BTP advances career exploration, predoctoral opportunities in industry

BTP trainee explains research at poster session

The Biotechnology Training Program (BTP) at UW–Madison is one of the oldest and largest biotechnology training programs in the United States. Over the past 34 years, it has provided approximately 250 trainees with training and research opportunities that bridge the biological sciences, physical sciences, and engineering. When BTP trainees graduate, they join a strong network of program alumni working in a variety of fields, from industry and academia to government, law, and other areas.

Hallmarks of the BTP experience include dedicated coursework, interactive seminars, and an industrial internship that allows trainees to integrate their research or explore new areas. Recent BTP trainees have helped develop COVID-19 mRNA vaccines in South Africa, conserved tapestries at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and conducted research to impact policy at RAND Corporation.

Brian Fox
BTP co-director Brian Fox

“The biotechnology sector continues to grow in Madison and across the Midwest…If you want to have a great life and an opportunity to grow as a scientist and in research. It’s here,” says BTP co-director Brian Fox. “And people have spread out to do their internships…It’s into a whole portfolio of research-related careers, and we’re glad we can provide that.”

Fox is Chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Associate Vice Chancellor for Research Policy and Integrity. His fellow BTP co-chair, Beth Meyerand, is a professor of medical physics and Vice Provost for Faculty and Staff Affairs.

Photo of Beth Meyerand
BTP co-director Beth Meyerand

Fox shared his thoughts on BTP’s history and future to an audience of BTP trainees and alumni, faculty mentors, and industry representatives at the program’s 2023 winter banquet. The annual event celebrates trainee research and gives BTP trainees occasion to network with one another, faculty mentors, BTP alumni, and industry representatives. The 2023 celebration, held March 23 at Memorial Union, holds special significance for the BTP community — it was the first to be held in-person since the COVID-19 pandemic began. A keynote presentation by Chris Salm BS’75, co-founder and CEO of Ab E Discovery and other startups, highlighted lessons learned over Salm’s career in entrepreneurship.

BTP trainee interacts with attendees during the poster fair at the 2023 BTP Winter Banquet.
BTP trainee Alysia Vang, a graduate student in the Endocrinology and Reproductive Physiology program, studies mammary gland development in the Hernandez Lab. Photo: Paul Escalante/Department of Biochemistry

“Everyone brings unique perspectives that make [the BTP] a great program,” Fox says. “We’re continually doing career development and trying to improve ourselves; that’s part of this training environment.”

Recent changes to the training program, announced in 2020, include additional programming on diversity and the rigor and reproducibility of experimental design. Industrial and campus partnerships were also expanded to create broader opportunities for trainees. One example is a collaboration between BTP and the UW–Madison Graduate School that will provide fellowship support to 12 graduate students at UW–Madison to gain practical experience in industry settings. The first application period for this internship program closes April 30, 2023.

BTP trainee explains their research to an attendee of the 2023 BTP Winter Banquet.
BTP trainee Emily Blick explains her research at the 2023 BTP Winter Banquet. Blick studies traumatic brain injury in the Hai Lab, a research group in the biomedical engineering department. Photo: Paul Escalante/Department of Biochemistry

“The goal is to explore ways that support the career development of all our graduate students in the biological sciences, physical sciences, and engineering,” Fox says.

BTP’s industry partners are only one component of the program’s success, Fox adds. Others include the scientific vision and training of faculty mentors and ongoing trainee enthusiasm for biotechnology innovation. Discovery to Product (D2P) also plays a key role — D2P experts help trainees make assessments about taking bench work toward commercialization.

The Biotechnology Training Program at the University of Wisconsin–Madison (GM135066) is funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, an institute of the National Institutes of Health. It also receives substantial support from the UW–Madison Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education.

Written by Catherine Steffel, Ph.D.