MS in Commerce Blog

In the Business of Biotech: M.S. in Commerce’s Specialized Track Continues to Grow

M.S. in Commerce students and alums share how the program's Biotech Track is bridging the gap between science and business, equipping them with a versatile skill set tailored for this evolving and expanding industry.

Top row: Muchen Bai, Peyton Hamlett, Maeghan Holzbaur, Mariann Kazakis, Tara Lydon. Bottom row: Connor Melko, Annika Meyer, Nick Quartapella, Laney Reed

Top row: Muchen Bai, Peyton Hamlett, Maeghan Holzbaur, Mariann Kazakis, Tara Lydon. Bottom row: Connor Melko, Annika Meyer, Nick Quartapella, Laney Reed

The rapidly evolving field of biotechnology is driving innovations and transforming industries ranging from healthcare to environmental conservation. Its explosive growth cannot be understated: For its contributions to medicine alone, biotech global drug sales were estimated to be worth $436 billion in 2023, up from $174 billion in 2014, according to German data platform Statista.

To meet the demands of this quickly developing and expansive field, UVA’s McIntire School has been helping soon-to-be professionals bridge the gap between science and business through the Biotechnology Track of its master’s in management program, the highly ranked M.S. in Commerce. Since the track’s launch in the fall of 2022 with a group of seven students holding varying degrees in the life sciences, the number enrolled in the track has since doubled, with 16 students making up its second cohort.

According to Biotechnology Track Director and Professor Nikki Hastings (Engineering ’09), the reputation of the M.S. in Commerce Program’s specialized study extends beyond Grounds to other top universities nationwide. She regularly hears from candidates that they simply cannot find another program like it being offered anywhere else. Yet despite being uniquely suited to meet that need, the curriculum is being continually refined, and this year, it is offering additional elective options to meet the preferences of the growing number of students.

“Notably, two predominant trends have emerged within the current group: individuals seeking a blend of business understanding with goals of applying knowledge to technical or analyst-type roles, and those with a more focused interest in deepening their knowledge of business and finance and industry nuances,” Hastings says, explaining that the program remains flexible in order to adapt to evolving student interests and feedback—but always equips students with the skills and awareness required for success in such a dynamic and diverse field.

First-Class Career Achievements

As the curriculum emphasizes effective communication, critical analysis, and the ability to translate technical language for diverse audiences, alumni from the first cohort have already reported positive outcomes from the experience, readily crediting the coursework, the faculty, and Commerce Career Services with providing an essential learning experience.

“Graduates from the initial group of seven students have secured diverse roles in the industry, spanning investment banking and startups to the private sector and consulting,” says Hastings. “They attribute their preparedness for these roles to the M.S. in Commerce Program, affirming its effectiveness in cultivating versatile professionals.”

Since earning her specialized business graduate degree, Maeghan Holzbaur (M.S. in Commerce ’23) joined Accenture Federal Services as a Strategy & Consulting Analyst, working under the firm’s military health account; she says the position affords her the opportunity to combine her interest in the sciences with service to others. She credits Hastings for her insightful teaching on Biotechnology, M.S. in Commerce Director and Professor Ira Harris for his Strategic Consulting course, and Professor Robert Patterson’s teachings on Communication with directly informing how she provides for her clients every day.

“Studying strategy models, cases, and learning effective communication/storytelling techniques were all essential to enter the consulting workforce,” says Holzbaur. “Our systems course with Professor Roman Lukyanenko solidified my understanding of critical concepts in Excel and SQL that I use several times a day. Our Strategy & Systems course also included a unit on AI, which is a pillar of Accenture’s ongoing services and solutions for clients. Additionally, Professor Eric Martin’s Technology & Entrepreneurship course allowed us to work with Chat GPT, which has proven to be an incredible tool that clients want to implement in their own systems.”

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Annika Meyer (M.S. in Commerce ’23), who began a role with healthcare consulting and technology firm Nordic Global, found herself ready for new professional challenges from the very beginning. “Both the coursework and faculty have been immensely helpful in allowing me to kick-start my career. Not only did Strategy & Systems lay such a strong foundation for my experience in the business landscape, but also my knowledge of the biotechnology and healthcare fields; the classes I took at UVA allowed me to immerse myself fully in conversations around advancements in this area,” Meyer says. “My biggest highlight was truly feeling like I had a head start because I felt comfortable with SQL, Microsoft Visio, and Microsoft Excel/PowerPoint—thanks to my experience at UVA.”

Another important component of the program came from McIntire’s Commerce Career Services team, who helped give Meyer confidence in both herself and her resume. “They opened my eyes to show me how to leverage the experiences I have and the network I’ve developed in order to pursue career opportunities and advancements,” she says.

Holzbaur also insists that the School’s career services were instrumental in securing her current position: “McIntire’s incredible Commerce Career Services staff made all the difference in my job search journey. They provided ample support in my job search—from headshots to resume reviews to reviewing job offers,” she says, referencing the many events designed to network with potential employers, as well as their mentorship program, which also included connecting her with McIntire alumni who aided in her search. “Even after graduating, I was able to reach out to CCS (shout-out Rory!) with questions about my future job.”

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

New Group, New Goals

Students in the second Biotech Track cohort striving to forge their own personal success stories include Beijing-born Muchen Bai (M.S. in Commerce ’24), who earned his Biomedical Science degree from the University of Paris, and homegrown talent such as UVA graduates Peyton Hamlett (A&S ’23, M.S. in Commerce ’24), who completed his degree in Chemistry, as well as Mariann Kazakis (A&S ’22, M.S. in Commerce ’24) and Tara Lydon (A&S ’23, M.S. in Commerce ’24), who both earned their UVA degrees in Biology.

Bai calls the program “really special,” because it was “exactly” what he was looking for in a graduate program, one that deepens his understanding of the economy, provides a solid understanding of business fundamentals, and prepares him for his future role in the biotech group of an investment banking firm. All three of his aims are being satisfied.

As an undergrad, Hamlett began his studies in pre-med, but things changed: “The pandemic piqued my interest in learning how decisions are made in various healthcare fields,” he says. Drawn to the Biotech Track to learn how pharmaceutical companies finance their research endeavors and determine treatment accessibility, he says the curriculum has met his expectations and then some.

Kazakis shared Hamlett’s original plans in pre-med studies, but realized she wanted to work on the business side of medicine. Since starting the program, she has become interested in biotech innovations and “improving the efficacy, delivery, and accessibility of healthcare.” She admits she didn’t have much finance experience before coming to McIntire: The Integrated Core curriculum has been essential, while Frontiers in Biotechnology has explained how “business strategies unfold specifically in the realm of medicine, pharmaceuticals, and biotechnology”—a potent combination for post-academic success.

Lydon had no business background prior to entering the program but says she has already learned a great deal that will allow her to reach her professional goals. “I needed to gain functional business skills to help me apply my biology background on a larger scale,” she says, noting that the M.S. in Commerce is giving her the opportunity to develop those necessary competencies.

Laney Reed (M.S. in Commerce ’24) came to UVA from Wake Forest, where she graduated in 2022 with a degree in Health and Exercise Science and a minor in Biology. After a year of working as a Medical Assistant, she realized that she wanted to learn more about business and take a different career path: “It brought me to the M.S. in Commerce Program and the Biotechnology Track. I was drawn to the program knowing that these students all have various non-business undergraduate backgrounds, therefore bringing in a wide variety of perspectives and experiences. I figured that this would be a great opportunity to combine my prior knowledge in health sciences with new business knowledge. Biotechnology gives me the potential to combine my interests in science and business while also giving me the ability to have a meaningful impact on people’s lives,” she says.

Nick Quartapella (M.S. in Commerce ’24), a 2022 Rice University grad who majored in Neuroscience and minored in Biochemistry and Cell Biology, knew when he arrived on Grounds that he wanted to find a business position in biotech or at a pharmaceutical company. But he was unsure of the specific area. “Luckily, I had fantastic professors who inspired passions in me for such subjects as strategic management and finance,” he says, specifically citing Hastings as his “most important mentor” for developing his passion for science. Quartapella is now looking forward to finding a position in key biotech areas such as regulatory pathways, cell and gene therapy, and clinical trials, job positions he wasn’t aware of before starting the M.S. in Commerce Program. “I can now enter interviews and confidently explain how this program has given me the credentials and knowledge to succeed,” he says.

Photo by Bermix Studio on Unsplash

Classes Leading to Career Goals

Connor Melko (M.S. in Commerce ’24), who graduated from Lehigh University with a degree in Bioengineering, has relished the coursework in courses like Financial Trading Analytics and Quantitative Analysis that have taken him out of his comfort zone and broadened his knowledge. He credits McIntire’s faculty with ensuring engaging classes, supplying enriching case studies, and incorporating current business and life sciences issues.

Kazakis recalls that the fall semester’s coursework was often assigned to teams of the same four- or five-person group—a working situation she believes will be particularly applicable throughout her career. “We learned the psychology and facts behind group dynamics in Organizational Behavior. Before this semester, I was apprehensive about group projects. Now I feel more than adequately prepared for this aspect of a future job. Working as a team is an important skill that McIntire professors teach their students well.”

Regarding the academics, Quartapella has found them challenging but rewarding. “The program is only a year long, but I already feel that I am gaining in-depth business skills,” he says. “I have especially enjoyed the case studies we do in class that center on real-life situations—we can see how applicable our studies are to the business world. For example, we have taken on advisory roles in case studies in our Strategy class that directly relate to consulting roles.” He also points out that guest speakers in class have given him a clearer picture about the biotech industry overall and the type of day-to-day work people engage in across the industry.

In planning his career, Quartapella says that the Commerce Career Services team has “been an integral part” to his time at McIntire, helping him build his resume, weighing in on cover letter creation, and crafting an action plan with him. “This semester, I intend to use them even more as I gear up for more interviews,” he says.

Lydon had a similarly positive experience with Career Services; their expertise offered welcome guidance as she sought to firm up her resume and better express her strengths in her outward communication to potential employers. “They helped me rework my skills from my pre-med background towards consulting roles and ‘create a story’ to better get my interests and goals across to recruiters and interviewers.”

Wherever these M.S. in Commerce graduates apply what they’ve learned from their Biotech Track coursework, they’ll be ready—and they’ll know that they can rely on the support of the McIntire School as they embark on their professional journey.

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