Young alumni utilize science communication skills to succeed at BioTechnique

Undergraduate alumni of the Department of Life Sciences Communication are well prepared to enter numerous fields thanks to the skills and connections they gain from LSC, and industry companies certainly take notice.

BioTechnique logoJust one example is the story of two December 2014 LSC graduates who immediately found jobs at BioTechnique, a company based in Madison that opened its doors just last year and helps produce cancer-fighting products. The company has been very pleased with the pair in the past several months and look forward to building a relationship with LSC to possibly hire more of its alumni.

“We are always striving to establish connections with local life science-related industries for our mutual benefit,” said LSC chair Dominique Brossard. “We produce highly skilled students that understand the important role communication plays in these areas.”

LinkedIn Photo Max (1)
Max Sellman inside the BioTechnique facility.

Max Sellman and Daniel Hernandez, both business development associates at the company, said their education in LSC has given them the skills they need to find jobs as young alumni and succeed at them.

“As part of my job, I have to reach out to potential clients and introduce BioTechnique and one thing that LSC emphasizes is the importance of understanding the motivations behind a message and how subtle manipulations of language can influence the audience,” said Sellman, who was a double major in Genetics and LSC. “Another big focus in LSC is learning to communicate effectively on scientific topics that are highly complex, which has been essential as well.”

Hernandez said one of the most important concepts he learned in his undergrad career was framing. For their purposes, framing is the idea that information can be communicated in a way so that it is more understandable to the audience by fitting it into a mental framework they can relate to. This is a concept covered extensively in classes like LSC 251: Science, Media, and Society.

Daniel Hernandez
Daniel Hernandez

“Learning how to tailor my communications pieces to different audiences and learning to approach communications from a variety of perspectives has really been the most beneficial, especially when thinking about how to approach potential customers and people who may or may not be acclimated to the pharmaceutical industry,” he explained. “I find myself thinking, ‘who is the person I’m trying to connect with and how can I frame what I need to say to best reach their interests?’ ”

BioTechnique is a contract manufacturing organization that supports the oncology drug industry. It takes medications, like cutting-edge chemotherapy treatments, and pumps them into individual vials for injection. While it may seem trivial to some, the process actually requires sterile facilities and highly specialized equipment and software so most drug companies outsource this process to companies like BioTechnique.

Sellman and Hernandez’s job is to use communication and marketing techniques to get drug companies interested in BioTechnique’s services. Among other tasks, the pair must network and connect with new clients, break down complex science, and design advertisements. They’ve impressed their superiors so much that the company has reached out to LSC looking for interns and excellent graduates when full-time positions are available.

Their short time with the company has been nothing but rewarding. Hernandez said he appreciates how the company strives to create a sense of equality among different positions and always feels comfortable putting forth ideas and getting feedback.

They both found out about the job openings through emails distributed to LSC students and encourage undergrads to always be on the lookout and stay connected to the department.

“There are so many things I learned in classes that I go back to often,” Sellman said. “Mike Flaherty’s Science Newswriting was a great crash course on writing about science clearly, quickly, and effectively, and I think about it often when emailing clients and putting together internal documents. When we work on marketing tasks like creating print advertisements, I’m always considering the visual theories we discussed in Sheila Reaves’ Visualizing Science and Technology.”

He added that Larry Meiller’s Information Radio class is a must for anybody who might make a lot of phone calls. Finally, Dominique Brossard’s Risk Communication class has helped him think about how to relate to and best communicate his message to people in a high-stakes industry dealing with billion-dollar products.

For Hernandez, Don Stanley’s classes on print media design and social media marketing have been invaluable, as has his internship experience with Tom Still.

“An LSC degree is valuable because it allows for an all encompassing and flexible degree that a lot of other programs don’t offer,” Hernandez said. “I felt I was able to get a well-rounded learning experience that I could take and market afterward. The one thing I’ve heard most since I’ve graduated is how unique and excellent it is to have a degree from the Department of Life Sciences Communication.”