Highlight on Students

Students pursuing a Master’s Degree in the Advanced Biotechnology Studies programs have a variety of professional backgrounds, and often have different career goals. Students include lab scientists, medical scientists, computer scientists, business professionals, lawyers, administrators, and science teachers. Students come from the biotechnology industries, medical research laboratories, law firms, and government agencies.

Houtan Noushmehr, ’06, MS in Bioinformatics

Houtan Noushmehr

Houtan Noushmehr is a cancer genomics researcher where he works at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. His academic training and research experience have provided him valuable exposure to many different areas of science including, human physiology & diseases, molecular biology, genetics and bioinformatics & biostatistics. After completing his Masters degree in Bioinformatics at Johns Hopkins, he pursued a doctoral degree in the area of epigenetics. Not only did these achievements lay the foundation for his scientific curiosity in the field of epigenetics (specifically DNA methylation), but also fulfilled an exciting collaborative experience.

As a member of The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA), Houtan has worked closely with a number of different scientists around the nation allowing him a unique opportunity to share and discuss research ideas. He has established an expertise in data integration and analysis in understanding regulatory elements as well as epigenetic alterations associated with Cancer. He co-authored and developed a number of statistical methods (many deposited as bioconductor packages or in house ‘R’ scripts) to assist in his bioinformatic analyses. He credits his current career and success to his education he received at Johns Hopkins.

Megan Lyn Heinrich, ’10, MS in Biotechnology

Megan Lyn Heinrich

What is your Masters Degree and what year did you graduate? Master of Science in Biotechnology with a concentration in Biodefense, 2010.

Where do you currently work and what do you do? United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID, Fort Dedrick, MD). Biodefense Research Technician.

Why did you choose to get your Masters Degree from Johns Hopkins? My first driving force was that I worked for Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in an immunology lab. Initially I enrolled in an immunology and Molecular Biology course to further my knowledge of my current research. I was then intrigued to complete the unique MS Biotechnology with a concentration in biodefense.

What was your most memorable experience from the program? Biodefense Laboratory Methods Class.

How has the program enhanced your career? The Advanced Academic Program gave me a great start to my career as a Research Technologist. The hands on lab work and flexibility of online classes allowed me to work full time while obtaining a masters degree.

Have you participated in or completed any compelling research relating to your degree? The degree from Johns Hopkins allowed me to obtain my position at USAMRIID working in Bio-safety Level 3 Laboratories, a rare experience.

What are your future plans? To continue to work for USAMRIID and eventually obtain a PhD in Edipemiology.

Peter Gabriele, ’09, MS in Biotechnology

Peter Gabriele

What is your Masters Degree? The degree is in Biotechnology.

Where do you currently work and what do you do? I am the technical director for ARmark Authentication Technologies, LLC. The company is an anti-counterfeit technology provider to the pharmaceutical industry. I am one of the founders. We are a subsidiary of Adhesives Research, Inc. in Glen Rock, PA. The actual idea for the technology platform that is the foundation of this company came to me while I was taking Advanced Cell Biology in the Biotechnology program.

Why did you choose to get your Masters Degree from Johns Hopkins? I previously got a Masters from University of Pennsylvania PENN Engineering and The Wharton School of Business in Technology Management with a focus in Biotechnology. I quickly realized my biotechnology skills were weak and that in order for the business management program to be of more value it would be an added value to have a bona fide degree in the science from the best brand name school in research-Johns Hopkins (the attitude about branding is a bit of fallout from Wharton).

What was your most memorable experience from the program? I am an older student (59 years old) and I still remember my freshman year at UCONN when the first micrograph of bacterial DNA was shown on an overhead projector using a Xerox stencil. To revisit the science several decades later and be in a classroom environment with about 25 people and ask questions to instructors who are themselves researchers (Dr. Rajavel for instance) was a great experience. This is an important benefit of this program: if you leave a class confused or still in the woods, it is your own fault because the faculty is so willing to teach.

What are your future plans? My thesis has turned into a new business opportunity for my company and I am currently rallying everything I learned from PENN engineering and Wharton into the stability of what I learned at Hopkins to make my project a commercially viable exercise. At my age I am having too much fun.

Ruchi Gupta, ’09, MS in Bioscience Regulatory Affairs

Ruchi Gupta

Ruchi Gupta is a final year graduate student in MS Bioscience Regulatory Affairs graduating in December 2009. She obtained her previous degree, Masters in Technology (M-Tech) in Medical Biotechnology at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), India, where she had the opportunity to learn about the engineering aspects of medical field. She did her Bachelors in Industrial Microbiology in India. During her degree program at Johns Hopkins, she got the opportunity to work at Genentech, Inc, CA, one of the leading biotechnology companies in US, as a summer intern. She worked at their Clinical Regulatory Affairs Department on various projects which included filing an Orphan Drug Application, reviewing and summarizing health authority regulations to support developmental strategies. During the internship she also received the most creative poster award at Genentech Intern poster design competition.

She has now been offered a full-time position at Genentech as a Regulatory Affairs associate and is excited to join them back in January 2010. She gives the credit for her achievements to the extensive degree program at Hopkins which provides students the comprehensive knowledge of Regulatory Affairs to perform well in the industry. She also attributes her success to experienced and dedicated faculty in the department who were a constant source of encouragement and inspiration throughout the program.

David Auerbach, ’12, MS in Biotechnology/MBA

David Auerbach

What is your favorite part of the Biotechnology program? My favorite aspect of the program is the opportunity to pursue a variety of interests through elective coursework, Carey Career Services workshops (Leadership, Consulting, Finance Boot Camps at the Baltimore campus), the Hopkins Biotech Network, and summer internship resume collection services. My summer internship at RHT Consulting offered me valuable hands-on strategic planning experience to supplement my coursework.

Why did you choose to get your Masters Degree from Johns Hopkins? Some factors that affected my decision to pursue a dual degree from JHU were the reputation of JHU’s scientific program, recommendations from colleagues, and the proximity of the Montgomery County campus to my work.

What is your most memorable experience from the program so far? As my program nears completion, the most memorable experience I have was being part of a 4-member team that represented JHU at Northwestern’s 8th annual Kellogg Biotech and Healthcare Case Competition in January, 2011. We delivered an oral presentation regarding a financial forecast for a potential cancer blockbuster drug to a panel of Abbott oncology executive-level professionals. Also, I am looking forward to participating in the Wake Forest Biotechnology Case Competition in February, 2012.

What do you plan to do once you have finished the program? My goal is to transition from basic scientific research to the business arena in 2012, with interests in strategic planning, market research, business development, and project management.

Where do you currently work? I currently work at Teva Biopharmaceuticals USA in the Global Bioassay Center of Excellence. I develop pharmacokinetic and immunological assays in preclinical and phase I, II, and III clinical studies involving biologics (innovative and biosimilar/biobetter), recombinant proteins, and other moleculesip.

Jennifer McRae, ’09, MS in Biotechnology

Jennifer McRae

What will your Masters Degree be and what year do you intend to graduate? I will graduate this May with a Masters Degree in Biotechnology with a concentration in Biodefense.

What is your favorite part of the Biotechnology Program? I like that the biotechnology program brings together students and professors who work in different niches of biotechnology and biodefense, such as academic research, government research, defense contracting, and health care. I find this makes the course discussions and material more comprehensive. While the program is rigorous, I think the atmosphere is collaborative instead of competitive.

Why did you choose to get your Masters Degree from Johns Hopkins? I wanted to find a program that would really go beyond my undergraduate degree, but would also be flexible with my professional and personal commitments. Being able to take some classes online has been key to balancing my studies with travel and work. I also found the course offerings to be broad enough that I wasn’t repeating material I had already learned. For example, I really enjoyed taking Parasitology and was able to take a course on the theory of terrorism through the government program as an elective.

What is your most memorable experience from the program so far? Last spring in the Biodefense Laboratory Methods class we simulated the collection and preliminary testing of envelopes containing suspicious “white powder” left out on our lab benches. Although we had learned the careful protocol for handling such material, I didn’t fully comprehend the extremely precise ritual of safely collecting and sampling the envelopes until my lab partner and I had to step through the process. At first we felt a little silly, but in the end it was really fun (and the powder ended up being cornstarch).

What do you plan to do once you have finished the program? This summer I will start medical school at the University of Kansas School of Medicine in Kansas City, Kansas. At a minimum my JHU degree will give me a head start on molecular and clinical diagnostics and infectious diseases, but I also hope to apply what I’ve learned about biodefense policy and threat response to addressing public health issues in my community.

Mario Morken, MS in Biotechnology/MBA

Mario MorkenWhere do you currently work? I am a Biologist in Dr. Francis Collins’ Laboratory at the National Human Genome Research Institute where I have worked since May of 2007. I am involved in type 2 diabetes research investigating the genetics of this disorder.

Are you/Have you participated in or completed any compelling research relating to your degree? The NIH is a collaborative environment so I would definitely say I have been involved in research that relates to my degree. I am in the MS/MBA biotech program and one area that is stressed is collaboration, networking, and teamwork. Working at the NIH has allowed me to learn the value in working with others, and as a result I have become a better scientist. For example, our lab is involved in a large collaboration with labs and individuals from different Universities throughout the US and abroad. This has allowed us to regularly publish our research in scientific journals such as Nature and Science.

What year do you intend to graduate? I have just completed my first semester, so I am hoping to graduate in 2013.

What is your favorite part of the program? My favorite part of the MS/MBA program is the way it blends together the business and science aspects of the biotechnology field.

Why did you choose to get your Masters Degree from Johns Hopkins? I chose Johns Hopkins because of its reputation and the accomplishments that the University and Alumni have contributed towards science. My first passion is science, but I was interested in gaining management and business skills to complement my science abilities. The MS/MBA biotech program was the best option for me to accomplish my goals, and the location of the Montgomery County campus was convenient because it is near the NIH.

What is your most memorable experience from the program so far? I already have a few memorable experiences even though I have only completed one semester. The most memorable is how much time and work was involved in completing a research paper. It required me to do more interviewing and research than any other assignment I have ever had. Even though it was demanding, I learned so many nuances and aspects of biotechnology that I feel much more prepared to become a leader in this field.

What do you plan to do once you have finished the program? That is a good question and one that I haven’t thought too much of beyond desiring a position that involves aspects of research and management. Since I am just going to begin my second semester, I am waiting to see what parts of the program interest me the most before thinking too far ahead. I plan to remain at the NIH at least until I finish the program, but I will develop more plans as I near the end of it.

Julie Niemala, ’10, MS in Bioinformatics

Julie Niemala“Working as a research technologist at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), I became hooked on bioinformatics after analyzing my first set of microarray data, and, in doing so, discovering a disease gene for an inherited disorder of the immune system. I had never analyzed microarray data before, so I extemporized, using the internet to help me select 25 candidate genes, based on a data set containing 54,000 probes. Six months later, I had sequenced my way through 23 of the genes and was about to give up, when I finally found the disease causing mutation in a gene called NRAS. Realizing the power of bioinformatics and suspecting that the techniques that I had learned on the internet were just the tip of the iceberg, I decided to pursue a Masters Degree in Bioinformatics in the JHU part-time program. I knew immediately that I had made an excellent choice.

The wide variety of courses offered allowed me to streamline my course of study to best suit my needs and interests. I have enjoyed all of my classes, including the core classes, and particularly ‘Microarrays and Analysis’ and Molecular Targets in Cancer’. Many of my professors have been experts in their field, and they have been enthusiastic and helpful. The student body is comprised of people of all ages and backgrounds, and it has been interesting and educational getting to know them, not to mention a great opportunity for networking. I plan to stay at the NIH after I graduate in 2010, but will focus more on bioinformatics, applying the advanced skills that I have gained at JHU. My course of study at Hopkins will have been four years very well spent.”

Robin Odom, ’09MS in Biotechnology

Robin Odom

What is your Masters Degree and what year did you graduate? Biotechnology with a concentration in Biodefense.

Where do you currently work and what do you do? Currently, I hold a position as an Infection Control Consultant at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in the Hospital Epidemiology Service. I transitioned into this position in august 2008 after working as a Medical Technologist in the Department of Laboratory Medicine’s Microbiology Service for 4 years.

Why did you choose to get your Masters Degree from Johns Hopkins? While working in the Microbiology Service at NIH, I decided to pursue my M.S. at JHU to further enhance my knowledge of Infectious diseases and agents of Bioterrorism.

What was your most memorable experience from the program? My most memorable experience from the program was visiting the J. Craig Venter Institute and witnessing the intricate microarray technology that is under development for use in the area of Biodefense.

How has the program enhanced your career? The program provided a solid foundation in Biodefense, both from a historical and present-day perspective, highlighting the progress that has been made here in the U.S. and around the world to combat Bioterrorism. Gaining insight into the use of sophisticated surveillance systems and some of the most advanced diagnostic assays, in combination with many programs that have been implemented to heighten public awareness, has proved invaluable for me in my current position. The Infection Control field has many facets, including emergency preparedness, surveillance, and risk management. This program has better enhanced my ability to address these issues from a hospital epidemiology perspective.

What are your future plans? I am still settling in to my position and hope to continue my career in the federal government over the next several years.  I am looking forward to attending the upcoming Maryland Infection Control Network conference sponsored, in part, by Johns Hopkins Medicine.  I will also to pursue a Certification in Infection Control over the next year through the Certification Board of Infection Control an Epidemiology (CBIC).

Brad Peganoff, ’06, MS in Biotechnology

Brad Peganoff

What is your Masters Degree and what year did you graduate? I graduated in May 2006 with an MS in Biotechnology.

Where do you currently work and what do you do? I am currently Director, Government & External Affairs at the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute (UMBI). UMBI is Maryland’s State Entity for Economic & Workforce Development in the Lifescience Industry.

Why did you choose to get your Masters Degree from Johns Hopkins? I knew having a degree from Johns Hopkins would open doors and the Masters of Science in Biotechnology was the unique specific focus that would allowed for me to build upon my prior years of industry experience.

What was your most memorable experience from the program? The friends and network connections I made by joining the Hopkins Biotech Network.

How has the program enhanced your career? It was a great personal investment that has afforded me opportunities to work with many industry leaders as well as help shape both state and federal policy in the lifescience arena.

What are your future plans? I would like to be part of a start up.

Sampada Shahane, ’06, MS in Biotechnology

Sampada Shahane

What is your Masters Degree and what year did you graduate? I have a MS in Biotechnology and graduated in the year 2006.

Where do you currently work and what do you do? While I was pursuing my MS in Biotechnology, I volunteered for the Microscopy Center at Johns Hopkins University Rockville campus. I subsequently worked with SRL Ranbaxy and USV Ltd. in India. Currently I am working at NCGC on High Throughput and High Content Screening.

What was your most memorable experience from the program? I like the entire program. I especially still remember my 1st presentation in the auditorium, establishing primary cell lines in Tissue Culture Technique laboratory course and all the coursework in High Throughput Screening Laboratory course.

How has the program enhanced your career? In almost all the coursework, we had to give some presentations, whether it was a scientific paper or a particular kit. These presentations give you better understanding of the subject. It definitely enhances your oratory and language skills. In addition it also builds your strength as a stage performer.

What are your future plans? Currently, I am enjoying my work at NCGC. I would always like to be a part of novel research.

Mary Spiro, ’10, MS in Biotechnology

Mary Spiro

Where do you currently work? I work as the science writer and media relations director for Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology and the Johns Hopkins Engineering in Oncology Center.

Are you/Have you participated in or completed any compelling research relating to your degree? I have opted not to do a research project related to this degree.

What year do you intend to graduate? I intend to graduate in May 2010.

What is your favorite part of Biotechnology Program? I appreciated the diversity of courses offered in this program. One could take courses in everything from Agricultural Biotechnology to Virology. I ended up taking more courses related to cellular and molecular biology, but I was able to easily design a degree program that suited my goals. Although there are courses in marketing, business, and regulatory affairs available in this program, I was drawn more to the science courses. I also liked the academic rigor of the program and the flexibility to take many courses online. In addition, there are many fine instructors in the program who are skilled at engaging students in the online environment and making the content relevant by incorporating readings from the current literature.

Why did you choose to get your Masters Degree from Johns Hopkins? My job is to write about scientific research for a non-scientific audience. I earned undergraduate degrees in a soil science and in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park, but that was in the 1980’s. So much has changed in science since then. In order to understand what I was writing about, I felt like I really needed to get up to speed on current findings in science. I originally started the biotechnology studies program offered through University of Maryland University College. I took three courses from UMUC and enjoyed them, but discovered that the UMUC program was more management-oriented than I cared for. So I switched to the more science-oriented biotechnology program at Johns Hopkins University. I was a little nervous at first since I had not had any science courses in more than 20 years, but I also found that my study habits are much better now than they were when I was an undergraduate. Every course was academically challenging and the learning curve was steep. I found my courses enhance my understanding of the scientific concepts that I write about on a daily basis. This knowledge seems to have improved my credibility with my faculty sources and helped me to better distinguish the science “news” in a story that I am writing.

What is your most memorable experience from the program so far? I really enjoyed the Recombinant DNA Laboratory (410. 656) with Patrick Cummings. This course was my first hands-on exposure to some of the biotechnology techniques that I write about but perhaps did not have a crystal clearing understanding of, such as DNA transfection, gel electrophoresis and PCR. The course was fast paced because Dr. Cummings packed a lot into the weekly lab time. However, I think this course, combined with the literature-driven course, Current Topics in Molecular and Cellular Biology (410.663) taught by Karen Wells, were by far the most enriching and interesting courses I have had.

What do you plan to do once you have finished the program? I plan to continue working as a science writer for Johns Hopkins University. After a year off from studies, I may pursue a low-residency MFA in creative nonfiction to work the other side of my brain. Or I might apply to some of the low-residency Ph.D. programs that I have been reading about, but I have not decided yet. I also can see myself taking other courses from the Advanced Academic Programs from time to time to continue building my knowledgebase.

Teagan Walter, ’14, MS in Regulatory Science

Teagan Walter

What Master’s program are you in? MS in Regulatory Science, anticipated graduation December 2014.

What is your favorite part of the Regulatory Science program? The variety of coursework was extremely helpful for giving me a good, diverse overview of quality and regulatory matters. Through the required courses, I learned about several things that have been extremely relevant to different aspects of my work, but I also got to tailor my degree to include the topics I was especially interested in, such as biostatistics and legal/ethical aspects of regulatory affairs.

Why did you choose to get your Master’s degree from Johns Hopkins? I started the program while finishing up a PhD and continued through getting a full-time job, so the flexibility in the program was essential. The fact that the degree could be completed 100% online was very important for me, because I wanted to make sure I was getting a good education and experience, but wasn’t able to relocate permanently or even temporarily. I also credit the professors for making an exceptional effort to accommodate different schedules while not compromising course content and experience. The fact that the instructors are people with relevant industry, academic, and FDA experience meant a lot to me, as I knew the courses would not just be consecutive lectures out of a book, but lessons that were deemed relevant and important to professionals in the field.

How has the program helped you? This program was absolutely essential for my transition from academic biomedical research into regulatory affairs. Through the program, I learned enough about the field of regulatory affairs to confirm that it was where I wanted to move my career. I was able to use the knowledge I gained to demonstrate and interest in and understanding of regulatory affairs to potential employers. Actually, I found out about my current job through the JHU AAP Career Services Newsletter. Now that I am working in regulatory affairs, I find that the knowledge I gained through the program not only has helped me to understand and perform my daily tasks, but I also have a wider appreciation for the whole quality/regulatory system. I can more easily understand quality engineering or clinical affairs, for example, when I work with those groups because of the broad curriculum of the JHU Regulatory Science program.

Susan Zecchini, ’09, MS in Bioscience Regulatory Affairs

Susan ZecchiniNew to the pharmaceutical industry, I decided to apply to the Bioscience Regulatory Affairs program to gain a better understanding of the drug development process. Now in my last semester, I have a much greater understanding of the intricacies and nuances of drug development as well as the regulatory requirements that ensure the safe and efficacious development these products. The comprehensive studies offered through this program provide the opportunity to explore the substantive areas of biologics, pharmaceuticals and medical devices while engaging students analytically. At first, I was hesitant to pursue my Masters degree online which is why I choose to go with a school with such a strong reputation. Although the studies are challenging, this program has been very manageable with my busy work schedule. The professors are well versed in their areas of expertise and very supportive.

I recently finished my term paper-Assessing FDA’s Categorization of In Vitro Diagnostic Multivariate Index Assays as Medical Devices via Guidance Documents Rather Than the Public Rule-making Process. My instructor, Thomas D. Colonna, commented that it was “an excellent paper”. Dr. Colonna’s recognition is a sample of the true dedication to encouraging students to their best and the commitment to excellence of this program. I plan to apply to the PhD program at Johns Hopkins after graduation.