Dept of Molecular & Cell Biology – Microbial Systems Analysis

Discoveries in microbiology affect unforeseen aspects of human health, change our understanding of the environment and provide us with new opportunities to design drugs and vaccines. Many of these discoveries are driven by technological advances such as the application of next generation sequencing. Right now is an exciting time to be a microbiologist and the PSM program in Microbial Systems Analysis prepares students to succeed in this important field and addresses the national shortfall in the STEM field. This program is specifically designed to train students for employment in the biotechnology, pharmaceutical, diagnostic, government, and academic sectors. This is achieved by combining coursework with advanced laboratory training and internships. We provide students with training in advanced technologies such as next-generation sequencing, bioinformatic analysis, automated liquid handling, and advanced cultivation techniques. Examples include the sequencing of a bacterial genome or the microbiome. PSM-specific professional development courses include weekly lectures by industry leaders and alumni from companies in the biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and diagnostic areas, as well as from government and academic laboratories, that provide our students with learning and networking opportunities. Another key aspect of the training is a three-month, full-time internship.

The Professional Science Master’s in Microbial Systems Analysis is a program that was designed to train students for employment in the biotechnology, pharmaceutical, diagnostic, government and academic sectors. This program differs from traditional coursework M.S. (with its emphasis on discipline competency through formal, theoretical coursework), and the traditional thesis M.S. (with its emphasis on research in specific subject area and a formal thesis that is publicly defended). The Professional Master’s Degree captures the best of both traditional degrees while adding a unique laboratory training, internship and professional development training elements that are needed for successful performance in business or corporate environments.

One key component of the training are short, intensive modular classes where participants learn specific techniques over the course of two to five days. Some of these “modules” are offered during the semester such as “Introduction to Molecular Techniques” and “Real-Time PCR” while other more advanced modules are taught during the Winter and Summer sessions. These can include “Introduction to the Illumina MiSeq” where students learn how to perform Next-Generation Sequencing and “Advanced Liquid Handling” where students learn how to operate robots that setup PCR reactions. In our PSM cohort classes, students learn lab management and communication. During professional development speakers from the industry and alumni from companies in the biotechnology, pharmaceutical and diagnostic areas as well as from government and academic laboratories come and provide our students with learning and networking opportunities. The final component of the training is a 3-month internship where students work full-time in a company or laboratory.

Full-time enrolled students typically take 2 years, including a full-time 3 month internship, to complete the degree program. Part-time enrollment is an option and will require a longer time to complete the program. Some of our advanced modules are offered during the winter and summer sessions, which allows some students to graduate faster. While it is possible to complete the degree part-time, most of our classes are offered at standard times with the exception of some of our advanced laboratory classes that are offered on the weekend. Our employed students make arrangements to take some courses during the day. In addition, some employed students make arrangements with their current employers to work on a microbiology related project within their companies for their internship.

The target clientele for this degree program are baccalaureate students with degrees in biology or other appropriately related fields who wish to pursue careers in industry, public service or regulatory agencies. Such students may be recent graduates who want to improve their hiring potential, or non-traditional students who wish to update training for new career opportunities or for advancement with their current employers. Our graduates are employed in companies ranging from small startups to large, multinationals in the biotechnology, pharmaceutical, government and academic sectors. The ability to fine-tune the curriculum for each student allows us to meet the interests of each individual. During our professional development lecture series students meet speakers from a wide range of companies and professions and begin to create their professional network.

Requirements for admission include a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0. The applicant should demonstrate competence in the discipline, including but not limited to undergraduate research experience or field experience, or employment history. The GREs are not required for application to our program, though you can send the scores if you feel it will enhance your application. You need to provide three letters of recommendation. For non-native English speakers, the TOEFL test is required. Information about the TOEFL requirement can be found on the Graduate School website. For information on the IELTS test as an alternative to the TOEFL, please contact the Graduate School.

Through our cohort classes students learn how to find employment opportunities and by attending our professional development hour students build a network of contacts. This provides our students with the tools for finding internship opportunities in coordination with the director of the PSM program. In addition, we work closely with some organizations that have internships set aside for our PSM students or alert us to internship opportunities, which we disseminate to our students. Examples of where our students have done their internships include The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine, Boehringer-Ingelheim, AxioMx, Genomas, and the NYU Genomics Center.

Finding the first job is critical step in your career. By going through the process of identifying opportunities and interviewing for internships our students are well prepared when the time comes for their next career move.

The final requirement for Professional Master’s Degree is passing performance on an exit exam that will require an original, scholarly piece of work that may take one of many forms. Most of our students write a mock journal article or technical report on work performed during their internship or other research-training phase of the degree. A comprehensive review paper on an appropriate topic could be assigned. Alternatively, the student could be requested to formulate a solution to a problem encountered in the particular career track chosen. We envision that some students may already have positions secured prior to completion of the exit exam. In these cases we would consult with the appropriate corporate partner to determine the type of exercise that would be most beneficial to the student’s preparation for employment. The student and the Advisory Committee will determine the nature and time frame for completion of the final exam. The Advisory Committee will evaluate the exam per University guidelines. It is the intent of this innovative exit exam to reinforce the discipline-specific competency and to provide an evaluation tool for relevant problem-solving abilities and writing skills.

Three members of the Graduate Faculty in the field of study of microbiology will be appointed to serve as the advisory committee for candidates for the Professional Master’s in Microbial Systems Analysis. The Advisory Committee will assist the student in the selection of courses best suited to meet career aspirations.

Near the end of the first year of study, the student will prepare a Plan of Study containing the courses he or she will take to gain mastery of the body of knowledge of the field, including the required or core courses. The advisory committee and the Executive Committee of the Graduate School must approve it.