Judy Kjelstrom is an academic leader in biotech

Q&A with Judy Kjelstrom Ph.D.
Academic Coordinator, Biotechnology Industry Immersion

Judy Kjelstrom describes herself as a “blue-collar Ph.D.”

She puts practical applications on the front burner with her research. And it shows. Her work has an immediate impact for biotech companies, venture capital firms and startups—in an industry with a $400 billion global market and an estimated 77,000 companies.

As director of the UC Davis Biotechnology Program, Kjelstrom and her team work across 20 separate STEM disciplines on campus. She also leads the Designated Emphasis in Biotechnology (DEB) graduate program, which incorporates more than 200 students and 250 affiliated faculty members.

Kjelstrom says she is thrilled to partner with the UC Davis Graduate School of Management on the new Biotechnology Industry Immersion launching this winter quarter with three other Immersion courses. She knows that the innovative way this course connects graduate business and life sciences students is “a critical need for the biotech industry.”

We asked her about her plans for the course:

What’s unique about the Biotechnology Industry Immersion?

This new course is not just another seminar series or one-day workshop. It’s an interactive case study course led by company leaders in the life science industry. The class will be multidisciplinary with MBA students and Ph.D. students in science and engineering. They will work in teams to discuss problems and propose solutions. This cross-fertilization of ideas will lead to novel approaches to real issues in the biotech industry. Working in diverse teams leads to more creativity and more effective leaders.

A wide variety of topics for case studies will be presented: How to grow a small company; dealing with regulatory issues; supply chain management; marketing and commercialization of products; staying competitive; innovations for the future; and more. It is important for any leader in biotechnology to be a multidisciplinary translator. One must be able to connect the dots to lead teams.

“We stress entrepreneurship, team building and effective communication between life scientists, physical scientists and engineers.”

Why is UC Davis best suited for this?

UC Davis is a comprehensive, world-class university, with a strong focus on life sciences. This is a perfect place to offer this type of course, because we embrace cross-disciplinary interactions between our colleges and schools in addition to the biotechnology industry in Northern California.

The UC Davis Biotechnology Program has been a leader in this area since 1986 and has established deep connections across campus, as well as with industry. Our innovative Designated Emphasis in Biotechnology graduate program involves Ph.D. students and faculty from 29 STEM disciplines and all of the students must take a 3-6 month industrial internship.

What opportunities will this open up for the campus?

I am confident that this biotech industry immersion course is a win-win project for both the students and our corporate partners. It is another example of our commitment to entrepreneurship at UC Davis.

The students will gain valuable training in problem solving within a cross-disciplinary environment as well as network with leaders in the biotech and pharma industry. These skills could lead to industry internships or possible job offers.

The benefits to industry are many. They have input on the development of the curriculum, focusing it on their specific industry.

“Access to highly skilled human capital is a critical need for the biotech industry.”

What gets you excited about being the instructor for the course?

I am thrilled to partner with the management school and Dean Rao Unnava to develop this Immersion course. It is a natural extension of our curriculum with the DEB graduate program, in which we stress entrepreneurship, team building and effective communication between life scientists, physical scientists and engineers. This course will also benefit doctoral candidates in STEM who are not part of the DEB but are curious about the intersection of business and science in building technology companies.

The inclusion of MBA students is the next layer of working in diverse teams to solve problems. Having our industry partners spend half-day interactive sessions with the students is such a gift. Their real-life experiences are invaluable to our students.