Rethinking The Traditional Pathway to Clinical Research: How a MassBioEd Apprentice is Launching His Career
The supply of qualified people to fuel the Massachusetts-area life science industry has not kept up with the growing demand for talent. There are many locals that have the potential aptitude for life science work but lack an entry point, putting the traditional industry career pathway in question. In addition, the industry has an oft-stated goal of increasing diversity, but that goal remains elusive using traditional recruitment methods. Training the next generation of industry talent and increasing diversity in this workforce are two challenges that MassBioEd, a local organization with a mission to build a sustainable life science workforce in the region, is trying to solve.
MassBioEd created two apprenticeship programs in 2021 – one for Biomanufacturing Technicians (BMT) and another for Clinical Trial Associates (CTA). These apprenticeships are accelerated and paid training to individuals new to the industry to gain foundational knowledge and acquire industry-recognized skills. “The recruitment goal was to find people that weren’t aware of these career opportunities in this industry. MassBioEd recruitment focused on work-ready people who demonstrated a real passion for a career in life sciences,” shares Karla Talanian, Senior Director of Life Sciences Apprenticeships at MassBioEd.
Companies participating in the apprenticeship program gain access to a pool of work-ready candidates with skills well matched to their needs. This program is also an opportunity for employers of apprentices to gain access to a more diverse applicant pool and to grow the pipeline of new talent entering this field. In 2021, MassBioEd brought on a total of 30 apprentices with 60% people of color, 63% identifying as female, 26% are immigrants, and an age range of 19-63. In 2022 so far, the program has brought on 37 apprentices with 70% people of color, 46% identifying as female, 43% are immigrants, with an age range of 19-57. Most of these apprentice applicants were unemployed before joining the program.
Jounce Therapeutics, like Halloran, is one of the companies participating in the apprenticeship program and taking on candidates for on-the-job training. To learn more about the impact of this program on apprentices and their path ahead, we sat down with one of the CTA apprentices, Austin Maxwell of Jounce Therapeutics, to gather some insight on why he entered the program, what he hopes to gain from the program, and what’s on the horizon.
How did you learn of the MassBioEd CTA Apprenticeship Program?
My sister found out about the program through a listing on Indeed. She knew I wanted to enter the industry but had no prior clinical research experience, so she passed the listing along. I believed it was an opportunity to finally get my foot in the door, so I took a chance.
Tell us your story. What were you involved in before the program and what inspired you to take a leap of faith and join?
I came from a very different industry. I worked in marketing and advertising for a long time – about 19 years – and the organization I was with at the time wanted to relocate their employees. I wasn’t willing to move from Boston and relocate my family. That’s when I started my job search. I tried to enter the clinical research field but had no prior experience, so those opportunities didn’t materialize. I decided to sell insurance instead but realized sales wasn’t the right choice for me and that field wasn’t fulfilling. I continued searching for jobs, so I was thrilled when my sister shared about the program listing on Indeed.
My leap of faith was inspired by my wife who is also in clinical research and feels fulfilled in her career. I too want to make a positive impact from my work, and now having a son and daughter, they are my motivation to continue to grow my career so I can give them the best life possible and show them that they can reinvent themselves and make bold moves.
What attracted you to Jounce Therapeutics?
I was given a list of ten companies to select. I did my research on the companies and Jounce was in my top five. I heard really good things about Jounce and their values resonated with me. They’re committed to the cancer patients they serve, they enable opportunities for their employees, and invest within. Seemed like the perfect fit for me. Now that I’ve been with Jounce for close to a year, I can now say the culture is true to the core values they communicate.
What skillsets were you looking to cultivate within the program?
I wanted to work on organization skills, like getting files FDA-ready and working on time management for time-sensitive materials, and I wanted to learn from start to finish how clinical trials are run and managed.
Is the program what you anticipated or different in some way?
The MassBioEd program exceeded my expectations. I did not know what to expect from the 3-month MassBioEd CTA training followed by a 1-year apprenticeship program at Jounce and how it would prepare me to enter the industry. I was very open-minded about this new model of entering a workforce.
The program is well-planned and executed with knowledgeable teachers and guest speakers. We also have mentors and meet on a monthly basis, which is helpful in making sure I’m maximizing this opportunity.
How has this program enabled you for future roles and employment?
This program has given me the foundation needed to transition to the life science industry. Now that I have experience with this program, I can say with confidence that I have the opportunity to be successful while having access to the many continued education programs that MassBioEd offers.
What has been the most challenging aspect of the program and how has Jounce provided guidance?
The biggest challenge is just being new to the industry – I am learning everything from the ground up.
My manager at Jounce makes herself available to support me and has been patient with me as I get up to speed. My colleagues have also been helpful and check in periodically to see if I need additional support. There’s a sense of setting everyone up for success like we’re all in this together.
Looking ahead, what kind of roles or companies appeal to you as you gain exposure to life science opportunities?
I definitely want to stay in this field, and I love working with Jounce. I’m still trying to find exactly the right future role for me, though Clinical Trial Management (CTM) is appealing to me. CTM deals with all the operational components of a trial, and I want to work to that level so I can have a better grasp on all the processes involved in a study startup and all the way through study closeout.
What do you think is next on the horizon for you?
I want to continue to grow my industry knowledge and work cross-functionally with all departments to gain as much exposure to the industry as possible. I’m not sure where I will officially land after the apprenticeship program, but I’m hopeful it’s in this industry.
What advice would you offer to future candidates to be successful in the program?
Regardless of age, there’s always an opportunity to reinvent yourself and reach for your professional goals. If you’re going to go into an innovative program like this, be patient with yourself because there are so many things to learn in this industry. Don’t overwhelm yourself by learning too much all at once – take it all in strides. My mentor shared a great piece of advice that has stuck with me, which is ‘treat this program like an open book test. You have all the information you need at your fingertips, so go slow and review the information at any time.”
MassBioEd’s mission is to build a sustainable life science workforce in the region through educational programs that engage and excite teachers, inspire, and propel students, and illuminate the pathway from the classroom to career with a focus on expansion, opportunity, and diversity.
Halloran Consulting Group
Halloran Consulting Group is a life science consulting firm that provides strategic regulatory, quality, clinical, and organizational support to industry leaders and startup visionaries in the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device sectors.
Jounce Therapeutics is a clinical-stage immunotherapy company dedicated to transforming the treatment of cancer by developing therapies that enable the immune system to attack tumors and provide long-lasting benefits to patients through a biomarker-driven approach.