BCBA: An Experiential Grassroots Platform for Career Development

October 30, 2017
Contributed by: Ryan T. Jones and Ben Cohn

Biotech Connection – Bay Area (BCBA) was founded on the hypothesis that Ph.D. students and postdocs already possess the motivation, creativity and technical skills they need to excel at a diverse set of biotech and pharma careers – all they need is the opportunity to refine and demonstrate their abilities. Over the last few years, we have built a grassroots career development platform where talented life science trainees can make an impact in the biotech world while still in their academic roles. To date, over 150 BCBA members have leveraged these real-world, professional experiences to complement their scientific training and jumpstart their professional careers.

So why and how does BCBA work? We believe there are three core attributes underlying our success:

BCBA is experiential

 If you’ve participated in BCBA at any level, you’ve officially been part of your first startup! BCBA is a practice-based organization, and our projects leverage and develop a broad range of analytical, communication, teamwork, delegation, and workflow management skillsets, often with an external client-facing component. While seminars, networking events and mixers are great, we believe real career development happens through doing, and our consulting engagements reflect that commitment to experiential learning. Through our consulting arm, BCBA team members learn business fundamentals by working with actual biopharma companies on impactful projects. We think that when we push forward the needs of trainees and the biotech community together, everybody wins.

BCBA’s core experiential model blends a range of business challenges, creating diverse experiences and services for both trainees and clients. Bringing trainees together from across the Bay Area enables us to play in many spaces, from landscaping new immuno-oncology licensing opportunities to exploring adjacent markets for a new biologic therapy and performing diligence on early venture investments. From 2016 to 2017, BCBA nearly doubled the number of consulting engagements, resulting in 10 completed projects across a range of companies including startups and venture firms as well as mid and large-cap biotech and pharma companies. Over 60 graduate students and postdocs drove these efforts, many of whom now use these skills in full-time professional roles.

BCBA is a grassroots platform

 In our own graduate training, we found career resources for scientists to be siloed within the walls of each university. Living in the birthplace of biotech, it seemed a shame not to work together as a unified Bay Area trainee community. BCBA’s bottom-up, cross-institutional leadership structure reflects this recognition and ensures that the group’s programs stay relevant to the varied and shifting needs of our trainee community. At its best, BCBA complements, not substitutes, “top-down” resources from our universities.

In keeping with the philosophy that we can be our own best advocates, the organization has grown from within throughout its nearly 5 years of existence. Operational and leadership positions are held exclusively by graduate students and postdocs from the Bay Area’s major academic institutions, while a standing alumni Board of Directors provides strategic guidance and mentorship to the leadership team. Through this structure, our goal is to establish BCBA as a lasting and valuable resource for life science trainees and the academic and biopharma community.

BCBA is a sandbox

Initiatives within BCBA often arise internally as an organic way to round out technical training with specific business skills. BCBA members have successfully pitched and executed many project ideas including consulting case competitions, a project management discussion group, workshops on data visualization, and our own internal market strategy research initiative. BCBA supports these passion projects through a growing infrastructure, institutional memory, professional and alumni mentor networks, and other support. The debut issue of this publication, BCBA Viewpoints, is yet another excellent example of BCBA’s member-driven initiatives.

If you have contributed your time and energy to BCBA in the past, please accept our sincere thanks for the passion and talent you have invested in the organization. We sincerely hope Biotech Connection – Bay Area has provided you with the resources and opportunities to advance your career in the direction of your choosing. Together, the collective investment of our partners – members, mentors, advisors and clients – enables BCBA’s continued investment in the Bay Area biopharma ecosystem and the life scientists within it.

With appreciation,

Ryan T. Jones and Ben Cohn

Board Directors
Presidents Emeritus, Biotech Connection –  Bay Area, Inc.