US university offers PhD students real-world consulting experience

September 19, 2014

Washington University in St Louis has created a nonprofit consulting firm that provides its graduate students with real-world experience. Students participating in the Biotechnology and Life Sciences Advising Group (BALSA) help local firms with market research, analysis, and project planning. Each student volunteers about 10 hours of his or her time each week, with proceeds being used to fund professional development events and microgrants. BALSA was founded in 2010 by a PhD student in genetics who realized that there was a need for the kind of expertise that PhD students can provide. Biotech startups, he said, “were really struggling to survive and understand what the final product should look like.” However, some BALSA participants said that they have felt friction from some faculty members in response to their work. BALSA President Brett Maricque said, “we’ve had students who had to quit BALSA because their faculty member told them to.” So far, data indicate that participation has not affected students’ time-to-degree. Chronicle Vitae