What has been your career path leading to your current position?
I did my undergrad at University of Guelph and finished with a bachelor in biological science and a minor in molecular biology and genetics. During my fourth year as an undergraduate student, I took a bioinformatics course and did a research project course in a bioinformatics lab. I became very interested in bioinformatics and have decided to pursue a Ph.D degree at the same lab, with a focus on micro-array and RNA sequencing analysis. Near the end my Ph.D, a lab-mate and I did some bioinformatics consulting as part of the Small Business Incubator program launched by the University of Guelph. From the program I learned a lot about running small businesses, budgeting and proposals, although our small business didn’t work out, it has been an awesome learning experience. After my Ph.D, for eight months I worked as a post-doc at a pathobiology lab at the University of Guelph, also doing bioinformatics-related work. It was a heavily lab-based position, which wasn’t what I wanted to do, so I started looking and found the OICR posting for my current job. Even though I did not meet all the requirements listed by OICR, I applied regardless and was eventually offered the job, which I started since early 2016.
What does your role, as a knowledge and research exchange manager, entail?
I have two different roles as a knowledge and research exchange manager. First, I spend majority of my time coordinating and facilitating workshops hosted by Bioinformatics.ca, which is a bioinformatics-focused organization sponsored by OICR. I work directly with the instructors of the workshops to ensure smooth proceeding of those events. I also manage the Bioinformatics.ca website and promote our workshops through different social media platforms. Besides Bioinformatics.ca, I spend another 50% of my time working directly at OICR, helping with other different conferences and programs. For example, I run the outreach program of OICR, which is part of its mandate. I do 2-3 hours tour of OICR with high school and university students, where we expose them do different career types within OICR.
What are the most important skills to be successful in your position? How did you develop these skills as a graduate student?
Definitely soft skills. Even though I have a background in bioinformatics, the skills which I applied the most to my current position are soft skills that I developed during my Ph.D. Presentation skills are huge. Having the experience of speaking in front of hundreds of people at conferences really helps. Time management and organization skills, which most students develop during their graduate work, are critical. Also, having strong communication skills is essential. For example, sending emails might sound simple; However, you really need to structure them properly to get the responses you want.
I gradually developed these soft skills through various volunteer works during my Ph.D. I volunteered with the Canadian Cancer Society, working as part of a committee. I was also part of a karate club and organized some of its charity events. It’s very important to be involved in society and local communities to interact with as many people as you can outside the lab. I was able to draw many examples from these experiences to showcase my soft skills during the interview for my current position. It can be very difficult to find jobs other than postdocs if you only focus on your lab work.
What are the most attractive and challenging aspects about your job?
I get to travel a lot, which is a huge perk. Also, at conferences, I get to interact with and learn from experts in different fields. For the outreach program, it is very satisfying to educate students about different careers in science. I like the corporate-academic nature of OICR, as opposed to a strictly corporate entity such as a pharmaceutical company, which made my transition from academia a lot easier. However, it was still a bit challenging in the beginning when I moved from a very free-flowing academic setting, to a more structured setting as OICR. Budgeting and scheduling are my two least favorite components of my job. The unpredictable nature of budgeting can be quite discomforting sometime. Scheduling can be very challenging when we have to work with as many as 50 instructors for the workshops and work around conference or meeting space.
How do you imagine your career progressing in the future?
In the short-term, I would like to get more involved with the communications side of OICR. That would include branding, marketing, and recruiting, which all fall under the communications department of OICR. I lack background in communications, but I am currently working very closely with people from the communications department and just try to learn as much as I can. I don’t really have any clear long-term career goal right now, but I would like to expand my role in the outreach program and eventually focus more on the science administration side.
Some general advice for current graduate students?
Get out there and just enjoy as a graduate student! Talk to as many people as you can and get involved in things outside your graduate work. You need to be more balanced than just a graduate student. For most non-academic positions, it is highly unlikely to get hired if the only thing you can show on your resume is your graduate work.