Published January 3, 2017
Hire UB students to work in your company part time and have their salaries paid by UB’s New York State Centers of Excellence. Too good to be true, right?
That’s the reaction Sandra Small gets from companies. Small, a science education manager at the Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences (CBLS), has to convince some firms that it’s true. There’s no hitch. The students — undergraduate or graduate — are “no-cost labor” for those companies that have appropriate jobs for them.
The idea behind the Career Experience Program is to let students see the breadth of opportunities in Western New York and to let companies see the quality and talent of UB students.
“We want the companies to learn how great our students are and to have that long-term on-site interview with the hope that they hire them at the end,” Small says. “We also want to give our students an opportunity to learn about the companies in our region.”
Life sciences and advanced manufacturing companies are eligible, but the types of jobs they can offer are wide open. In addition to science and engineering students, others from the business school and elsewhere have helped with accounting, marketing, information technology, web design and other business needs.
The program was designed to accept 20 life sciences companies and 20 materials science and advanced manufacturing firms, and that number has been growing. Since its inception four years ago, the program has expanded to 44 companies offering 54 positions this spring semester.
Companies do the interviewing and hiring of students, who are paid $13 an hour for 144 to 180 hours of work per semester, which is 12 to 15 hours weekly. Some companies supplement the school subsidy so students can work more hours.
Since the program started, 25 percent of the students have been hired either full or part time. Students can apply for the program more than once, but they are not allowed to work for the same company more than once.
At ZeptoMetrix, a biosciences company on Main Street in Buffalo, students hired through the program have surpassed expectations. “The three students we’ve had have been amazing,” says Kelly Cycon, director of the company’s virology department. “They’ve learned so quickly. They’ve picked up things in a couple of weeks.”
ZeptoMetrix works with dangerous viruses and bacteria, so superb laboratory techniques are a must. “We’re training them how to pipette, how to work in a hood, how to work in a biosafety cabinet safely. They learn how to ‘garb up’ to work in a bio-level 3 lab space,” Cycon says.
Securing an internship is not easy.
“The number of resumes that come in has increased exponentially. We started with a handful and that grew to maybe 10 last year, and this year we received more than 30,” she says.
The program is offered only in the spring semester. Companies are recruited in early September by CBLS and UB’s New York State Center of Excellence in Materials Informatics. The next call for companies to submit postings will be early September 2017. Information is available on the CBLS website.
The burden of training a part-time employee can keep some companies from participating. Other barriers can be a vague job description that could be a warning sign the job would not be valuable to a student.
“Companies need to submit postings with clear goals,” Small says. “We want the students to learn.”
Companies may submit more than one posting for consideration, but as the popularity has grown, most companies have been limited to only one student.
The value of the program can reach beyond the experience the students receive. As Cycon sees it, it’s about sharing and spreading knowledge.
“I always believe that science is a torch that needs to be passed on. You can’t learn it from a book; you need a mentor to really teach you things,” she says. “And on the flip side, it’s a great opportunity for the people in my department to have a chance to interact with these college kids and to impart their knowledge and teach them. It kind of works both ways.”