It's no coincidence that researchers know the Boston-Cambridge area as "Genetown." Its combination of research universities, research institutions, biotechnology firms, and pharmaceutical companies' research arms makes it a prime destination for top-notch life scientists. But other locations in New England, from the Boston suburbs to clusters in the region's other five states, have developed their own centers for academic and industrial life science.
The region in the country's extreme Northeast boasts a long history, a variety of attractive scenery from coast to mountains, an abiding love of the Boston Red Sox baseball team, and -- even outside Genetown -- a concentrated wealth of top-flight academic, commercial, and nonprofit research institutions. As a result, the location has established itself as a key hub of American science in general and life science in particular. "I would say the two most sought-after locations in academic science are California and New England," says Robert Alpern, dean of the Yale University School of Medicine.
New England doesn't suit everyone. Its weather can be cold, and so can its people. But many local employers agree with the comment of Jill Rapp, human resources manager at Amgen's Massachusetts site: "It is a very positive environment for recruitment." Here we discuss New England's attractions and occasional disadvantages with representatives of two companies -- one in Cambridge and the other in a suburb of Boston -- and of two long-established institutions farther from the region's cultural, commercial, and academic center.
New England's greatest advantage stems from geography: Within a relatively small area it contains a huge number of major research organizations. "We have some of the best hospitals and academic institutions, which allows for a nice level of integration and the ability to attract talent as interns," says Andrew Suchoff, vice president of human resources at Serono, Inc., in Rockland, about half an hour south of Boston. "I've been building an institute for oncology," adds his colleague Steve Arkinstall, head of research at the Serono Research Institute. "We've found that the area produces scientists with expertise in protein engineering, chemistry, and antibody technologies, and an understanding of drug discovery. We have a ready source of really excellent people on our doorstep."
The concentration offers more than well-trained recruits. "There is amazing brain power in this area, with all the local universities and research organizations, which provides the opportunity for continued collaborations," Amgen's Rapp says. Arkinstall agrees. "This area has been incredibly useful in facilitating research collaborations," he says. "Twenty percent of oncology clinical trials take place in the Boston area. We also have the MIT and Harvard cancer research centers. I would say it's as good as any other area in the world for enabling you to access the best expertise."
The geographic benefit applies to much of New England. "The advantage is clearly the density of academic institutions," says Alpern of Yale, which is based in New Haven, Connecticut. "We also have a number of big pharmaceutical companies with large organizations in Connecticut. And being located between Boston and New York City is important. We're in a very rich academic environment; one can travel between institutions without having to get on an airplane."
Even the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, based in the picturesque Cape Codvillage of Woods Hole, exists in the midst of a scientific hub that includes the Marine Biological Laboratory and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's NortheastFisheriesScienceCenter. "Our small town has five other institutions to offer our scientists a shared experience," says Jim Yoder, the oceanographic institution's vice president for academic programs and dean.
Positives and Negatives
Lifestyle also plays a role in attracting scientists to New England. "New England offers great historical locations, numerous cultural opportunities, excellent school systems, a good public transportation system, and plenty to do for both families and young professionals," Amgen's Rapp explains. "People enjoy living in New England," Yoder adds. "It's a beautiful part of the country and there are lots of activities." Alpern expands on that point. "Living in New England is really nice because you can get to New York City or Boston in less than two hours and can purchase a few acres of land at a reasonable cost," he says.
However, the price of housing works as a disadvantage in some parts of the region, and particularly close to Boston. "The cost of living is a concern for many who chose to come to Boston from lower-cost-of-living areas," says Amgen's Rapp. "We have made some improvements in our relocation package to deal with those challenges."
Recruiters who want to persuade scientists to move to New England from points south and west also face a meteorological challenge. "The major disadvantage is the winter; it's too cold and it lasts so long," Alpern says. "The weather is an issue," Yoder echoes. "People who have been on the West Coast tend to stay there."
Alpern points to one other difficulty for organizations outside the Boston-Cambridge area. "The major disadvantage in our area compared to Boston is finding jobs for spouses, especially if the spouse is an academic," he points out. "If they can't get a job at Yale, there's not much for them. But if they're not academics, they have the opportunity to find a job with numerous companies."
Breadth of Opportunities
Regional institutions certainly offer plenty of opportunities to scientists. Amgen, for example, announced in March its intention to expand the work force at its Cambridge location. "We currently have 175 employees, up from about 90 a year ago," Rapp reports. "We're growing rapidly. Our newest additions include groups in pathology and a focus on several therapeutic areas, including hematology/oncology, neuroscience, and metabolic disorders. We plan to be close to 200 employees by the end of this year and to grow to around 400 in the longer term. This will include expansion in our new groups along with our previously existing functions -- chemistry, pharmacokinetics and drug metabolism, and pharmaceutics. There will also be growth in some of our operational functions to support the research growth."
Serono, which has had a presence on the south shore of Massachusetts for two decades, currently has about 450 employees in its Rockland laboratories, which opened in 2002. "We've been hiring scientists with expertise in cancer for about 18 months," Arkinstall says. "We're looking for a mixture of people." The company emphasizes collegiality among the several aspects of the pharmaceutical field. "Often, drug discovery scientists are divorced from other things going on in the company. That's not the case here," Arkinstall says. "Our facility is all inclusive, with the research institution, clinical trials groups, and a commercial organization that supports the business," Suchoff says. Serono also gives its scientists the chance to move beyond the laboratory. "There are opportunities for people to take on managerial roles and get a diversity of experience," Suchoff adds.
For academics, who need to impress students as well as faculty members with the virtues of New England, seeking scientists is a nonstop task. "We're always recruiting," says the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution's Yoder. "With retirements and departures, we lose about 10 scientists every year." The institution recruits worldwide, but finds many of its new faculty already on the premises. "One of our best recruiting tools is our postdoctoral program; we have about 60 postdocs in residence," Yoder says. That program contains many of the best and the brightest. "Our postdoctoral scholars program is very competitive," Yoder continues. "We choose about 10 out of more than 100 applicants each year. They are often chosen later as faculty because they have been through the pressure."
The Yale School of Medicine has equally high standards. "Most of our departments are recruiting faculty almost every year," Alpern says. "They aim very high, recruiting for the top two or three scientists in their discipline each year."
What attracts top scientists to the region? The critical mass of colleagues plainly plays a key role in the Boston-Cambridge area and beyond. "The name Yale definitely helps, but I don't think it would replace 'what have you done for me lately?'" Alpern explains. "The major factor that recruits look for is the other scientists already here. We also invest a lot of money in core resources that support the sciences. Scientists understand the importance of having those facilities available."
A former science editor of Newsweek, Peter Gwynne ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) covers science and technology from his base on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, U.S.A.
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