Build a Biotech Program (Part 1 of 3): Building your skillset

I first became interested in biotechnology in 2011, but because I graduated from college in 1981, I felt as though I had limited skills and knowledge of biotechnology. Over the years, I learned an incredible amount about biotechnology and built a successful biotech program at my high school from scratch. For me, the key was attending workshops and forming relationships with mentors who helped me on my journey.

1. Gain experience at workshops

I have always felt that teaching new things is a confidence game. In my opinion, the best way to build confidence by getting experience. For learning biotechnology skills, I accomplished this by attending great workshops led by great mentors. Sometimes you can even perfect your craft for little out-of-pocket money. For example, an important step for me was taking a ‘biotechnology for beginners’ course at the BioPharmaceutical Technology Center. This class provided background and skills that I didn’t have at that point and even had a stipend! Not only did I learn new techniques like pipetting, gel electrophoresis, and transformation, but I met several scientists who told me about other paid workshops and research opportunities.

2. Ask for help

As I became more involved in attending workshops, I realized that I was learning a tremendous amount about biotechnology, using very little of my own money. Plus, in the process, I was meeting future mentors and growing my confidence. An important realization was that all I had to do was put myself out there and ask for help. If you ask for help in a genuine way, most people will help share their expertise, leadership, and sometimes even materials and regents for your program. The main part of the ask is sincerity and love for what you do. This allows people to gauge your enthusiasm and envision their role in outreach and how the collaboration will serve the greater good.

In just a few years, I attended workshops and made many connections that molded my path, but I won’t talk specifically about them here as there are too many!  You get my message. Spend some of your time and energy to learn new things, and don’t be afraid to ask for help! All you really need to do is go and ask. You would be amazed at where it can take you!

– Tom Martinez

About the author

Tom Martinez is a retired AP Biology and Biotechnology teacher with thirty-nine years of experience.  He created an outstanding biotechnology program from scratch for Glenbard East High School in Lombard, Illinois. Tom’s passion for teaching continues with curriculum evaluation, blogs, and workshops that help guide teachers through the implementation of biotechnology courses.

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