Patrick Hadley: Hello and welcome to another episode of the University of Utah Graduate School’s GradAttack podcast. Today we are talking to Adam Meese, who is currently finishing his Professional Science Master’s degree in biotechnology as part of the University of Utah’s interdisciplinary Professional Master’s in Science and Technology program. And the reason we’re talking to Adam is because this is a relatively new program at the university, and we’d like to get an idea of what it is he does, and what the opportunities and challenges represented by this program are.
So, Adam, you’re working in a program that’s kinda designed to straddle the worlds of scientific research and entrepreneurship, but before I ask you about the particulars of your interests, I’d like to know what drove you to choose this particular program instead of, say, a more traditional, thesis-based graduate degree in the hard sciences.
Adam Meese: Sure. You know, I was looking, after I finished my bachelor degree and got into the career field, I was working in laboratories for a few years, looking for ways that I could further my education and find more possibilities and opportunities to go up the career path and find more opportunities.
PH: And can I ask, what was your bachelor’s in?
AM: Biology. I was looking at different opportunities. I searched around for quite a while, looking at physical therapy, I thought about medical school, I thought about engineering, getting and MBA … and the more I studied, the more I didn’t feel it was the correct fit for what I wanted. I didn’t want to go on and get a PhD, so I knew that a traditional master’s with a thesis wasn’t really the right track for me. An MBA had a little bit too much business and not enough science. I happened to stumble across the PMST program, and that was actually what I felt had the greatest fit, because I wanted to stay in the industry that I was in, which was currently still biotechnology, and I wanted to stay in that career path, so the PMST program was something thaty provided the best fit for a science-based program as well as a business education that would help me to basically go the career path I wanted to go, and help me understand management concepts as well as direct laboratory testing and laboratory issues that are bound to arise.
PH: Okay. And do you find that the cohort of students you’re working with is roughly similar to your background – kind of science-based and working in the industry already?
AM: Right, right. Everyone that I was with, except for one student, they were all full-time employees, working full time and balancing life, career, education. And a lot of them were in the industries that they wanted to stay in, which were stem-related industries – so science, technology, education – er, sorry, engineering, and math.
PH: And does the balance work well? Is it difficult to keep life, studies, and work balanced while you’re doing this?
AM: It is, yeah. I don’t know if there is much life. Once you start program, it’s basically – for me it’s family, school, then work. So trying to balance those, you know, there isn’t much of a balance a lot of the time, but you know, you’re able to get time where it’s needed, and obviously work comes first, and then you get your education in, and your family, but, you know, it’s difficult.
PH: I understand. So, for the more particular case in what one does, or what people can do within the program, can you give us an idea of the projects that you’ve worked on so far? Maybe your capstone research project, or the kind of things that you want to see put into action in the biotech sector after your graduate?
AM: Yeah. The program starts off with you taking mostly business classes. There are various projects that are really on the business side. My capstone project, specifically the internship program that I did, it definitely incorporated a lot of what I learned throughout my career as a graduate student, as well as drawing on new concepts that would arise and be facilitated through my supervisory committee. They were able to facilitate the whole thing throughout the process, help me resolve issues, and maybe direct me toward further learning – maybe I hadn’t learned certain concepts, and they were able to direct me to better understand certain aspects of the internship. So the focus of my internship was mostly on Lean, and Lean is a management process developed through the Toyota production system years ago, and it’s all about cutting waste. Lean, which is basically the term we’ve given it here in the US –
PH: Is it based on a Japanese idea?
AM: Yeah. The history’s kind of long, but essentially, yeah. Toyota developed the system. I think the original was taken from…a variety of people, an eventually Toyota developed it into a system that they were able to develop the people as well as eliminate waste. So, eliminating waste leads to better production, and waste in lean is defined through a variety of things – overprocessing, underprocessing, excess movement – all ways that we contribute to waste. So my internship focused mostly on how we can incorporate lean into the biotechnology industry, and that is really something that you can apply to any industry. Lean is really something that my professor and supervisory chair, lean is something that he does for his career, and he’s also a surgeon, so he has a lot of experience implementing lean in hospitals – if you’ve ever been to a hospital, you spend a lot of time just waiting. Lean tries to eliminate that wait time so that there is more process time, more face time with the doctor, with the value-added purpose of your visit at the hospital. So the same concepts apply in any industry where you can eliminate non-value-added parts of your process that really don’t need to be there. We take them out and really just get the value-added stuff in there that customers are paying for. The customers aren’t paying to sit around and wait, and so –
PH: Can you give an example of where within the hospital industry or the healthcare industry people might have experienced this, or we might have seen some in action?
AM: Right. If you think about a hospital, or basically any time you go to a supermarket, for example, how long do you have to wait in line before you get checked out? You don’t go to the supermarket to wait in line, you go there to get your stuff, get checked out, and go. So, the same concepts apply within any industry. When you talk about a hospital, the more time people sit around waiting, they’re wasting their time and they’re usually clogging up the facility, right – you have an emergency wait room, you have tons of people in there, that’s not conducive to the business, it’s not conducive to getting people in and out, which is the whole point of the business. The more people they see, the more revenue they earn, so if you can develop a process where when people come in, they’re immediately checked in and checked out, you’re streamlining your process and eliminating that wasted wait time.
PH: And have we seen that process, that streamlining done either here in Utah or elsewhere in the American healthcare system?
AM: Yeah, there have been a lot of processes – specifically, my supervisory committee chair, which is Dr. John Langell, one of the things that he implemented was actually looking at EKGs and how often they were performed. When patients come into a hospital they are then – at least, certain patients – are then given an EKG, but that’s not always needed. When is it needed? So they defined when it was needed, and eliminated the times when it wasn’t needed. Ultimately they ended up saving hundreds of thousands of dollars for that one hospital. Implementing it nationwide, that same process, could save billions of dollars by not doing a process that’s not needed. So if you go in to check the dentist, and you’re in there for maybe just a cleaning, but he decides he’s going to give you filling, but you don’t have a cavity, and he gives you a filling anyway, that’s just waste. And there are a lot of processes within any industry, where if you look at the process from a third-party perspective, and you say, Why is that even happening? A lot of people are trained in a certain process, and they go and they do that certain process, and they don’t really step back and think about, What is the point of this? What value does it add to the overall process? So if you go into a system and you look at it that way and start identifying where the waste is, and say, Why are we even doing that – Well, that’s the way we’ve always done it – Well, why have you always done it that way – Well, I don’t know – Well, then, let’s stop. What’s gonna happen if we just don’t do that. A lot of times the impact is nothing. You’re just saving yourself time.
PH: So, kind of coming up with a healthcare system that doesn’t immediately make one think of Kafka or something like that.
PH: Okay. This is cool. And where do you see yourself, with this kind of branch that your research has taken into applying these slimming-down methodologies to management in biotechnology, where do you see yourself going once you graduate. What do you see yourself doing with this?
AM: Well, I’ve been with my company for about five years now, and they’ve treated me well and they’ve opened up a career path for me. I could very well see myself in the same company. I’ve gotten into the management track since I’ve been in this program, and I’m actually where I want to be. As a graduate, I’m now in a position where I hoped I would be when I graduated. So actually, with this internship I can now apply those principles that I’ve learned to the group that I manage, and find ways in which we can eliminate waste. The principles I’ve gained through the internship I could take with me in any management or any position, because really the concepts I can apply anywhere and in any position. So I could really jus foresee myself growing in my company and taking it to the next level and further developing processes within my company.
PH: Okay, excellent. So it sounds like things are going really well for you. But I’d also like to know, just in the interest of honesty, and in the interest of people who may be looking at this program themselves, I’d like to know what kind of difficulties you’ve had to deal with within the program. You mentioned conflicts of time and a bit of stress there, but what’s been the toughest thing to learn or to adjust to that you wish you’d been aware of before you got started?
AM: That’s a good question. You know, I heard a lot of complaints about the internship program itself, just getting through the process. One, getting your supervisory chair, because this is a non-thesis program, getting your supervisory committee to oversee your internship – there isn’t a whole lot in it for the professors. It’s kinda out of the goodness of their heart that they are donating their time and their expertise to the cause of the internship. There was a lot of complaints about that, but that process actually wen fairly smooth for me. I was able to get the committee chair. He got on pretty quickly, I went with him, and another professor joined, and I asked for some more help, I was having trouble because you have to have three professors, and I was having trouble, but I reached out to the biotechnology track director, and she was able to direct me to someone who could help. For all the complaints that there are, the process was difficult overall: following through the steps, submitting the proposal – you have to submit an internship proposal, and that has to be approved, and I had to go through revisions on that before I got it approved. Doing the internship, I thought, was going to be easy, but there were some changes within my management system that I was working with at my company, which actually made the internship more difficult. So the internship actually didn’t turn out the way that I expected it to, but I did get positive results and a learning opportunity that I wasn’t quite expecting. I guess that’s life. The entire internship process was difficult. Overall it took me about a year, from when I started my proposal to when I finished my final presentation. The material within the program – the actual science and business classes that I took, each of them had difficulties, as well – I mean, it’s not education if you’re not struggling a little bit. So I did struggle in some classes, but ultimately I was able to get through all of them. You know, it’s kinda difficult sometimes to know exactly what class you’re getting into based off of just the title. In my undergrad, there was a set number of courses, and everybody takes more or less the same courses. You can talk to people about, you know, How is that professor? How is that class? I didn’t quite get that sort of experience with my Master’s program, you know, understanding who the teacher was and what the material was, you know, is it a good fit for my career? So that was a little difficult, but I guess the difficult part is not knowing exactly what – but, you know, you read up as much as you can on what’s on canvas or on the website about the program, about the teacher, and you get a general idea of what’s going on.
PH: Okay. And with that in mind, is there any advice you would give to those who might come after you and what to take up similar work in entrepreneurship or business in the hard sciences?
AM: Getting into the program I did my research, so I knew that your first year in the program is night classes, and after that you get into day classes, so now you’re in the normal time with other graduate students who are more or less there full time, in different fields. And a lot of classes you’re taking are 9 Am or 10 AM, which is right during the business hours that most people work, unless you’re working a swing shift or some other weird shift. So that was also a difficult part of the program – I guess, know what you’re getting into. When you’re getting into your hard sciences, you’re going to be there during the day. You’ve gotta take time off your work to get into the classes. There are people in my cohort who are traveling from Provo or from Ogden, you know, making long commutes. And when you’re doing that in the middle of the day or in the middle of the work week, that’s difficult. So luckily, my company was very flexible and willing to work with me on that, but I would often leave the house at 6 AM and I wouldn’t get back until 10 PM. Trying to figure out how to fit work in as well as studying and classes – the advice I would give is, Understand exactly what you’re getting into. Do some research to understand the classes as well as just the structure of the program. Make sure your work is okay with you taking those morning hours or afternoon hours off so that you can take classes.
PH: Okay. Excellent. So thank you very much for talking to us today, Adam Meese, and we wish you the best of luck going forward.
AM: Thank you.