Teach More Business in School


Science, medicine and information technology have become intimately entangled with business on all levels. Whether in academic settings or business settings, success in these areas increasingly requires involvement with basic business concepts and principles that aren’t taught in college.

Undergraduates in science and engineering disciplines graduate from universities and enter positions in biotechnology and technology startups with almost no exposure to business concepts. While they may have had an economics course here or there, most have never been exposed to accounting principles, organizational behavior concepts, leadership principles, negotiation, market strategy, and finance. Even those who enter PhD programs will eventually have to manage a budget and lead a lab, whether academic or in a commercial setting. The successful scientist and/or engineer will eventually learn some of this by osmosis or concerted effort, but will often feel at a disadvantage from their colleagues in business disciplines who understand the “arcane” world of business, seemingly by second nature.

Education of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) students at the undergraduate level should include exposure to the basic principles of business. With various departments vying for time in the 120 graduation credits, it may not be possible to devote a full time course to this. In this day of online courses and MOOCs, it should be quite easy to have students complete a basic business introduction during their vacations or summers. Perhaps, like physical education requirements, a student could “place out” by taking an exam.

The purpose of undergraduate education is not to create experts in subject areas. STEM undergraduates should get a broad exposure to the humanities and social sciences so that they can be familiar with, and conversant in the language of multiple disciplines upon graduation and ready for post-graduate training (academic or otherwise) in their area of concentration. A business course which simply enables a college graduate to understand the context and framework for a business discussion would pay dividends for both the STEM graduates and their employers.

[Editor’s note: To tap the wisdom of our distinguished group of Xconomists, we asked a few of them to answer this question heading into 2015: “If you could change one thing in education, what would it be?” You can see more questions and answers here.]

Paul Bleicher, MD, PhD, is the CEO of Optum Labs, an open, collaborative healthcare innovation center established by Mayo Clinic and Optum. He was previously Chief Medical Officer for Humedica, a next-generation clinical informatics company, and founder and chairman of Phase Forward (acquired by Oracle in 2010). Follow @

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One response to “Teach More Business in School”

  1. Karl Zachar says:

    Paul: Great point about teaching business skills to STEM majors. We see so many great “science projects” that have no chance of success without the understanding of how to build a sustainable business model. On the flip side, I also would like to see business schools further incorporating science and STEM curricula into their business degrees. In order for the US to capitalize on the tremendous opportunity we have at our collective fingertips, we need to attack this from both angles. Happy New Year.