Postdoc Professional Masters Degree

I spent some time traveling in the car this weekend and my wife and I got into an interesting conversation regarding a new academic program provided by the Keck Graduate Institute; the Postdoc Professional Masters Degree or PPM for short.  (Yes, you read that right).  KGI touts the PPM program as a specialized MBA in biological sciences for PhD’s or MD’s.    As stated on their web page the PPM program, “will help students develop MBA level skills in management areas of key importance to the bioscience industry. They will also help familiarize students with industry dynamics across different segments of the bioscience industry.” 

My first reaction….why wouldn’t I just get an MBA?

My second reaction….really?  REALLY?!?!

Do I really need to spend more time, money, and effort to add another degree to my already lengthy resume?  Let’s see. 

Bachelor of Science….check



Postdoc Professional Masters….uhhhhh???

Enough already.  What comes next?  The doctoral program in post doctoral training.  A DPPD?  I just can’t fit any more degrees on my resume. 

Honestly, this sounds like a scam to fool down-on-their-luck postdoctoral students into thinking they need yet another degree to land a career.  Do you really need to take out more student loans to earn ANOTHER degree in the hopes of landing a job interview?      

Even the program’s title sounds like a veiled attempt at career success.  Let’s examine the title of the program.  We’ll take it word by word. 

Postdoc?  You couldn’t spell the whole word out?  Five more letters people.  Postdoc is a term you use when talking amongst peers in a lab setting. 

Example:  “Who’s that?”  “That’s Jim. He’s the new postdoc in the department.”  

When used as the title of your program, it simply sounds demeaning.  We have a doctoral degree!  We are professionals in our chosen discipline.    This brings me to the next word.  Professional.  Isn’t this redundant?  Even Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines postdoctoral as, “professional work beyond a doctoral degree.”   I feel like the term “Professional” is used solely to add legitimacy to the program.    

And then the final term.  Masters.  I have a PhD, Do I really want to get a Masters Degree for my PhD.  At least I can start arranging my diplomas in a bell shaped curve on my wall:  BS, MS, PhD, MS.

In all seriousness though, maybe I’m being too harsh on this program.  The program does require a team based project sponsored by a biotechnology company.  Teams are provided office space and a budget to focus on their project, which often involves market research, business development and sometimes lab based research.   This could be an invaluable introduction into a corporate environment and a chance to make some great business connections.   

 With an estimated 100,000 postdoctoral researchers in the US and only a handful of tenure track positions, it’s inevitable that a large number of PhD’s will try to transition from academia into pharmaceutical or biotech companies.   With all these candidates competing for limited positions in a struggling economy, what better way to stand out from the crowd than proving to potential employers you have experience in a business setting.

But, the real question is, do employers consider this type of training relevant experience?  Or, does human resources merely view this as another degree; a fancy piece of paper that can be framed and hung on the wall? 

Has anyone gone through the program?  I would love to hear what you or anyone else thinks about this concept.  Please post your comments below.  

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About Kevin Hascup

Kevin obtained his B.S. in Biochemistry from the University of Delaware in 2001.  He worked in Research & Development for Dade Behring, a clinical diagnostics company located in Newark, Delaware.  It was here that he acquired an interest in neurobiology and in the summer of 2003 he began the PhD program at the University of Kentucky.  In 2007, Kevin obtained his PhD in Anatomy and Neurobiology and continued his thesis research  with two  separate postdoctoral research positions at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden and McGill University in Montreal, Quebec.  Kevin is currently Director of Product Development for an up-and-coming biotechnology located in Springfield, Illinois and is co-founder of 
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6 Responses to Postdoc Professional Masters Degree

  1. Snehal says:

    I would like to validate the usefulness of PPM. I have found employment and am starting work next week. (one month after completion of our program).
    What I would like to say here is that PPM was one of the major positive additions to my PhD background that has got me this job today.
    I would be happy to speak to anyone who wishes to join the program.

  2. PPM Alum says:

    I am a graduate of the PPM program at KGI and in all honesty I can say that the two semesters I spent there have been the most impactful of my academic career. No doubt about it.
    I joined the program soon after earning a Ph.D., as a means to transition out of the bench and into the business side of things. I know I am not unique in my desire to do that. I came across lots of grad students and postdocs that wanted to do that or wish had done that. I found KGI to be a great way to transition into a completely different professional path. One that no graduate life science degree will ever prepare you for. Here are a few items that drove my decision.
    1. Why not an MBA? I was not interested in a program that was 2X as long (I’m a bit older than most), cost 4X as much (talk about student loans) and was a generalist degree. I mean, I got a Ph.D. because I love science and I can’t imagine a professional life without it. So I wanted to gain experience in my industry. Besides, I wanted to learn about the business issues specific to the life science/healthcare industry since most of what applies in other industries breaks down when you consider the heavy regulation and a third-party payer system that go along with healthcare in the US.
    2. The PPM program is not about getting yet another degree and a “nice piece of paper to put up on the wall”. The degree, as Kevin suggests, will not get you anywhere on its own. Really, I mean … PPM??? Nobody knows what that is so I’ll give him that much. There is currently little recognition of the degree. So then why get it? I did so to get an intimate understanding of the industry while still an outsider. To learn how to speak the language of business, how to do valuations, how to read a P&L statement and to be able to explain why regulatory affairs is so important, why manufacturing and process improvement is critical, what analysis (technological, IP and financial) goes into M&A/licensing decisions, etc. If you are interested in being involved in decision-making along any of these items, sticking around 2 or 10 more years as a postdoc or in R&D will not get you there. Two semesters at KGI did it for me. And by the way, the official name of the program includes “Postdoctoral” in it. I think what Kevin read was the abbreviation necessary to fit things into the standard website design. I agree that it is in poor taste to write postdoc anywhere on the website. And the “professional” part comes from the fact that this is a PSM degree ( Not to worry, this is not a scam!
    3. Pay: I am not exactly sure (I never looked it up because I did not want to become depressed) but I think post-doc pay is somewhere along the high $30K to $40 for a 1st year, right? After two semesters at KGI I more than doubled that amount as my annual salary for my first “real” job. So within a year I made up the $25K that was tuition and then some. And a year after leaving KGI for my first job, I was recruited to a new position where I will break six figures. Certainly, you make your own path and make the best of all opportunities laid before you because KGI will not give it to you in a silver platter (no academic program can honestly promise that). But with a good head on your shoulders, the right personality/attitude and the training and experience you gain at KGI this is possible. I know I’m nothing special (many more standouts in grad school ahead of me) so if I can do it, certainly others can and probably will do better than me.

  3. Teetree says:

    Teetree: I read this post before I came to KGI, but I still decided to join the PPM program. So far so good.

  4. Alex says:

    I completed the Masters of Bioscience degree in KGI. While I might not speak directly to the PPM degree, I can attest to the curriculum/projects/culture/environment of the college. As Katie mentioned, the biggest advantage that the school has is the networking opportunities. Half of the faculty has industry experience/connections (VPs from WellsFargo, Beckman Coulter, Director from FDA). The board of trustees and advisory board is filled with execs from the industry. I have personally met and had in depth conversations with VPs and CEOs from Amgen, Illumina, Regeneron, Amylin, etc. For a school that is only 10 years old, they have definitely built up a really strong industry network. Ask anyone who has been to any business school or worked in any industry, it’s the networking that gives you that extra edge.

    Some of the industry execs that all students have a direct access to. This does not include an ever growing alumni network that is concentrated in a very small industry.

  5. Ranck6 says:

    I completed the program only recently. Yes it’s not an MBA, but it also doesn’t cost you the same as an MBA (1/4 the cost, 1/2 the time). It doesn’t offer you insight to industries outside of Biotechnology and Pharma, but that’s what you would get from a traditional MBA. It does, however, introduce you to the industry like you wouldn’t have been in your PhD or in your postdoc (unless you were closely linked with industry).

    I’ve met more entrepreneurs, VPs, CEOs, CFO’s and Managing Directors in my time at KGI than I ever might have elsewhere. Not to mention that these people gladly took my calls and offered me advice. I gained a job that pays me substantially more than I would have expected at any postdoc and have officially gotten my foot through the door. Most people can spend years at the bench as a postdoc before they get an entry level position at my company. I bit the bullet, took an extra 9 months to get a Masters, and now manage 9 entry level analysts at my firm. My employer looked at my “PPM” degree and saw someone with invaluable experience and an Executive MBA.

    The name to the program is not perfect, and that’s something all PPM’s will agree on. It is, however, called a Postdoctoral Professional Masters in Bioscience Management (the postdoc only indicates that all candidates have a PhD). Whether any PhD should take the leap is up to them, but I’ll earn back my investment in a year, which already makes it worth it in my book. Also, it comes down to the individual – not every PhD can or will excel in this environment. With giants like Amgen, Pfizer and GSK laying of R&D jobs, I took a chance and landed on my feet. Perhaps your readers might be able to do the same.

  6. Katie says:

    I have a friend who just graduated from KGI and she landed a fabulous position with a company from her networking connections there. The reason to do it is to get a very good inside look at many different aspects of the biotech industry, being able to narrow down what you really want to do in said industry, and then having great networking opportunities. It’s very much like an MBA-all of my friends who have done those haven’t necessarily benefited from the curriculum, but they have landed fantastic jobs from networking at school. It seems ridiculous to get another ‘degree’, but it’s really paying for very, very advanced job placement. Don’t be so quick to judge…

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