Lab Manager | Run Your Lab Like a Business

It's More Than Ordering Pipettes & Running Samples

An innovative master's degree marries science and business.

by Elizabeth S. Friedman,Alaina G. Levine
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An Innovative Master's Degree Marries Science and BusineWhat do you do as a lab manager? You ensure that standard operating procedures are followed, safety guidelines are obeyed, production deadlines are met, financial records are kept, inventory is stocked, lab procedures are documented, new employees are trained, and product quality is maintained. These are among hundreds of tasks to which you probably never gave a second thought. In recalling your rise to lab management, can you identify what prepared you for such a demanding job? Were there skills, tactics, and strategies that you wish you had known beforehand but had to master along the way?

The public may think running an efficient and organized lab is knowing when to order pipettes and Petri dishes for specimens and experiments. Rather, a lab is in every sense an entrepreneurial venture that requires intense business scrutiny as well as a firm knowledge of the scientific endeavors it supports and produces. Lab managers must have skills in finance, human resources, public relations, production and operations, marketing, strategic planning, and teambuilding. But where do you get these skills, other than on-the-job training?

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In the past, there was no formal way of pursuing a rigorous education in the sciences that strategically incorporated a business curriculum—however, an educational opportunity to prepare students for professional careers that combine science and business already exists and has been growing for the last ten years. The Professional Science Master’s (PSM) degree is an advanced academic degree that enhances rigorous graduate study in science or mathematics with professional business skills demanded by today’s competitive workforce. Students emerge from the program with a strong scientific background, excellent business skills, and a specific sense of how science and business team up in many different working environments.


What is a professional science master’s degree?


Launched through seed grants from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the motivation to establish a professional science master’s degree (PSM) was to serve the needs of both students and employers. The degrees are specifically designed for science and math students who are currently working in or are planning a career in business, industry, non-profits, or government agencies. Laboratories, of course, can be found in all of these places of employment.


PSMs incorporate innovative development opportunities for the students to learn and hone professional skills such as communications, networking, conflict management, leadership, teambuilding development, ethics, and even business etiquette. Other programs ensure that the students are versed in accounting and finance, statistical analysis and risk assessment, and organizational behavior and project management. All of these skills contribute to a more valued employee. Many PSM programs include more focused courses on intellectual property management, case studies (of a business and scientific nature), patent law, regulatory affairs, standards and statutes, and of course good laboratory practices. The emphasis is on the practical application of science and math in the business world, which benefits both

employee and employer.


The PSM is garnering greater recognition as an increasing number of colleges and universities are becoming aware of its value. Today there are over 60 universities offering over 100 PSM programs nationwide. PSMs can be found in a variety of fields, including: analytical chemistry and materials and chemical synthesis; applied, industrial, and health physics; bioinformatics and biotechnology; drug analysis and pharmacology; environmental and geological sciences; molecular biology and applied genomics; food safety and toxicology; forensic science; and financial and industrial mathematics.


As additional universities initiate and offer PSMs, the industrial community has also embraced the PSM and its graduates. Clearly, talented professionals with a strategic understanding of science and business serve a need for business success. As PSMs continue to be launched, more industry leaders are commencing partnerships with PSM programs to ensure that they have first pick of the talented graduates who will contribute to their organization in a valuable way. Many companies have already recognized the value of the PSM and have provided generous tuition support for their employees to earn this degree, while others are developing a track record for hiring employees with a PSM degree in hand. These include the cosmetics, health care, biotech, food packaging and processing, pharmaceutical, paint and coatings, semiconductor, and chemical industries, among others. Obviously, QC, analytical, and forensic laboratories benefit from employees with a PSM education, as do certain government and military agencies.


As industry interest in PSMs has grown, universities have responded by increasing the number of PSMs they offer. A considerable number of new programs are expected as large state university systems begin to adopt the concept. Many of these institutions are ensuring that the programs are flexible enough for working professionals and have designed PSMs specifically for part-time students. In fact, a growing number of PSM programs are becoming available online. These web-based programs are designed for students who already have lab experience but need to broaden and deepen their knowledge of the current field as well as strengthen their business skills. The average length of the program for a full-time employee is about two years.


How does the PSM benefit the lab manager?


Established lab managers understand the importance of having employees who support both the scientific and business missions of their labs. A PSM is an excellent degree for almost any lab worker, whether the person is the team leader, lab technician, or bench chemist. The PSM gives all workers the potential for career advancement. The breadth and depth of education that the PSM provides, combined with its flexibility and industry friendly practices, may be just the remedy to increase lab productivity and employee satisfaction. PSM graduates emerge with a strong scientific background, excellent business skills, and a specific sense of how science and business connect in industry.


As you analyze your lab and seek to improve its productivity and output, consider encouraging your employees and colleagues to pursue a PSM. Your employees will clearly benefit from the advanced education specifically suited to enhancing the lab environment. At the same time, you will acquire, have access to, and promote a more educated and talented workforce, ensuring the success of not only your subordinates but of your laboratory as well.


Where can you get more information?


For managers looking for information on how PSMs operate and where they are located, the National Professional Science Master’s Association (NPSMA) can help. This nonprofit organization, incorporated in May 2007 (with generous support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation), was established to advance PSM degree programs. The national association will offer, among other benefits, job recruitment opportunities for industry, business, and government stakeholders. If your lab is looking for someone with particular scientific and business skills, you just might find that person through the NPSMA.


The NPSMA provides a direct link between PSM program directors and the industries they support by facilitating an information exchange on what current bodies of knowledge and skill sets employers find valuable today. The NPSMA offers you opportunities to directly communicate your needs and observations to the educational institutions that serve your employees. Whatever specific business or professional skills you find vital to be an effective lab manager can be expressed to PSM program directors, and the NPSMA is the conduit. The organization will launch the majority of its industry-related services in Fall 2008, so, lab managers, we encourage you to stay tuned.


Both Friedman and Levine are founding members and serve on the board of the National Professional Science Master’s Association; visit