Alumnus Story — Michael Coulson
An undergraduate class in polymer chemistry was the pivotal experience that led Michael Coulson to a career in bio-products, where he is now helping agri-tech entrepreneurs commercialize their ideas and grow their companies.
Title: Regulatory Affairs
Employer: Semios Technologies
While doing his undergraduate degree in chemistry at McMaster University, Michael Coulson was intrigued to learn about bio-based polymer resins — sparking an interest in how to make chemicals and polymers in a sustainable way. After graduating, he worked as a biomaterial polymer chemist at a lab at McMaster, where he researched the use of bio-derived polymers in medical applications.
A typical next step would have been to pursue an MSc or PhD, but Michael says he realized he wanted a career that would take him outside of the lab and allow him to make better use of the leadership and team-building skills he’d developed in his extensive extra-curricular involvement as an undergrad.
“I spent a lot of time volunteering and leading events, including serving as conference co-ordinator for the three-day Horizons Leadership Conference for incoming first-years to McMaster, where I managed a team of 80 staff members during the event. I really enjoy this kind of work, and I wanted to find a job that would bridge the connection between these important pieces of my life.”
The Master of Engineering Leadership (MEL) offered precisely what he wanted. “It can feel like you have to make an either/or decision between doing graduate work in science or business. The MEL was a great middle road that allowed me to do both.”
A dynamic and highly collaborative environment
While Michael’s background was in chemistry, his peers in the program came from a range of academic and professional backgrounds. “It was interesting to have such an interdisciplinary group, and we could all speak to different aspects of an issue within the green bio-products field. While I was very familiar with the chemistry and material properties side of things, others offered complementary insights from their experience in biology or pulp and paper processing.”
During the summer semester, Michael focused on some of the policy aspects of green biofuels through his role as a Greenest City Scholar at the City of Vancouver. He examined the feasibility of introducing renewable green fuels into the City’s extensive fleet of trucks, cranes, diggers and cars.
About 40 per cent of the MEL coursework is devoted to business and leadership skills, and Michael says it was invaluable to be exposed to the fundamental topics of business. The four-week summer boot camp was a definite — but intense — highlight.
“Each week, we were divided into teams of five or six people. We’d have one day of learning about a business competency, be given an assignment at the end of the day, and then work with our group to complete and present the assignment. It was an excellent way to immerse yourself in the topic and get to know the other people, who came from all the other MEL programs as well as the Master of Health Leadership and Policy program. I met so many people I would never have met otherwise, each with their own perspectives and insights.”
Putting knowledge to work
Michael is now working as an analyst for Bioenterprise Corporation Canada, a non-profit tech accelerator that works with companies in the agriculture sector to help them commercialize their products. “I sit down with an entrepreneur and talk about their problems, and I’ll help them resolve some of their technical or business pain points either through the intelligence we have within our organization or through our networks.”
“This is an incredible way for me to use my knowledge, skills and interests. I have the technical background in chemistry and bioproducts, as well as the business acumen to understand the fundamental business issues. I would not have landed this job without the MEL program — it was a great investment and I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
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