Relating the Language of Management to Graduate School
News Article By Liz Albertorio, MS candidate and Rochester Museum and Science Center Volunteer Manager
Many URBEST graduate students are interested in pursuing a career in industry. URBEST trainee Chris Farrar, is one of them. As he explored his options, Chris noticed that one of his major skill gaps fell within the realm of project management. When the chance to apply to the URBEST/CPD sponsored Project Management Institute fellowship arose, Chris decided to apply – and was selected.
I recently had a chance to discuss with him his experience in the course and which management concepts are applicable to the graduate school experience.
Liz: Chris, tell us a bit more about yourself
Chris: I am a PhD student in Biomedical Engineering and work in the laboratory of Dr. Denise Hocking. Our lab studies the structural and signaling roles of fibronectin with an eye towards applications in tissue engineering and wound healing. I completed my undergraduate degrees in Biological and Chemical Engineering at the University of Maine. During my undergraduate coursework, there was a heavy focus on process engineering and industrial production. After taking a few biology classes, I became more interested in research and discovery. One of my reasons to go to graduate school was to pursue my interest in the discovery process that biomedical research provides, and now I am interested in learning to translate research findings into industrial development.
L: When did you become interested in project management?
C: As an undergraduate student, I interned at a paper mill. My major project was to help scale up a new grade of paper from laboratory to industrial production. I was fascinated with the process from dealing with FDA guidelines, facilitating communication across multiple departments interacting with diverse groups including management, engineers and union members.”
L: Which project management course did you take and how many people attended?
C: I took the Systems Project Management course organized by Project Management Institute (PMI). The course was 2-days long and took place in Philadelphia. There were about 70 people taking different courses related to project management. Each day there were networking opportunities as everyone had breakfast and lunch together. Almost everyone seemed to be from industry, and in my class there were 12 people, several of them from biotechnology industry. The students had diverse backgrounds and interestingly it was mainly the students who worked in biotech that had PhD’s. Others worked in aerospace, construction or IT. Some people there were already certified in project management and wanted to keep the certification. Others, like me, were new to the course and were there to continue professional development.
L: What concepts within the management course did you find most interesting and applicable to your graduate school experience?
C: One of the most interesting ideas I learned about is called “requirement tracing” in which you delineate the core requirements of a project when it is initiated. Each requirement is then broken down into smaller and smaller quantifiable tasks and objectives. At the end, all of the individual tasks should be able to be traced to the core requirements and overarching goals. This idea of ensuring that individual tasks “map” to the overarching goal is exactly what one should be doing in writing a thesis proposal. Same thing, different terminology. Another concept is called “scope creep”, which happens when you already have defined a project and you increase or change the scope of the project. The instructor mentioned that failure to maintain schedule is often a result of scope creep. I think most Ph.D. students will be reminded of their thesis committee saying “add these few additional experiments”. The additional experiments typically represent scope creep, and may potentially come at the expense of a delayed graduation date. It is definitely something many graduate students can relate to.
L: It seems that there are similarities between terminologies in managing projects in industry and managing projects in academia. How do you think graduate students could use this knowledge to their advantage?
C: One often thinks that graduate students may not have relevant experience to industry. We do; it’s just in a different language. By the end of graduate school, we have all dealt with things like scope creep and requirement tracing quite successfully. I think that knowing the terminology and identifying what graduate school experiences are relevant to work in industry will certainly help me with interviewing for, and transitioning to a career in industry. After taking this course, I have been thinking about the core concepts of project management and how much graduate school has helped me to build a skill set that is very relevant to a position in industry. I think that it is really important to begin to learn the language of industry ahead of time so that you can really understand how relevant your graduate school experience actually is to industry.
L: What’s next in your career?
C: I will be wrapping up my studies within the next 6 months and will start looking for positions within the biotechnology industry. I am interested in working in product development, which is a position where I can combine my experiences in biomedical research, product/process engineering and project management. After I have some industry experience, I would like to move to a role where I can make strategic decisions to help direct research and development efforts. I think my project management training will be important in these roles. I am still in contact with people from the management course; it would be fantastic if some of the connections that I made there help me in my job hunt.