Expert Insight: Cultivating the worldwide biosafety profession

Watch this on-demand webinar to understand the important role of the biosafety and biosecurity profession in global public health security

07 Jun 2022



Maureen Ellis, Executive Director, IFBA

A knowledgeable and capable biosafety officer, whether a full-time employee or part-time responsibility, is a foundational element for an organization’s biosafety and biosecurity program. The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a significant demand on the biosafety and biosecurity profession and many countries face an overall shortage of these specialized individuals. Working on the frontlines, and often behind the scenes, the profession remains largely unknown to students interested in pursuing a career in sciences who are steered toward more visible career paths.

In a recent International Federation of Biosafety Associations (IFBA) survey, young scientists who were asked to provide their experiences related to diversity, equality, and inclusion in their workplaces, said that “the lack of a degree program specifically in biosafety leads to skilled and experienced biosafety professionals being undervalued by those holding doctorate degrees in adjacent fields”. Formalizing a biosafety career path within the higher education system is a key priority for cultivating a diverse and future biosafety workforce.

In this webinar, Maureen Ellis, Executive Director, IFBA, identifies approaches for supporting young scientists and young people with the tools and resources to establish a career within, and/or transition into, the biosafety and biosecurity workforce.

Read on for highlights from the live Q&A session or register to watch the webinar at a time that suits you. 

Why do you think biosafety professionals remain behind the scenes in the laboratory, and how can we change this?

ME: I think it's because laboratory biosafety professionals are not forward-facing with the public. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many individuals will have gone in for testing. They interact with healthcare professionals, nurses, doctors, but they don't see the laboratory. When you go in and give a sample for a diagnostic test, that sample is taken away into the back corners of the healthcare facility, and often you don't know who's going to be handling it and you don't see the great work that they're doing. Therefore, I think it's important to try and have a better understanding amongst the public of this profession and the important work they do, and really understand how they're contributing to the entire response to the pandemic.

I’m interested in becoming an IFBA-certified professional in biosafety. How do I sign up, and which certifications are most important for me to take?

ME: On our website, internationalbiosafety.org, there's a certification tab and you'll find all the information on how to register for an exam, what the body of knowledge is, including references and sample questions that you can take a look at in preparing for your examination. If you'll be taking it online, there's also some how-to videos and guides that walk you through the online examination process. 

With respect to your selection of which certification you should take, all people need to first take the prerequisite bio risk management certification. You need to have this entry-level certification to be eligible to take the other certifications. Your choice of a secondary certification will really depend on your job and your interests. For example, you may be working in a biosafety cabinet in your laboratory. So, that might be an area where you want to become certified in the safe handling of a biosafety cabinet, or perhaps your responsibilities are more related to the design of a laboratory. And, in that case, you may choose to take the biocontainment certification. It’s up to each individual to determine what their own goals are, but everybody would need to take that prerequisite bio risk management examination.

How can private industry help to promote the biosafety profession and support young scientists in this career path?

ME: We're happy to coordinate this presentation with our private industry partner, NuAire. They have really been promoting education and the biosafety profession for many, many years now. And it's a very good example of a collaborative relationship between a non-governmental organization such as ours and private industry. 

Specifically, NuAire has sponsored the exam fees for individuals who wanted to take their professional certification in biological safety cabinets. They're also working with the IFBA in updating their training videos and producing more training and education materials that biosafety and biosecurity professionals can use in their everyday work. There are many different opportunities for private industry to partner in the field of biosafety and biosecurity, and it really opens the doors to individuals in countries who may not be able to afford to take an examination, even though they really want to. We’re happy to continue that relationship with NuAire and use it as a shining example for other industries who may also want to join us.

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