Biotech has a diversity problem. While there are several groups that are underrepresented in the industry, this issue is particularly striking when it comes to Black scientists and researchers. According to a 2022 report by the Biotechnology Information Organization (BIO), African Americans only make up about 6% of the biotech workforce – despite representing nearly 14% of the US population. There are many factors that may contribute to this, including economic inequality, educational disparities, and bias in hiring practices.

In 2020 the ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALS TDI), along with many institutions across the US, began to take a harder look at what we could do to improve diversity and address inequalities in biotech. Members of the science team at ALS TDI were particularly instructed by a series of panels presented by the Society of Neuroscience titled “Black Lives Matter and Neurosciene: Why this Moment Matters.” They ultimately decided that we had a responsibility to contribute to a solution in whatever way we could.

“We started self-examining, with a lot of prompting from scientists of color that were saying ‘we need to fix the inequalities that have led to these racial disparities in biotech,’” says Val Tassinari, an Associate Scientist III at ALS TDI. “We decided that our lane could be helping to fix unequal access to internship programs.”

To this end, in 2021, ALS TDI introduced a new internship aimed at helping students from underrepresented backgrounds gain experience in the biotech industry. The program is open to undergraduate students studying the sciences and is particularly geared toward those looking to gain their first professional experience in the field. While the program is open to people of all backgrounds, Black students – particularly Black women – are highly encouraged to apply.

Throughout the 6-week intern program, students rotate through each of ALS TDI’s science teams. Because of ALS TDI’s comprehensive approach to preclinical drug development, this presents an opportunity to learn about a wide range of subjects in a relatively short time. After one week of onboarding, interns gain experience working with animal models, assisting with cell biology projects, and conducting clinical research with the ALS Research Collaborative (ARC) team.

Michael Moscote, the first intern to complete the program, says that the variety of areas he was able to explore was one of his favorite parts of his experience.

“This is a good program to get introduced to the field,” he says. “Every other week I was working with a new department. It felt like every other day was a new class. I learned about biotech, ALS studies, and how drug therapies work. I think it's good for people who don't have their mind made up on what they want to do or want to get more experience.”

After rotating through all the teams, the interns are offered the opportunity to spend an additional week working in the area they found most interesting. As the internship draws to a close, they deliver a presentation about their favorite project from the past six weeks for all the team members they’ve worked with. Finally, they receive help building a resumé to reflect the experience they’ve gained, as well as a career coaching session with a biotech talent acquisition specialist.

“The overarching goal for this program is to help these interns get a job the second they leave college,” says Val. “This internship goes on their resumé, the presentation goes on their resumé. They now have access, as long as they’ve put in good effort during their internship, to references and letters of recommendation.”

Aiyanna Medina is studying human physiology at Boston University and completed the ALS TDI intern program in 2023. She says that meeting the ALS TDI staff and learning about their education and experiences was helpful as she considers what’s next for her after her undergraduate studies.

“It was nice to talk to a bunch of people about what their education was like,” she says. “Hearing about what they did before ALS TDI, what schooling they’d done, and why they did it helped me think about what I want to do next.”

Aiyanna also emphasized the importance of programs like this to encourage students of color interested in the sciences to pursue a field where they might not see many peers of similar backgrounds.

“Most schools in New England don’t have big populations of students of color,” she says. “Specifically, a lot of STEM programs within these universities and colleges are predominantly white. As the years go on, there’s less and less support for students of color. There are no other Black students in my physics classes. There are very few in my chemistry classes. I’ve noticed that trend within all my classes, and it feels like it’s creating a gateway to having fewer Black students in professional environments. So, I think it’s great when companies make space for diversity and inclusion.”

The primary goal of this internship program is to provide participating interns with opportunities in the biotech industry. However, Val says that, when designing the program, the team at ALS TDI still considered some potential benefits for the institute – particularly the possibility that some of these interns could return and help expand the diversity of experience and perspective of our own staff.

“When we came up with this idea, we were aware of the ways we might benefit from this,” says Val. “We were aware that, number one, this could be a hiring pipeline for us, a way to open the door for more young scientists with different lived experiences. I think this is important for the entire industry – not just ALS TDI. When you are excluding a whole subset of the population, you're limiting the minds that can think about a problem. So, I think, in general, increasing diversity helps push research forward.”

To learn more about the ALS TDI Internship Program, contact

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