As an undergraduate I always had an interest in biotechnology and molecular genetics. However, lab work did not particularly appeal to me. I also recognized early on that science does not occur in a vacuum- its subject to social, political, economic, and financial forces. This drew me to the field of economics, specifically public choice theory.
When it came time for graduate school I was still torn. I really wasn't interested in an MBA and didn't really have the background to work in a lab or do field work in genetic research. I really liked economics. The combination of mathematically precise theories (microeconomics/game theory) and empirically sound methods (econometrics) provided a powerful framework for applied problem solving.
I had two advisers make recommendations that got me thinking outside the box. One suggested ultimately I would find a niche that combined both economics and genetics. The other suggested I look at programs like the Bioscience Management program that was being offered at the time at George Mason University (now Bioinformatics Management). While there were not a lot of programs like that being offered at the time, the Agriculture Department at Western Kentucky University provided enough flexibility in their masters program to include courses in biostatistics, genetics,
and applied economics. I was able to work on research projects analyzing consumer perceptions of biotechnology and biotech trait resistance management using tools from econometrics, game theory,
and population genetics. Additionally I took courses in applied economics and finance from both the Department of Agriculture and College of Business where I was exposed to tools related to investment analysis, options pricing, and analysis and valuation of biotech
companies as well as the impacts of technological change and biotechnology on
food and economic development.
With this combination of quantitative training and applied work I have been able to leverage SAS, R, and Python to solve a number of challenging problems throughout a number of professional analytics and consulting roles.
Today there are a larger number of professional science masters programs similar to the programs I contemplated over 10 years ago.
According to National Professional Science Master’s Association:
"Professional Science Master's (PSMs) are designed for students who are seeking a graduate degree in science or mathematics and understand the need for developing workplace skills valued by top employers. A perfect fit for professionals because it allows you to pursue advanced training and excel in science or math without a Ph.D., while simultaneously developing highly-valued business skills....PSM programs consist of two years of coursework along with a
professional component that includes business, communications and/or
In 2012 there was an article in Science detailing these degrees and some data related to salaries which seemed attractive. According to the article the first program was officially offered in 1997, reaching 140 programs by 2009 with over 247 at the time of printing.
This commentary from the article corroborates how I feel about my experience:
“There is a tendency for students to buy into the line that if you don't get a Ph.D., you're not a serious professional, that you're wasting your mind,” she says. After spending a decade talking with PSM students and graduates, she is certain that’s not true. “There is so much potential for growth and satisfaction with a PSM degree. You can become a person you didn’t even know you wanted to be.”
Below are some programs that would look interesting to me that students interested in this option should check out. (there is a program locator you can find here) . Similar to my master's, many of these programs are a mash up of biology/biotech and applied economics and business degrees.
George Mason University- PSM Bioinformatics Management
University of Illinois - Agricultural Production
Cornell- MPS Agriculture and Life Sciences
Washington State University - PSM Molecular Biosciences
Middle Tennesee State University - PSM Biotechnology
California State - MS Biotechnology/MBA
Johns Hopkins - MBA/MS Biotechnology
Rice - PSM Bioscience and Health Policy
North Carolina State University - MBA (Biosciences Mgt Concentration)
Purdue/Kelley - MS-MBA (not a heavy science emphasis but a very cool degree regardles from great schools)
Why Study Agricultural/Applied Economics