Bioversity Program Preps Grads for Early-Career Life Science Roles

Josiah Wade-Green Bioversity Graduate

Pictured: Bioversity student Josiah Wade-Green uses a pipette to measure a liquid chemical as part of a training experiment/Ian MacLellan for Bioversity

Josiah Wade-Green has always been interested in learning and enjoys hands-on work, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that he thrived in the first Bioversity workforce training program, Biotech Career Foundations. Launched in January for Massachusetts residents 18 and up who have high school degrees or GEDs, the program prepares participants like Wade-Green for life sciences careers. He started his quickly.  

On Feb. 29, Wade-Green graduated from the program, which is located at the 4,000-square-foot Bioversity at Southline Boston training center. Less than a month later, the 24-year-old left his job as a Game on Fenway security guard to become a logistics technician at Abcam, a global life science company whose products are used by scientists worldwide.  

In an interview with BioSpace, Wade-Green shared positive feedback about Bioversity. He said the nonprofit taught him about life sciences, helped him enhance his soft skills and showed him how many paths there are to a biotechnology career. 

“It’s not all about being in the science lab,” he said. “You can find your lane in shipping. You can find your lane in procurement. There’s so many avenues to go within biotechnology.” 

The Bioversity Mission

Launched by MassBio, Bioversity’s mission is to blaze training pathways and create employer connections for underrepresented populations and individuals traditionally left out of life sciences, quickly propelling them into well-paying jobs and lifelong careers. There’s a clear need for this work, according to Zach Stanley, executive director at Bioversity. During an interview with BioSpace, he highlighted that need by referencing findings from two MassBio reports. 

  • Nearly all businesses (94.2%) reported some level of difficulty in finding qualified non-entry-level candidates, while just under three-quarters of companies (73.5%) indicated some level of difficulty in finding qualified entry-level candidates, according to a 2022 workforce analysis report.  

  • People of color, defined as Black, Brown (Hispanic, Latinx) and Indigenous (Native Americans), represent 14% of the biopharma workforce, according to a 2023 diversity report. “This is less than half of the percentage of people of color in the Massachusetts population (32%), as reported in the Massachusetts census,” the report noted. 

Bioversity opens up a new talent pool for the industry, said Gina Conti, talent acquisition business partner at Abcam. 

“It’s a great opportunity from a business perspective to have access to talent and candidates who want to learn, who want to grow and really, who just have a genuine interest in life sciences and want to make an impact in the industry and in people’s lives,” she told BioSpace.  

Bioversity students work on group project

Pictured from left to right, top to bottom: Taylor Lopez, Aaron Onyango, Christina Jones and Luis Toribio work on a group project to determine the density of different solutions/Ian MacLellan for Bioversity

The First Bioversity Cohort’s Success

To help educate and develop job candidates, Bioversity is running five Biotech Career Foundations cohorts this year. There were over 150 applicants for the first cohort. Bioversity selected 18 students who were Black or Latino, according to Stanley. Of those participants, 16 graduated.  

Stanley shared that within four weeks of graduation: 

  • Five graduates were placed in full-time jobs in the biotech sector.  

  • Some graduates were in their second or third rounds of interviews.  

  • Two graduates were accepted at Roxbury Community College and one at MassBay Community College. All three have tentative plans to enroll in the fall. 

“What we learned very quickly was that when you have a population of people who have made the proactive decision to take part in a training program like this, they’re really eager to learn, and they show up every day ready to try,” Stanley said. “And some of the stuff that we threw at them was maybe some more advanced math than they’ve dealt with in a long time or some scientific work in the lab setting that they’ve never done, but it never slowed any of the students down.” 

Conti met the first cohort and said Wade-Green stood out to her in part because he was very confident, well-spoken and willing to learn. 

“He’s interested in life sciences and really interested in just growing,” she said. “And having that mindset is really what we look for.”  

The second Bioversity cohort graduates May 2. The nonprofit is recruiting for the third, which starts May 6. 

Ronny Priefer leads students in group exercise

Pictured: Professor Ronny Priefer leads Bioversity students in a lab-based learning exercise/Ian MacLellan for Bioversity

The Biotech Career Foundations Curriculum

The eight-week Biotech Career Foundations program is free to participants, who receive a $500 weekly stipend to help offset lost work hours and cover costs for needs such as childcare or transportation. 

Created based on input from life sciences employers like Abcam and in partnership with the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, whose faculty members serve as Biotech Career Foundations teachers, the curriculum covers several areas, including: 

  • Recognizing basic science concepts and equipment associated with lab work. 

  • Applying environmental health and safety standards in a lab. 

  • Performing facility cleaning and hazardous waste management functions. 

  • Managing common lab and manufacturing inventory. 

The curriculum also includes modeling professional behavior, practicing effective communication skills and cultivating job interview skills. 

Employers are excited about the opportunity to hire the program’s graduates, according to Stanley. 

“We’ll never be able to train somebody in eight weeks for everything they need to know for an early-career role, but what we can prepare them for is how to work in a lab setting—how to work safely in a lab setting,” he said. “They’re going to know what all the equipment in a typical biotech lab is and what it does. They’re going to know what to do if something goes wrong. And they’re going to have a fair amount of these professional skills that employers are really demanding, especially in early career talent.” 

Conti shared that Bioversity makes recruitment for entry-level roles easier, which ultimately helps Abcam build its business. 

“We have a lot of employees go from those entry-level roles into different areas within Abcam,” she said. “And honestly, from a talent perspective, that’s ideal, because then you’re able to grow your own people.”   

A Bioversity Grad Looks to the Future

Wade-Green is now one of those Abcam employees with an opportunity to grow. As part of the logistics department, his duties include helping the shipping team assemble assay kits and other compounds and materials to ship internationally to other Abcam locations and to companies that use the organization’s products. 

“But that’s just for now,” Wade-Green said. “I see that there’s so much room to grow here.” 

He mentioned potentially becoming a lab assistant and working his way up to lab technician. 

Whatever his path, Wade-Green said Bioversity has helped him find a fulfilling career and focus on something bigger than working at a restaurant or working security. Now, he’s part of the life science profession. 

“Every job has its importance in its own respective industry,” he said, “but I feel like this helps everyone on a larger scale.” 

Angela Gabriel is content manager, life sciences careers, at BioSpace. You can reach her at angela.gabriel@biospace.com and follow her on LinkedIn

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