UMBC Mic'd Up

Bringing Life Changing Medicines to Market

February 20, 2023 UMBC Mic'd Up with Dennise Cardona and Chidera Igbokwe Season 3 Episode 45
UMBC Mic'd Up
Bringing Life Changing Medicines to Market
Show Notes Transcript

The world of Biotechnology is critical to all of humanity. Professionals in this field need to keep up on the emergence of new techniques, equipment, and processes to continue to forge new pathways to innovations that lead to making a difference in the lives of others. In this episode of UMBC's Mic'd Up Podcast, we chat with a graduate of our M.P.S. in Biotechnology, Chidera Igbokwe '22.

"I would say that I learned that the industry that I'm in is so much bigger than just me. There is this emphasis on the fact that we're often making life changing medicines for people. And everything we do, makes a difference in someone else's life. So there's this focus on product quality, making sure that everything is documented in the correct way. Sometimes it can get tiring. But then I realize that the products we make go into people's bodies and actually do things in their bodies. I think that that puts things into perspective." - Chidera Igbokwe M.P.S. '22, biotechnology

0:00 How did you balance work-life balance?
1:52 What led you to UMBC?
3:29 What is your current role in Biotech?
4:52 How the program helped her to grow in her current role.
8:25 How the program helped him to grow in his current role.
11:03 Favorite course?
13:41 Biggest takeaway
16:17 Greatest advice ever received?

Learn more about UMBC's graduate programs in Biotechnology:

About the Division of Professional Programs at UMBC: 
The Division of Professional Studies (DPS) is a partnership-based organization within UMBC’s Division of Academic Affairs. Through creative collaboration, the DPS staff team-up with faculty, staff, students, and external stakeholders to generate future-focused responses to the evolving needs of our community.

Our goal is impact. DPS is committed to our role as stewards of partnerships that center on enhancing access for students with nontraditional needs. We are dedicated to creating access to opportunity and are guided by the goals of enhancing economic prosperity, social mobility, and social justice.

We offer professionally focused master’s degrees, graduate certificates, undergraduate programs, individual course, and non-degree training programs. Our programs engage a broad array of UMBC faculty, industry experts, distinguished professionals, and thought leaders to teach courses, mentor students, and advance the state-of-the-practice at UMBC.

Whether it is an alternative location, an alternative learning modality, an alternative time of day, week, or year – DPS partnerships bring UMBC’s community, extended, and professional program to the region and state in affordable, accessible, and impactful ways.

Dennise Cardona  0:00  

Thank you for tuning in to this episode of UMBC Mic’d Up podcast. My name is Dennise Cardona from the Office of Professional Programs. Today we are joined by a recent graduate of our biotechnology graduate program, Chidera Igbokwe. We hope that you enjoy this episode. Welcome to the podcast. It's so wonderful to have you here with us today.

Chidera  0:21  

Thank you. I'm glad to be here.

Dennise Cardona  0:23  

So you just recently graduated from the UMBC’s M.P.S. program in biotechnology? Correct? 

Yes, I do. Yeah. All right. And you just graduated this past December, which is phenomenal. Congratulations on that. I'm sure that that is just like a huge relief off your shoulders and a great accomplishment.

Chidera  0:42  

Yes, thank you. It is, I mean, school was fun. But school school. So I'm happy to be on?

Dennise Cardona  0:50  

Yes, it does. You know, so it speaks to the whole work life balance thing. That is such a thing going working, if you're working full time going to school, you have other responsibilities. It can be taxing, but you know, how did you deal with that? Were you able to balance your life out going to graduate school at the same time?

Chidera  1:09  

Yes, so the MPS program is great in that all of the courses are in the evening. So most of my courses started at 6pm, and 9pm. So it's three hours, which is a long time. But I appreciated being able to sit down for three hours and be done with the course for that week. And then of course, I had my assignments and things that I had to turn in by the next week. But just having one day that I could dedicate to each course, allowed me to sort of focus on work during the work, working hours, you know, nine to five, get a little bit of a break in between, and then go to class. So it was taxing, you're correct, but I appreciate it, you know, how the courses are set up so that you can still work?

Dennise Cardona  1:52  

Absolutely. And you know, it comes down to what your goal is in life. And sometimes we do have to push through and push ourselves and challenge ourselves to get through the tough times. And some people would say that a challenging schedule is a rough time. But you know what, at the end of it, when you come out at the end of that, I think the feeling of accomplishment is so much greater when you know that you put that hard work in and you earned that degree.

Chidera  2:21  

Absolutely. And I think the learnings as well, were something that I was very proud of. So I felt like I learned a lot that was relevant to my role. And as a result, I was able to grow professionally, you know, and I could participate in certain kinds of conversations more because I knew more about the subject matter. So I enjoyed that part of the program as well.

Dennise Cardona  2:40  

Speaking of your professional pathway, and all of that, could you just tell us a little bit about your professional endeavors? And what led you to UMBC?

Chidera  2:49  

Absolutely, yes. So I am a bioprocess engineer at a pharmaceutical company in Rockville, Maryland. And so I've been supporting manufacturing processes for life saving medicines. And I felt like I needed a more in depth understanding of the processes that I was supporting. So background, I have an undergrad degree in chemical engineering. So I knew a lot about equipment, right? And I supported process processing for about two years, by the time I decided to enroll in the program. So my company is very big on professional development, they make you set goals every year. So what is your professional goal for this year? And what is your development goal for this year? And so in 2021, I figured why don't I go get a master's degree, something that would allow me to better understand, you know, what the molecules are doing in the process. And when we make decisions when we decide to open a valve here and close a valve there. And when we set times for how long a molecule stays in the system? You know, I wanted to understand the why behind all these things. I think the biotechnology program is set up exactly like that. So you listen to you, you get to hear from people who work at the FDA, people who are setting the guidelines for pharmaceutical manufacturing around the world. And you are able to ask them questions. You know, why is this setup this way? Why do we have to do things a certain way? And I think that the biotechnology program, the courses in the program really answered all those questions for me.

Dennise Cardona  4:13  

oh, that's powerful. That really is, this is so great when you can marry the courses with what you are actually doing in the real world. Because that's how learning happens. Right? It's when being able to take all this new knowledge in from experts in the industry, who are doing all that work and feeding that to you. And then being able to go out there and practice that. It's like the dojo, you know, you go out there and you practice it. And then you're able to apply these things that you're learning to see, maybe different ways of approaching it, or just realizing maybe some light bulbs are going off in the process. That's a really cool, cool situation. Where do you work right now what is your current role?

Chidera  4:58  

I’m a bioprocesing engineer, I am now supporting a new facility. So in my prior role, I was supporting an existing manufacturing facility. So the drug substance that we were making is commercially approved commercially. And we were bringing on a new facility to support manufacturing, basically, there's a lot of demand for this product. And we just wanted to make more of it. And so we have a new facility right now that we're bringing up. So it's not fully operational yet. But we are, you know, working to get it there. So I have a lot of really good experience in this facility that has been commercial for over I think, 20 years at this point, and getting to see a new facility come up that now we're using a lot of the new technology that's available. One example is the single use system. So back in the old, long time ago, everything was stainless steel. And so all the tanks, bioreactors were these huge stainless steel equipment, and now everything is in the bag. So now we have huge bags made out of plastic. And that's where we store everything. And so it's interesting, you know, to have experience from a really old facility and then supporting a new facility coming online. 

Dennise Cardona  6:06  

yeah. And in your opinion, so somebody listening in on this podcast, or watching this video on YouTube, who may be thinking, Oh, do I really need a graduate degree? If I want to do the kind of work that you know, I'm hearing about right now? Can you talk about how this program has helped you to grow in the current role that you're doing, from where you were to where you are now after the program?

Chidera  6:32  

Absolutely. So I think it's two things right, one concept. When you're in the workplace, you sometimes tend to focus a lot on what you are doing. So I have, for example, I was a purification expert. So I did, hopefully people understand this, but I did chromatography systems, filtration systems, I didn't really do anything about culture itself. And so I didn't know much about cell culture. If you stopped me to ask me a question about cell culture, I can tell you anything. But what the Masters helped me to learn was how the cell culture piece fits into purification. So for context, how we start manufacturing is we grow cells in different size bioreactors, and then we pass them on to the purification team, me. And so I didn't quite know what happened upstream until after taking this program. Well, I knew what happened upstream. But I didn't have a full understanding of why they did what they did, and why their process parameters were set as they were. And so that's what the program helped me learn. And for the longest time, I had had a goal that I wanted to learn about upstream. And I would sit in on meetings. But you know, in meetings, the goal is not to teach you, the goal is to talk about whatever problem is going on and try to solve it, and you have to play catch up. So being in a school setting where you could ask the professor questions and not feel like you were holding the meeting back. I think that was what was unique about the master's program that I couldn't get in the workplace. So first concept. The second thing was, I think, exposure to industry. We had a lot of experts from different companies from the FDA, come talk to us about current practices about what they're doing in their companies about what they learned over their decades in the industry. That, again, is something that I would not get in the workplace, I do work with people who've worked for a long time. But again, a lot of them who have been at the company for a long time, I was able to talk to people who had been at other companies, you know, and to see how other people or other people in the industry are operating their processes.

Dennise Cardona  8:25  

Yeah, that's a really powerful thing, when you can tap into somebody's expertise from maybe an area that you didn't even consider, you know, so you have these experts coming into your classroom, and talking about certain things that you don't have maybe experience and or maybe you didn't even consider or thinking about it. But now all of a sudden, it's opened up this whole new lens by which you can view what you're doing and your role and how it intersects with that and intersects, I should say with that. That's really powerful. And what about the peers in your class where what was that like the kind of peer engagement that was set up for for the biotechnology students,

Chidera  9:00  

We had a ton of group projects!

Dennise Cardona  9:03  

Which is so fun.

Chidera  9:07  

We had a ton of group projects. And so I was able to interact with people from I think, all ranges of experience, we had students who were right out of undergrads who hadn't worked at all. And then we had some people who would work for even more years, and then I have worked, I've worked for three to four years at this point, we have people who work up to 10 years, and we were all mixed into these different group projects. It was interesting to see the different perspectives. One thing that I had to be cautious about was not letting my experience sort of color too much my approach to the project so this is what we do at work. And so this is what we should do in this project, you know, sort of approaching me as a student as someone who's learning something for the first time, still, you know, using what I know to inform my approach but not allowing it to sort of put me in put laser focus on one approach and then not being flexible.

Dennise Cardona  9:55  

Oh, I love that because I've just recently read a book I think what's called mindset. I read a lot of books and I was confused about which title. But that particular book, I believe, talked about that whole concept of being able to approach everything with a growth mindset, meaning always thinking about learning something. So even if we are, say, experts in what we do, always approach a situation, or an opportunity, like a group project, or speaking with people who maybe are on your level, or maybe even up and coming people, and always having that learning lens on because that's when curiosity strikes. And that's when you open up to new things. And it also, I think, it's a good way for us to humble ourselves, but also be able to realize that maybe there's a better way of doing something than what I've done in the past, or, you know, oh, I didn't think about that as an opportunity or a solution. I think there's a lot of power in being able to do what you did and and think about, think about the group that you're within and interacting. And considering that you have a lot to learn. They all have a lot to learn. And it's fun to learn together, isn't it? It is, yeah, it's a fun, fun thing. So what would you say, your favorite course, throughout the program? And why?

Chidera  11:19  

That's a great question. If I had to pick, we took a course in ethics, which was very different from all the other courses. All the other courses were processing, regulatory, so very science focused. Our ethics course was taught by a law professor. And so it's the first time in my entire academic experience that I took a law class, and she walked us through different cases where bioethics had come into question. And so we talked about a lot of different things like clinical trials, where the ethics surrounding clinical trials, you know, people who enroll in trials will take, you know, drugs that are essentially getting tested on them, you know, and it's things that I've never considered before. So I just thought it was a very different perspective. And it's definitely not something that I encounter in my day to day work. So it was an interesting, interesting class.

Dennise Cardona  12:14  

Oh, that's great. So right now, I'd like to just take a moment to thank our sponsor of this podcast episode, which is UMBC is Office of Professional Programs, you won't be sees applied graduate programs will put your career outlook into focus, our students built applied knowledge through programs that focus on tomorrow's innovations, growth and success. So check it out, check them out at professional I always like to ask this question. What was your biggest takeaway from learning at UMBC? What was that?

Chidera  12:54  

That is a deep question.

Dennise Cardona  12:57  


Chidera  12:58  

I would say that I learned that the industry that I'm in is so much bigger than just me. There is this emphasis on the fact that we're often making life changing medicines for people. And everything we do, makes a difference in someone else's life. And so there's this focus on product quality, making sure that everything is documented in the correct way. And sometimes it can get tiring, you know, but when you have at the back of your mind, that there is so much scrutiny on this industry simply because the products that we make, go into people's bodies and actually do things in their bodies. I think that that puts things into perspective. And the UMBC program really did that for me, especially listening to my classmates, people who had worked in industry and maybe other aspects of the industry and asking their questions, talking about their perspectives, and our different courses. I think it was nice to see how everybody was so focused on quality, even when it was maybe a little bit annoying to have to, you know, adhere to all of the rules that exist. Yeah,

Dennise Cardona  14:08  

That's excellent. That's yeah, that's really cool. Can you think of anything else that I have not asked you that you just have a burning desire to tell us about biotechnology in general or your experience here at UMBC?

Chidera  14:25  

Well, I will say the UMBC community is very supportive. I never felt like I needed help and I wasn't able to find it. For every single one of my courses, the professors were responsive. The students and the group projects were interesting, I think very, that was very different from my experience of undergrad, which again, undergraduate students versus masters students. I feel like the commitment level is a little bit different, but I think I was very well supported throughout the program. I was also an international student at the time that I was at UMBC and I had a lot of great support from the international students office. I would often have a ton of questions about what it's okay to work. And they were under percent always ready to answer my questions.

Dennise Cardona  15:07  

That's fantastic to hear, especially to our international student community, because I know a lot of times they have questions about that. And so Let's real quickly if you could just share your experience with being an international student at UMBC. What was that process? Like?

Chidera  15:25  

Yeah, no, great question. So I was here in the US, I went to undergrad at University of Maryland College Park. So we did an undergrad program. And then I was working. And the UMBC program just popped up on the link. I think I was looking at biotechnology master's programs in the area at Hopkins. And they had an info session. And at the info session, they had representatives from the international student office there to answer questions, which was unique, because I've been to a ton of info sessions. And they're usually isn’t someone who can answer questions specifically from international students. So that was useful. And they walked us through the process of applying and making sure that you had all your documents in order so that you could attend classes. And then they were also super supportive with you know, students were able to get internships with summer internships, if you had a summer internship, you could, you know, run it by the international student office, make sure that it was okay to do your internship. And they were really, really supportive. I cannot stress enough how supportive that office was,

Dennise Cardona  16:17  

Oh, that's great. I'm gonna pass that along to our staff, our success team at UMBC and the professional programs to let them know that that was really appreciated. It's super important to be able to get the information that you need when you need it. Absolutely. So I always like to close out podcast episodes here on UMBC mic'd up by asking just a professional development type question. And so my question to you is, what is the greatest advice that you have ever received? Oh, um,

Chidera  16:50  

No question is a stupid question. Yeah, that is the greatest advice I've ever received. As someone again, who came to the US from a different country, I think I was always afraid that, you know, I would say something and it wouldn't sound right. Or my accent would jump out and people wouldn't take me seriously. But I learned that a lot of times people want to explain, people want to talk about what they do, people want to answer your questions. And it's a lot better to ask and do it right than assume and do it wrong, especially in our industry. So no question is a stupid question. No question is a silly question. And when you have the opportunity to take an advanced degree program, make the most of it. Don't try to multitask during class, I'm guilty, because you don't learn what you're supposed to know. And you sort of tune out, especially when it's virtual, right? You're not really listening to the professor, you're doing something else. You're not making the most of that opportunity. So don't don't be like me, pay attention in your virtual classes.

Dennise Cardona  17:50  

That is really great advice. Because, yeah, I think that, well, most of us can probably understand and relate to what you said. If something doesn't seem like it's quite pertinent to you at the moment, you're like, I'm just going to check this email here. And and then all of a sudden, somebody calls your name, and you're like, Oh, shoot. What did I miss? Yeah, it's really important to pay attention. It's multitasking. It's a myth. I hear I've read that, that it's you really can't multitask and do it? Well, because your brain really likes to focus on the task at hand. And I know I Don't multitask well. Because I just yeah, I get very chaotic, and I just do not comprehend what I'm supposed to comprehend. But when I focus in, I'm really focused. And so asking those great questions, like you said, is really important, that helps to focus a person into being able to ask really great questions, the being able to really listen to what those answers are, and being right there in the moment in the present moment. Very good. This has been a really great conversation. I've enjoyed it immensely. And I know that our listeners and viewers are going to be enjoying this as well. So thank you so much for being here with us today.

Chidera  19:05  

Absolutely. Thank you for having me.

Dennise Cardona  19:07  

Thanks for tuning in to this episode of UMBC's mic’d up podcast. I hope that you enjoyed it. If you'd like to learn more about our offerings, please do a search for UMBC biotechnology graduate programs, or click the link in the show notes.