By David Chilton
Special to the Toronto Sun
Karen Major has a degree in pharmacology and toxicology from the University of Toronto, but didn't want a job in a lab. That led her to the Regulatory Affairs and Quality Operations program at Seneca College and a career where she can combine science and working with others.
Karen Major, consultant at Cantox Health Sciences International, says her career combines science and working with others.
"It seemed like a good fit," says Major, who attended Seneca full time from January to December 2000 after graduating from U of T in 1999. She's now a consultant at Cantox Health Sciences International in Mississauga, handling a multitude of regulatory and quality assurance tasks associated with new drugs or medical devices.
Seneca's program is one of two in the GTA. The other is taught at Humber College. Both train students to work largely in the pharmaceuticals industry and both are tough to get into. Urszula Kosecka, co-ordinator at Humber, calls admission to the program that starts in September "extremely competitive."
"Last year we had 150 applicants for 20 spots," she says. "As a result, the quality of the students who leave the program is very good."
At Seneca, the competition to get in is just as fierce. Co-ordinator Alison Symington says last year there were well over 300 applicants for a place in the program.
Like Humber, Seneca's full-time course takes 12 months to complete; unlike Humber it also offers part-time study over 18 to 24 months or so.
Seneca takes 20 full-time students every January and September; there's a 25-student limit on those who opt for the part-time program.
Anyone applying for admission to Humber will need a degree in one of the health sciences or an appropriate life science, Kosecka says. At Seneca, students can enter its program with either a science degree or a science diploma. However, Kosecka and Symington say many of their students have been educated beyond a first degree, and some of those trained abroad qualified as doctors and dentists before emigrating.
Student age in both schools ranges from the early twenties. Class makeup used to skew female, but is moving towards a 50-50 split as more men enter the field. Tuition fees vary and may change before school starts. Seneca's are listed at $3,435 a year. Kosecka says Humber charges about $4,500.
All full-time students in the regulatory affairs programs -- whether they chose Humber or Seneca -- will have to spend about two-thirds of their time slogging through the classroom and the laboratory.
Kosecka says there are 20 instruction hours in the Humber program and cautions "there's lots of homework."
Seneca College and Humber College are the only GTA schools to offer Regulatory Affairs and Quality Operations programs.
Seneca offers full-time and part-time study; Humber offers only a full-time program.
Admission competition is tough, but employment is all but certain upon graduation.
Full-time programs at Seneca and Humber take 12 months to complete.
Pharmaceutical companies and Health Canada hire the most graduates.
Starting salaries are in the $40,000 to $55,000 range.
Major agrees the regulatory affairs programs come with plenty of work. "The volume of work is fairly high, but it's not difficult academically," she says. "I liked the fact that the program was very practical, very hands-on. The co-op aspect of it was great."
That co-op aspect, as Major says, means students in both schools have to work as paid interns for three or four months, and it's from these internships most of them find employment.
Kosecka says almost all of the students from her program stay with the company they interned for -- Seneca grad Major was offered a job where she interned but opted for Cantox -- so graduates enjoy virtually 100% employment.
Either pharmaceutical companies or Health Canada snap up most graduates, and starting salaries reflect demand.
Graduates can expect to earn at least $40,000 a year upon graduation and as much as $55,000 a year depending on their experience.
The pharmaceuticals industry is growing and its rules are getting more complex, says Symington, "So there's an incredible demand for these people. All of those who want a job get one."
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