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“(The biotechnology program) has been extremely beneficial to me. It’s opened a lot of doors, and the professors have really helped explain to me how things work.”
Hometown: Norwood, MA
Aspirations: Obtain a bachelor’s degree in biotechnology and stay in the bio-pharma field.
Vladimir Klenov says he hated science when he was in high school – “It was one of my weakest subjects,” he notes. Today, he is thriving at MassBay’s world renowned Biotechnology program while working as a microbiologist at Bristol Myers Squibb, a prominent, global pharmaceutical company.
“What I learned here in terms of basic processes I apply at work,” he says. “It’s a little different because we’re involved in research at school and analysis at work, but my training at MassBay has made it much easier to learn new technologies at work – especially since I’m working on very similar equipment. Plus, if I don’t understand something at work I can always ask Dr. J (Dr. Bruce Jackson, Professor of Biotechnology) or Dr. (Mario) Raya (Life Sciences Facilitator in the Biotechnolgy program).”
Vladimir was 13 years old when his parents moved him from Moscow, Russia to Norwood, Massachusetts. His father and his older sister had already lived in America for more than a decade, but he came here knowing only one phrase in English: “I don’t understand.”
Vladimir eventually overcame the language barrier and essentially became a typical American teenager. After graduating Norwood High School in 2007, he put off college in favor of work. “I was basically a stupid kid,” he admits now. “I didn’t want to listen to anyone.” He had worked washing pots and delivering meals to patients at Norwood Hospital during high school, and after graduation was promoted to cook. But an in interest in electrical work took him to Peterson’s School for a three-month certificate in basic electricity. After less than a year working for an electric company, Vladimir was concerned about the stability of the industry.
Perhaps because his father had shifted careers many times in response to a changing economy, Vladimir was determined to find a sustainable career. He spoke to his girlfriend’s father who worked at Genzyme and was told the biotechnology field is a stable environment where you won’t lose your job if the economy goes south.
He decided to pursue biotechnology as a career, applying to UMass-Boston in 2008. He was eventually told he needed to earn 12 college credits before he could be admitted.
In 2009 he came to MassBay, figuring he would get the 12 credits and move on, but, he says, “I really liked it here. So I’ve decided to stay for my associate’s degree.”
With an undecided major at first, Vladimir began taking prerequisite courses (“I always had a problem with English writing – can’t do that for the life of me!” he notes.), eventually speaking to Dr. Raya about MassBay’s biotechnology program. Dr. Raya encouraged him to take BIO 101 and pre-calculus, and he began the biotechnology rotation (general biotechnology, cell culture, protein analysis). “I still kind of disliked it at first,” Vladimir admits. “I figured it was just something I’d have to put up with. But it began to grow on me.”
Because he is working and attending school on a part-time basis, he has a ways to go before he earns his degree “I should be on track to graduate in spring 2013,” he says.
He also says it was Dr. Raya who helped him land his current job at Bristol Myers Squibb. “Dr. Raya told me about a career open house they were having, and I went. They encouraged me to apply as a contractor, and even though it required a bachelor’s degree I was hired.” After just six months on the job, Vladimir applied for a full time position and was told that a bachelor’s degree was required. He was considering moving on from the company when they called him back to tell him they changed their mind. He’s been with the company as a full time microbiologist since December, 2011.
“I am testing water and materials they use for drug production to ensure it’s clean – basically validating the process,” he explains.
While Vladimir’s main goal is to earn a bachelors degree in biotechnology (“I’ll go to one of the UMass schools,” he notes, “Probably UMass-Boston.”), he expects to continue working in the bio-pharma industry “definitely for the next 10 years.” He is weighing the trade-off of earning more money working in the industry against doing research, which is “more interesting but doesn’t pay as well.”
For now, however, Vladimir is simply enjoying his time at MassBay. “(The biotechnology program) has been extremely beneficial to me. It’s opened a lot of doors, and the professors have really helped explain to me how things work.”
“It means a lot just knowing someone cares,” he continues, “It’s not just, `here’s a book, read it, goodbye.’”