientific promise and the potential financial payoff of CRISPR — has injected a buzz of anticipation around Doudna’s lecture.
Broad spokeswoman Clare Midgley said the institute is “delighted” when scientists come to Cambridge for events.
“There is room for many researchers to contribute in this field and we applaud the work underway worldwide to further develop and work with CRISPR to improve human health,” she added.
Design firm takes on Kendall’s ‘big, fat chunkies’
The design firm about to start work on a citywide plan for Cambridge has some issues with Kendall Square. The problem? Kendall’s growth has come in the form of one massive project after another, according to Tim Love, founding principal at Utile.
“Developers like their buildings in big, fat, chunky things,” Love said in a presentation this summer.
The team led by Utile, which calls itself “a design firm built like a think tank,” was awarded the multi-year project last month and will start on it this fall, after a contract with the city is finalized.
Utile did not respond to an interview request. But in the presentation and in documents filed with the city, the firm says it will explore both how the development of areas like Kendall benefit the city — and how that growth strains relationships with residential neighborhoods. The group will also look at Cambridge’s zoning and planning rules, which the company says are so complex they create “an unfriendly user experience, for both developers and interested residents.”
In the presentation, Love says that the lessons of Kendall should be applied to Alewife as it evolves. Parcels should be of various sizes, which in turn will attract both large developers and smaller ones looking for more modest projects.
It’s about balancing what the market wants and what the community wants, Love said, to build nicer neighborhoods.
If, for example, one-third of the buildings in Kendall “were what we call the fatties” and the rest were an array of other sizes, Love said in the presentation, “Kendall Square would be a better place.”
Pardon our innovation
We get it; there’s a lot of innovation going on in Kendall. But the compulsion to drop the word into conversation now has even extended to construction signage.
“We’re working hard to update our Hotel so you can reach new levels of innovation,” signs placed recently in the Marriott lobby and second floor declared. The signs seemed to have disappeared earlier this week, but crews were still at work adding an “M Club” to the hotel’s second floor.
The M Club, which is scheduled to open in late October, will be a 24-hour space for select Marriott rewards members to “catch up on work, enjoy a bite to eat, recharge and connect,” spokeswoman Lucy Slosser said.
Day passes will also be available, for those looking for a posh place to innovate.