After reading Jack Clarke’s touching column, “Back the ‘Big Waive’,” in the Times in early August, Gloucester Biotechnology Academy’s Alumni Council would like to share our own personal experiences.
The most common sentence we hear from alumni is “The academy changed my life.”
I joined the Gloucester Biotechnology Academy’s first class in 2016 on a whim — I had just barely graduated high school the spring before. I didn’t have any plans for my future, and I didn’t have any idea what biotechnology was. After my nine months at the academy, all of that changed.
The academy offers a tuition-free 10-month program to train students ages 18 and older to become entry-level lab technicians in the biotech industry. The curriculum includes two semesters of hands-on lab work, supplemented by weekly career-skills workshops and guest lectures. Students then join a biotechnology company for a three-month paid internship — I did mine with Dana Farber’s Center for Cancer Systems Biology — after which we graduate with a Certificate in Biotechnology and begin our careers in the industry.
Graduating from the Gloucester Biotechnology Academy provides us with choice — perhaps for the first time in our lives. After my internship at Dana Farber Cancer Institute, I was able to choose where I wanted to work next. With the technical skillset, career skills, and experience I had gained during the program, my options were wide open. I chose to move on from the intensity of an academic lab toward a new kind of intensity — a small startup lab called Lariat Biosciences, where I worked with advanced microfluidics to further the development of a lung cancer screening test. I could have chosen to work in forensics, oncology, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, proteomics, drug discovery, marine genomics, or any number of other applications with my skillset. Having options, and being able to choose, might not seem like that big a deal, but to me, and I think to many academy students, it was revelatory.
My story is only one of many academy alumni stories — stories of lives changed. We gained technical skills, career skills, and work experience from our time at the academy. We also gained a community.
The Gloucester Biotechnology Academy Alumni Council came together as a group of alumni united by a sense of stewardship for both the academy’s work and its collective story. We work to bring academy alumni together, not only to foster our own alumni community, but also to serve as ambassadors for the academy to the greater community. We hope that by sharing our own stories below, we are continuing that important work.
After graduating from the academy’s first class in 2017, Alumni Council Vice President Kyle Richard developed a niche in DNA sequencing and is now working as an associate scientist at ElevateBio — without any sort of college degree. His go-to when people ask about his work is, “It’s nice to get out of bed in the morning knowing the work I am doing could lead to groundbreaking discoveries, and not just a paycheck.”
Alumni Council President Sara Corchado, ‘18, writes, “For me, working in biotech is a childhood dream come true. I’ve always wanted to be a scientist and being able to put gloves and a lab coat on, and to contribute to the betterment of society is a check off my bucket list. Being able to work alongside the best minds at MIT and Harvard is just one more accomplishment I owe to the academy.”
Alumni Council Treasurer Aly Bryant, ‘19, says “The academy finally allowed me to pursue my education in the one area I excelled at most, all while avoiding significant college debt. I always dreamed of a career in science but feared the college debt as I was never offered any financial aid. I cannot stress how grateful I am that the academy allowed me to become the strong independent woman I am today — with a successful career in biotech and WITHOUT the college degree. The best part of all of this is knowing this isn’t just my amazing outcome. There are so many others before and after me who will be successful as well, thanks to this program.”
The academy changed our lives. We know there are more folks just like us out there who don’t know what’s next for them. So, if you’re one of those people, or maybe you know someone who is, we hope you’ll check out the academy. There is space for you in our November cohort that begins on Nov. 23. and who knows? Maybe we can change your life, too.
More information about the Gloucester Biotechnology Academy can be found at gmgi.org/education/.
Madeleine Harlan is secretary of the Gloucester Biotechnology Academy Alumni Council.