Tom Jaakola

After earning his undergraduate degree in neuroscience, Tom Jaakola thought he might go to medical school. But he wanted to explore other health and science related fields and keep his options open. His curiosity led him to the Master of Biological Sciences program.

“I believed that the MBS program was going to not only help prepare me for (medical school), but I knew that it would prepare me for a related career in either science, health care, or something similar,” he says.

A big part of Tom’s interest in health care stems from his diagnosis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma when he was 13. “When I was a kid, I wasn’t sure how I felt about that career-wise,” he says. “But as I got older and more interested in science, I started wanting to try to get a job in health care. It's what I felt most passionate about, based on what had happened to me.”

Gaining Critical Insight

Tom Jaakola in a blue button down shirt in front of a white wall with bookshelves

Tom worked as a nursing assistant at the University of Minnesota Medical Center for a few years to get exposure to the health care field. It was a valuable experience that allowed him to see a variety of positions on a daily basis and how people could progress in their careers.

“I saw that if I had a career in health care as a physician or physician's assistant, a nurse, nurse practitioner, or really anything—that there are a lot of good opportunities. That was a good way for me to figure out whether I would like it or not.”

In the MBS program, Tom was able to study different subjects as well as dive deeper into the ones that interested him. 

“Not only was it nice that we were able to dwell on these topics so much and try to learn as much as we could, but it was also nice (to have) someone like Dr. Khalil Ahmed (from the UMN Medical School) guide me on my learning, where to go, and how to improve on things.”

Analyzing Medical Devices

Tom currently works for ICU Medical writing postmarket surveillance reports on medical devices. This involves reading and analyzing previous reports and researching the current literature. He combines his analysis of these sources, then works with others who are working on related reports to create a new, updated report.

“I think the analysis and critical thinking piece is definitely a big part of what I've been enjoying so far,” he says. “There are so many medical devices that there's a large amount of knowledge you can gain and use for your own reports. I feel like there's basically endless things to learn … and that's been very gratifying and fun.”

Tom says his MBS degree was his “in'' to the medical device industry. “Despite having no work experience in the field, I was selected over other candidates due to the knowledge and skills gained from my graduate work. I know that my degree from the University of Minnesota has set me up well for a successful career. Doors have opened up for me that previously weren't possible before completing this program.”

Major Takeaways

Flexibility. “I was able to continuously pick courses that were of great interest to me, and it didn't all have to be set in stone before I started. As I went through it, I was able to make some changes that were effective for me in my life. I started to shift away from wanting to go to medical school to preparing myself for a career relative to science and health care in general.” 

Skill Development. “It helped me grow skills that are now helping me in my career and that will help me going forward. Doing a lot of research of scientific literature is similar to what I'm doing now, in that I do a lot of synthesis of different things and create something with it. That's basically what I was practicing a lot in my MBS program.”

Memorable Courses and Instructors

Biochemical Aspects of Normal and Abnormal Cell Growth and Cell Death with Dr. Khalil Ahmed (MICA 8009)
“Dr. Khalil pushed us to study specific cancer topics in depth and learn as much as we could about them, and then try to explain them the best we could. That pushed my learning and understanding quite a bit. I felt that I was starting to understand them on a very deep level in my own head, which was really, really great.”

“I had Anke Reinders for a number of courses, one of the intro courses, and also our master's capstone course. I felt Dr. Reinders helped me find a specific area for my master's capstone, which ended up being on new treatments that can help improve blood cancers that are kind of becoming standard. Her guidance helped me focus on that, so I appreciated that.”

A Pro Tip for Students

“If you're interested in the sciences, health care, or any of the related biological sciences, don't be afraid to keep exploring and trying to find out what you're interested in. Regardless of where your MBS degree ends up taking you … you will have worked really hard on your skill set, and you'll be well prepared for whatever career you end up doing.”


Tom is a recipient of an Ingrid Lenz Harrison and a Nolte Miller scholarship.


Mia Boos is a writer and content strategist with the College of Continuing and Professional Studies, covering the College’s graduate programs and undergraduate individualized degree programs. She joined the CCAPS Marketing team in 2014 and has worked for Thomson Reuters and New York University. Connect with her via LinkedIn