PULLMAN – Less than a year after its launch, a Washington State University program that prepares scientists for the workplace is laying plans to offer programs throughout the university and in as many as three new disciplines.
WSU recently received $69,000 from the Sloan Foundation to develop professional science master’s (PSM) degree programs out of the Vancouver, Tri-Cities and Spokane campuses. The move is part of training workers for new and emerging science-based businesses across the state.
“The idea of professional science master’s is they are nimble,” said Norah McCabe, clinical associate professor of molecular biosciences and director of the PSM program. “As the needs of employers change – as new disciplines, as new niches, as new workforce skills are needed – then a PSM track can be quickly assumed so we can start training students.”
The PSM – often called the hot degree no one has heard of – has emerged in recent years as a solution to several problems: scientists without business backgrounds, businesses without scientists, and science students migrating to advanced degrees and double majors to become more marketable.
“Employers were not seeing the skill sets that they wanted in future employees,” said McCabe. “Hence the idea of a multidisciplinary degree. The idea was these students would be able to transition much more quickly and effectively into the workplace because they would be armed with all of these skills.”
Shane Needham, co-founder of the Moscow, Idaho-based pharmaceutical testing laboratory Alturas Analytics, says the PSM gives students bench skills and the ability to understand finances and regulations, “but also lead people and lead a team. It bridges some of those gaps.”
WSU in May launched a PSM option in the School of Molecular Biosciences. The program, the first in the state, is a 32-credit mix of graduate-level scientific study, management coursework and business experience. Special courses include bioethics and scientific literacy. In lieu of a thesis, students have a full-time, eight-week internship.
Jean-Paul Tousignant is one of five students in the program, taking part online from his Federal Way home while working in sales for Roche Diagnostics.
“The better I know the science, the more prepared I am to explain it to my customers,” he said. “In just six weeks, I’ve already had new ideas on how to approach my job. And it’s brought a new rigor and a new intellectual stimulation.”
WSU is working towards a PSM degree in its own right, with a variety of tracks available. Under consideration are a bio-products track in Tri-Cities, an environmental sustainability track in Vancouver, and a health informatics track in Spokane.
“We are trying to make the training of our students relevant,” said McCabe, “and we want them to have valuable currency for today’s workplace needs.”
Read an earlier article about the PSM here.