Opportunities to Talk about Science in BTP Prepares Trainee for Job in Pharmaceuticals

Photo of Sara Montanez, BTP alum
Sara Montanez, BTP alum

Practice makes perfect — and for Sara Montanez that practice was the opportunity to talk about her research in multiple seminars and poster sessions while part of the Biotechnology Training Program (BTP) at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Montanez was at UW–Madison from 2008-2014 and was part of BTP while earning her Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering. David Beebe was her advisor and BTP mentor, while Patricia Keely was her BTP minor advisor.

“Some of the most helpful opportunities for me were to present posters, give seminars, and receive feedback from peers and professors,” says Montanez. “It really helped me gain exposure through presenting, and I was able to learn to better express myself to others. That can be especially helpful for those of us who are minorities and English isn’t our first language.”

She currently works for PPD in Middleton, Wis., right outside of Madison. PPD is a leading global contract research organization with thousands of professionals worldwide who provide support to pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical device, academic and government organizations during drug development and laboratory analysis. Montanez serves as an associate research scientist, where she manages multiple projects, performs laboratory analysis, and prepares methods and reports — all in compliance with FDA standards and regulations.

While in BTP, her required internship was at Promega in Madison. She says the experience convinced her to pursue a career in industry. She adds that the funding aspect of BTP helped her and her advisor financially because she had more security.

“Some people think there isn’t much research outside of academia, but my internship showed that industry is very broad,” Montanez says. “You can try your hand at research and development, but also work in marketing or production. Those of us with doctorates are trained to troubleshoot more clearly and to write well, and companies like PPD and Promega look for that.”

The networking and collaborative opportunities that BTP gave Montanez were essential for her, she says. During courses in the program, BTP trainees give seminars by themselves and also participate in poster sessions and other professional development events organized by the program.

“I want to thank all of the amazing people who aided me during my time in BTP,” she says. “If you’re going to work in biotechnology, it’s important to expand your knowledge beyond just your own research area and learn to better collaborate because that’s how industry and even academia function.”