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“To become a great leader, you have to understand the language of business,” says Sangeeta Vohra (far left), academic director of the Management for Scientists and Engineers program.

Sangeeta Vohra

Management for Scientists and Engineers

An innovative new certificate program taught by Kellogg faculty aims to equip Northwestern PhDs with the skills they need to make a difference in the marketplace — and the world

6/17/2010 - Somewhere out there is a PhD student doing research that could eventually unlock a cure for cancer, mitigate global warming or lead to a device that would improve the lives of millions. But unless that researcher has an understanding of business skills, those ideas may never make it to the marketplace.

To bridge that gap, The Graduate School is collaborating with the Kellogg School of Management in a new certificate program taught by Kellogg School faculty. Management for Scientists and Engineers, offered to doctoral students throughout Northwestern University, aims to equip young scientists with the knowledge they need to become better managers and leaders. The program, which will be offered over eight weeks, will begin its inaugural session June 30.

“To become a great leader, you have to understand the language of business,” says Sangeeta Vohra, the program’s academic director. “This program will enhance the ability of top researchers to make an impact and develop their core skills in areas such as finance, strategy, negotiations and marketing, to name just a few.”

The program is funded by The Graduate School will be offered once each year, during the summer. Simon Greenwold, senior associate dean of The Graduate School, says the program is “totally in line” with the school’s strategy for PhD students.”

“The Graduate School is in the business of making sure its students have the richest and most productive professional development opportunities possible. Moreover, we want our students to have the skills to operate successfully both within and outside of academic environments,” Greenwold says. “The education that students will receive from this Kellogg School of Management program fits the bill perfectly.”

Vohra says the coursework will be intense and drawn from the core Kellogg MBA curriculum. Case studies, simulations, team building and crisis-management exercises will all be a part of the program. With their quantitative backgrounds, students can expect a rigorous approach to topics such as finance, valuations and spreadsheet analysis, according to Kathleen Hagerty, Kellogg’s senior associate dean for faculty and research.

The students will meet all day on Wednesdays over the course of eight weeks — “eight very full days,” says Vohra. Attendance at each session is mandatory.

The competition for admission to this summer’s program was keen. More than 100 doctoral students from the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, Feinberg School of Medicine, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the School of Communication applied. Just 50 were accepted.

“Everyone knows that Kellogg is synonymous with excellence,” Greenwold says. “Our business school is among the best, if not the best, in world. Any student with even a hint of interest in management and leadership would want to be part of this program.

Priority was given to advanced students and those with strong recommendations from their faculty advisers, Vohra says. Among them were students whose research has a commercial edge, those whose work is highly collaborative, and others who are approaching their field in novel ways.

The program — unique among peer universities — is designed both for students pursing academic careers as well as those planning to work in the commercial sector. Vohra notes that it will give Northwestern PhDs “an edge” over graduates from other institutions — and that it will enable young researchers to identify market opportunities early in their careers.

“This is not taking them away from academics,” she says, noting that skills such as team-building are crucial even for those planning academic careers. With an increasing amount of research being done by cross-disciplinary teams, an understanding of how groups work and collaborate successfully is critical for those seeking funding from government agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation. “These agencies prefer to see collaboration between a variety of departments; it leads to better outcomes,” Vohra said.

And down the road, should these young researchers see an opportunity to commercialize their work, they will have a much better sense of how to approach that process. “It’s important for them to understand the language of business, so that they can ask the right questions,” Vohra says. “When they talk to venture capitalists, they will understand what is expected of them.”

The course builds on a portfolio of management programs that the Kellogg Center for Biotechnology Management has designed for those in the science fields. They include a certificate program, Business for Scientists, that teaches similar principles to those already working in the field. Another program, Science for Managers, offers executives and managers a practical understanding of the scientific and development foundations in the life sciences. A separate course for Northwestern University faculty members, Management Skills for Innovative University Leaders, introduces professors to business tools and frameworks for effective leadership.

Now, Management for Scientists and Engineers opens up the business realm to researchers at the beginning of their careers.

“Kellogg always wants to work with highly talented people, and that’s really our goal,” Hagerty says. “We think there is a big value-add in giving talented people in the science areas a management background. The upside is huge — they’ll be more effective researchers and more effective if they go to work in industry. This will create more opportunities to team up around innovation, and it will make the academic environment a more exciting, dynamic place.”