By Nick Quartapella (M.S. in Commerce ’24)
I’ve always loved science. I remember telling my second-grade teacher I wanted to be a scientist when I grew up (whatever that means!). I even made an oath with a diabetic friend of mine in fifth grade that we would be the ones to cure diabetes. My love for science grew even more during my first year at Rice University. I thought I wanted to devote my career to health and medicine to help patients. I soon declared my major in Neuroscience, planning to attend medical school.
Passion for Medicine and Patients
I did what any med student should do—lots of research! I worked with mice in epilepsy labs and looked at monkey retina cells. I even worked with tumor and epilepsy patients in a hospital in Houston during what was supposed to be my gap year before med school. And one thing was still true: I loved being in the field of science, knowing that my work would impact patients affected by horrible diseases. But I wasn’t so sure about being a doctor. My passion for medicine lay all over the place, and I didn’t want to commit myself to years of medical school to start a career I wasn’t completely set on. Another thing was sure: I was done working long hours in labs! Lab work was very lonely, and my work felt so far removed from the impact it would eventually have on patients. I was much more interested in how patients can access these drugs and how the biotech companies that make them operate, and I wanted to get as close as possible to a career like that.
Preparing for a Career in the Business of Biotech
I knew that I wanted a career in the business of biotech. Still, I had no business skills to show for myself besides taking Financial Accounting and Economics classes at Rice. I began searching for one-year master’s programs in business across the country, discovering how to combine my love for science with business skills. And eventually, I found the M.S. in Commerce Program at UVA McIntire. Finding the Biotech Track was a perfect match for me. I saw that I would get the foundational business skills, learn more about the biotech industry, and better understand the career I wanted to pursue. I was pumped! After being accepted into the program, I had a long conversation with the Director of the Biotech Track, Nikki Hastings (she’s fantastic, and please talk to her if you’re interested in this track!). She made me excited for the exposure I would have to the field, the different career opportunities we would explore throughout the year, and how this program would improve my ability to market myself as a science person with vital business skills.
Becoming Fluent in Business
Now that we are almost halfway through the program, it is safe to say that I am 100% sure I made the right choice coming here. I am becoming more fluent in the world of business through topics in areas such as strategy and finance, and I am also learning so much about the world of biotech. In our Frontiers in Biotechnology class, we’ve had discussions about what it takes for startup biotech companies to get FDA approval for their products, how they conduct market research on new therapeutic areas, and how to navigate a field balancing the imperative of saving lives with the economic necessity of generating profit. We’ve had the pleasure of hearing from speakers across the industry, from a founder of a startup medical device company to a COVID-19 vaccine salesperson for Moderna. And I’m excited to dive deeper into biotech next semester, where I’ll complete the Frontiers in Biotechnology class and take a data science elective in Clinical Trials Methodology.
Exploring the Biotechnology Career Landscape
I’m already learning about jobs I didn’t even know existed before enrolling in the program. My interests are all over the place, but that’s the beauty of the biotech field. I’d love the opportunity to have a job in life sciences consulting, advising biotech companies on how to compete against larger pharmaceutical companies. I’m also learning more about rare diseases through the Frontiers in Biotechnology class. I would love to work in a biotech company focused on strategic management for companies going after diseases that have much smaller patient populations. I also want to work with patient advocacy groups, understand their desires, and how biotech companies can incorporate those ideas and put the patients first.
As I search for jobs, I have a great mentor in Professor Hastings, who has such a deep knowledge of and love for the biotech field, as well as the amazing Career Services office here at McIntire. As Professor Hastings says, there are so many careers in biotech that it’s best to soak it all in. We have a long year ahead of us, and I look forward to discovering more about my passions in this fantastic, diverse, and dynamic field.
I advise you all reading this to search for your next career with an open mind. There are so many options out there, jobs that you might not even be aware of. You are bound to find something that matches your interests, I promise. Always push yourself to continue learning, engage in conversations with your classmates, and really think about what type of job you want that will make you happy.
And, of course, if those passions lie in the intersection between business and science, consider applying to the M.S. Commerce Program at UVA on the Biotech Track!