MESI Looks to Real World Cases to Teach Students Applications of Innovation

Students in the Master in the Economics of Science and Innovation (MESI) learn about the diverse applications of innovation in research through field trips to a range of centers including supercomputing, disease control, fiber optic cable production, and more.

During the yearlong master program, students are exposed to specific examples of how innovation is applied across a variety of research centers, private companies, consortiums, and organizations. “Because of this,” says Prof. Salvador Barberà, Director of the MESI program, “they are able to position themselves upon graduation as innovation specialists within the industry and sector of their choice.”

MESI offers a unique glimpse into the infrastructure and management strategy of firms and companies using innovation. Here, students visit the ATLL desalination plant

A Wide Range of Experiences

“Giving students an understanding of the ways in which science and innovation can be used to solve many of the economic questions society deals with entails showing them a breadth of experiences,” says Prof. Barberà. “Sometimes, this means donning a white full-body suit and passing through a series of chambered sterilized rooms into a high pressure microchip lab. Other times, this means strapping on a face mask and venturing into Barcelona’s municipal incineration plant to see how the city’s recycling problems are addressed.”

Visits in the past year have introduced students to innovation practices in a variety of research centers and institutions. In the fall term, this entailed visits to large scientific facilities, like the Barcelona Supercomputing Center and the new Synchroton Alba, devoted to supporting different research groups in a range of scientific fields, and also to do research on their own. In the winter term, the field trips were devoted to investigating how public and private firms find technological solutions to different challenges posed by society. They included visits to different facilities devoted to the management of municipal services in the Barcelona metropolitan area, and to multinational firms, research labs, and production plants for fiber optic and electricity transmission technologies. In the spring term, students are getting a firsthand look at the different levels of biomedical research, from the lab to the hospital bed and back.

In 2008, MESI students took a field trip to the Center for Research in Animal Health (CReSA)

Versatile Preparation for Employment

Because of their firsthand exposure to instances of innovation in society, students in the program receive excellent preparation for a variety of careers. In the 2007-2008 class, all graduates found employment or continued on to further study. Graduates found employment in technological research institutions, R&D departments in companies, public institutions, and technology parks, and economics consultancies. Twenty-five percent of graduates continued on in doctoral programs or founded their own companies.

During the course of the master program, MESI students are able to identify opportunities, make contacts, and find jobs in the areas that most interest them. Many of last year’s students were able to make contacts through the program’s field trips, and found internships or jobs through the Barcelona GSE and through the solid links that MESI has with research institutions. In fact, several students ended up working at centers that they visited during the course of the academic year. Says Prof. Barberà, “These centers see the value of a specially trained professional who is able to manage, coordinate, and administer across a number of different areas, and the profile of the MESI students is very appealing to them.”

Former student Daria Zimina, from Russia, found a position as a research associate and technology transfer manager at Loughborough University Department of Civil and Building Engineering. In the MESI program, she says, she benefited not only from the field trips, but from taking from courses like University Technology Transfer Offices, taught by Prof. Jeff Skinner, and Venture Capital in Bio, taught by Dr. Fermin Goytisolo. She also cites the “endless papers and exercises, which gave me rigorous training in writing skills in English,” as a valuable part of the program.

Students get a tour of the Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO) from Lluis Torner, Director of the Center and Guest Professor in the master program

Increasing Demand for Innovators

“MESI students are versatile hybrids, having both the general background in economics and a working knowledge of some of the most pressing scientific topics dealt with in many research centers,” says Prof. Barberà. “This sets them apart from pure economists, MBAs, engineers, or scientists, and makes them specially equipped for emerging jobs in innovation.”

As jobs in innovation management become both more common and more important, research centers and institutions struggle to find professionals with both a scientific background and an understanding of innovation practices. Because these jobs are specific to the type of research conducted at the centers, individuals well suited for these positions don’t necessarily connect with them easily through traditional job searches.

“Therein lies an important competitive advantage of the MESI program,” says Prof. Barberà. “Over the course of the year students get a scope of what is out there, and can see where they fit into the picture. There are many jobs that the standard student does not identify as being a clear fit for an economist or engineer. Because MESI students graduate with a good understanding of the various manifestations of innovation and a clear idea of how they can add value to these institutions, they are in high demand.”

During a visit to the Barcelona Supercomputing Center, students and Master Director Salvador Barberà take a moment to pose at the center's entrance

Enric and Ivan (Class of 2009) during a visit to the ALBA Synchrotron plant earlier this year


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