- To encourage motivated young people to pursue biotech careers by providing core skills training in the field
- To inform the public how biotechnology has the potential to transform society for the better
Founding the Academy
William Beeson Ph.D.
I conceived of the Great Lakes Biotech Academy during a solo road trip around the Great Lakes in May of 2015. My goal during the trip was to come up with a plan for how I would change my life – so that I could begin focusing my time, talents, and resources towards a greater purpose. That trip took me many places, including over a fog enshrouded Mackinac Bridge and down bumpy, dirt roads along the shore of a partially frozen Lake Superior. I realized during the trip that I was happiest when I was doing three things: learning, teaching, and working on important problems. Since the trip, I have worked towards implementing a strategic plan that would integrate those elements into my life and what has become the Great Lakes Biotech Academy.
Investigative Research Today
My undergraduate and graduate degrees were in chemistry, which is a central science upon which almost all modern technology is built. It was after my sophomore year in college, that I got my first opportunity to perform scientific research. I worked in the discipline of biochemistry, which is a subset of chemistry dealing with the catalysts and molecules that makes life possible. I was lucky to get this opportunity – I had top grades and at the same time had cultivated relationships with faculty members that gave me the “in” to start performing cutting edge, biochemistry research. My work was shared at an international research conference and published in a peer-reviewed journal. The research experiences I had as an undergraduate cemented in my mind that scientific research was what I wanted to pursue as a career.
The unfortunate reality is that investigative research, as described above, is out of reach for the overwhelming majority of the population. There are only a few places where cutting edge research is performed: major research universities, large government labs, and inside of well-funded companies. One reason for this dichotomy is that there is a pervasive psychological and monetary barrier to performing investigative research, especially in the area of biotechnology. The current dogma is that to pursue your own biotech research ideas, you must have a graduate degree, postdoctoral experience, and either be a professor or the founder of a startup company with venture capital funding. My goal is to break down those barriers and give anyone with drive and a good idea a chance to try it out.
Some have begun to challenge these dogmatic barriers to investigative biotechnology research. Small science clubs are opening in major life sciences hubs where members get access to basic research equipment for a low monthly fee. Most of these organizations utilize donated or second-hand equipment and work on research problems in small groups. The efforts of these groups were and continue to be inspirational to me, but much more needs to be done. Through my studies and research experiences I have gained a deep understanding of the laboratory techniques needed to pursue modern biotechnology research. By substituting and adapting consumer goods in place of research-grade equipment, as well as by simplifying essential laboratory techniques, I believe we can lower the costs of doing biotechnology research dramatically. With such access, more people can begin to pursue their ideas and will be able to generate significant scientific discoveries for themselves and possibly society as well.
At the Great Lakes Biotech Academy, motivated students will get an elite introduction to modern biotechnology taught by practicing scientists with both academic and industrial experience. At the conclusion of the introductory course, the students will become Academy members and be prepared to start performing real investigative research – at a comparable level to that going on at major research universities. I’m confident we can achieve great things as we work together on difficult and important problems. As we discover what works and what doesn’t, we will share our findings with others who are pursuing similar goals, both locally and abroad.