Are MBAs Worth the Investment? 

Pictured: Graduation cap on fire/© Nicole Bean

Pictured: Graduation cap on fire/© Nicole Bean

In 2020, more than 120,000 MBAs were conferred in the U.S., according to the U.S.-based Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).  

Career progression is one driver for enrolling in an MBA program. But how valuable are MBA degrees for professionals in the biotech and pharma industry?  

The value of an MBA in biotech depends on the job area, Adam Kaner, senior vice president of project management at PharmaLogics Recruitment, told BioSpace

Positions in business and commercial operations, finance, accounting and project and program management, for example, “are the general functions where we would expect an MBA to bring value,” Kaner said. On the other hand, he said, scientists and those who work in R&D would likely not benefit from an MBA. 

Dean Vera, director of the MBA Office of Career Management at Rutgers Business School, said the three major areas he sees MBA students enter in pharma are marketing, finance and supply chain management.  

Rutgers also offers an MBA in Pharmaceutical Management, which Vera said primarily attracts students with a background in pharmacy. 

“They tend to have a science background,” Vera said. “With marketing … the science background can be very helpful.”  

For finance and supply chain management, students with a variety of backgrounds pursue an MBA and find a position in a pharma company, Vera said, adding, “We are a school of career changers.”  

Are 4+1 Programs Worth It?

Besides traditional MBA programs, 4+1 programs allow students to earn both their bachelor’s and MBA degrees in five years, shaving a year off the total time it typically takes to complete an undergraduate degree and an MBA separately.  

“It’s almost easier to complete [a 4+1] before you move into working,” Kaner said. However, he added that potential students should consider the financial burden of a 4+1 program.

“It puts a financial burden on the [future] employee to pay for that,” he said, whereas if an employee waits to complete their MBA, their employer may be willing to pay the fees associated with the degree.  

Smaller biotech companies and start-ups are less likely to cover an employee’s MBA fees than larger organizations, Jade Kearney, vice president of project management at PharmaLogics, told BioSpace

“In unique cases, we’ve seen companies do a sign-up bonus,” she said. These bonuses could include funds for employees to earn their MBAs to encourage professional development.  

The Value of MBAs vs Work Experience  

In general, however, Kearney and Kaner agreed that experience is often more valuable than an MBA.

If someone who has just completed a 4+1 program and someone with two years of experience apply for the same job, Kaner said, most companies will prefer the non-entry-level person who has been working “because they have hands-on experience.”  

Kearney said that may also be the case for roles that list an MBA as a requirement.  

“Even if someone applies for a position requiring an MBA, [hiring managers] are often open to taking a peek if someone has the experience to make up for it,” she said.  

Still, there are benefits to earning an MBA in the industry.  

At Rutgers, students who complete an MBA typically go on to quickly obtain a position in the industry, often in a pharmaceutical company, Vera said. 

“We have very high employment outcomes. Last year, our class was 88.5% employed at graduation and 100% employed before the three-month cut-off. And pharma leads the way—it is New Jersey’s biggest employer.”  

Kearney said one way to add value to an MBA is to obtain it from a prestigious institution. “I’ve seen hiring managers in very rare occasions who are more focused on where [a candidate] got their MBA: was it MIT, was it U Penn, was it Dartmouth?”  

Kaner said an MBA could also be valuable for someone looking to make a change in their career, especially for someone with a scientific background looking to move into a project management, program management or portfolio oversight role. 

“That could be where [employers] think going back for an MBA would be relevant,” Kaner said. “The desire to pursue this program clearly indicates they are looking to go more business focused.” 

Linh Gilles, former director of admissions for the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, agreed that MBAs may be better suited for people with more work experience. In an interview with Nature, she said recruiting more Ph.D. students was a priority. 

She added that applicants to MBA programs who already hold a Ph.D.  are more likely to be accepted to the MBA program. She said the analytical skill set students with a background in research have "allows them to hit the ground running that much more quickly.”  

Back to news