Graduate student Aditya Polsani must wonder what he
has to do for an en-core, as the organization he recently
co-founded appears to be the hottest act in town.
Polsani is president of the
Biotech Network, a student-run organization that seeks
to promote education, career development and networking in
the field of biotechnology.
The group was founded by Polsani and Joshua Groman, a
doctoral candidate at the
of Medicine, in January 2003. In February, it was
officially recognized as a university organization by the
Student Involvement, and in April the HBN received seed
money from JHU's
Graduate Representative Organization and held its first
meeting. Since then, it's been all gangbusters.
Membership has swollen to 675 people since recruitment
began five months ago. A seminar series, begun in June, has
already featured industry-leading types including stem cell
pioneer John Gearhart, the C. Michael Armstrong Professor
of Medicine in the School of Medicine; Nicholas Nicolaides,
the CEO and founder of Morphotek; and, most recently, Boro
Dropulic, an assistant professor at the School of Medicine
and the CSO and founder of VIRxSYS, a biotechnology company
focused on the treatment of diseases such as AIDS and
Upcoming speakers include Kenneth Carter, president
and CEO of Avalon Pharmaceuticals, whose talk is scheduled
for 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 17, in Homewood's Clark
Hall; and physician, entrepreneur and university President
William R. Brody, who will speak from 5 to 6:30 p.m. on
Oct. 14 in 110 Hodson Hall, Homewood campus.
Polsani, who came to Johns Hopkins in January,
attributes the rapid success of the group to an aggressive
growth strategy, a coordinated team effort and the fact
that nothing of its kind pre-existed at the university.
"We have also received tremendous support from Hopkins
alumni and university administration," said Polsani, a
master's degree candidate in biotechnology at the Krieger
School of Arts and Sciences. "In particular, the Enterprise
Development Office, the Alumni Association, the
Biotechnology Program in Arts and Sciences, Dean [of
Student Life Susan] Boswell and the Provost's Office have
been very helpful and given us their support."
At a recent event, HBN president
Polsani talks with Blanche Johnson and board member Nora
both of JHU's Enterprise Development Office.
Photo by HPS/WILL KIRK
Polsani said the inspiration for the Hopkins Biotech
Network came from similar organizations that exist at
Harvard, Yale and MIT. He said Johns Hopkins, who many view
as being No. 1 in biotechnology research, needed to have
its own networking group.
HBN membership is free and open to all who have an
interest in biotechnology. The majority of members are
students at the Homewood, East Baltimore and Montgomery
County campuses, each of which has its own chapter.
However, an affiliation with the university is not a
prerequisite to joining.
What has made the HBN so popular, Polsani said, is
that it offers a valuable service to students who are
"keenly interested to learn about career opportunities and
the current landscape of the biotech industry."
The Hopkins Biotech Network's mission is to facilitate
communication and build relationships between its members
and the industry. In addition to the seminar series, the
organization offers daily e-mail updates on industry news,
a bulletin of biotechnology-related events and lectures in
the area and, through its Web site and membership meetings,
an opportunity to interact with alumni, faculty and
industry professionals. The HBN also provides information
regarding venture capital firms, law firms, biotech
companies and business planning strategies.
Polsani said that while the university provides the
science training, HBN's role is to educate people on the
entrepreneurial side of things.
"For example, some students are interested in staring
their own biotech firm, and that's something they really
can't learn working in a lab," he said. "Others are
interested in management, and through our lecture series
and our message board they get to interact directly with
industry leaders. Many of our alumni are very interested in
returning to Hopkins to speak to students and help them
pursue a career. This organization provides a wonderful
opportunity to network that students simply didn't have
Polsani said that this organization is able to attract
high-level speakers in part because of the Johns Hopkins
name but also due to the efforts if its seven-member
advisory board, which includes university administration
and JHU alumni who are executives and senior-level
administrators at prestigious law firms, universities and
Advisory board member Nora Zietz, assistant provost
and head of the university's Enterprise Development Office,
says that in a soft economy and with limited options for
post-grads in academia, the timing is just right for a
Hopkins Biotech Network.
"Some people simply don't know what they are going to
do with their degrees. Not everyone can end up in
academics," Zietz said. "If this organization does nothing
else but facilitate interaction between industry, faculty
and postdocs, then that in itself is wonderful. I have been
to several of the seminars, and I can say that all have
been well-attended, and each time out the members have more
and more questions for the speakers, many of whom are happy
to serve as mentors to these students. The reaction to the
series has been simply magnificent."
What does the future hold for the Hopkins Biotech
Polsani and Zietz agreed that membership will continue
to increase steadily. In fact, the group's executive board
targets a membership of 1,000 by year's end, and members
are already plotting out next year's lineup of speakers.
High on HBN's wish list are Elias Zerhouni, director of the
National Institutes of Health and former executive vice
dean of the School of Medicine, and Mark B. McClellan,
commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.
"We have big plans," he said. "We are just getting
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