Celebrating Black History month: An interview with the SBN President

Tarique Benbow is the President of the Student Biotechnology Network and a current PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia in the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences. For this Black History month celebration, we sat down with Tarique to talk about his experience being a Black researcher and leader in science and biotechnology.

What inspired you to get into research? and where do you see yourself in ten years?

My career as an industrial pharmacist was instrumental to pursuing a career in research. One of the many global issues that became apparent as I interacted with patients was that many people live with pain. I wanted to find a solution and contribute to developing more effective and safer medications for pain. Pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical research allows me to do just that! Ten years from now, I imagine myself leading a pharmaceutical or biopharmaceutical company with this shared vision and mission of safer medications for pain!

What advice do you have for members of the Black community who would like to enter into the biotechnology industry?

Today I have two pieces of advice for my fellow Black community members aspiring to enter into biotech.

No.1. Challenge the status quo! Do not be afraid to challenge yourself and step outside of your niche. Only by pushing against our internal boundaries do we truly become inventors of our future. Take on new ventures and seize every opportunity to improve yourself by gaining new skills both within and beyond your area of expertise!

No.2. Build a robust network. This is essential for entry into the biotech industry. A great way to expand your network and build excellent networking skills is by attending networking events and seminars. The SBN executive team is extremely passionate about connecting students with stakeholders in STEM. Recognizing the challenges at bay, we are creating more events that seek to support the Black community and other underrepresented groups in STEM. More to come on these initiatives.

What can academia and the biotech industry do to be more inclusive and supportive to members of the Black community?

There has been much progress, but as always, there is much more work to be done. I believed the leaders of academic institutions and biotech companies should act to expand high-level organizational strategies beyond the confinement of company boarders. This includes actively seeking and offering resources to support Black youth outside higher education and nurturing professional skills through designated co-op placements, internships and entrepreneurship ventures. This will inspire members of the Black community to see biotech as a viable and realistic industry for them to pursue.

It is also imperative for future startup and small biotechnology companies to be proactive in establishing a strong foundation for diversity and inclusivity early within their company. Essential to such a strategy is first becoming aware of the systemic challenges and barriers that inhibit entry to biotech by members of the Black community. Addressing potential barriers for promotion in-house and constantly re-evaluating the effectiveness of these strategies is also important. Building companies that are increasingly aware of these challenges today, will help create biotech and biopharma companies that are truly diverse, inclusive and safe for all tomorrow.

For more resources for celebrating Black history month including events happening near where you live, visit https://www.canada.ca/en/canadian-heritage/campaigns/black-history-month/resources.html.

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