What is your full job title, and briefly describe what you do.
I’m a Research Strategy Development Specialist. I work primarily with the Krembil Research Institute, one of the five research institutes at the University Health Network (UHN). I support grant development, which can include writing, editing, gathering information, communicating with the granting agency and coordinating the assembly of the grant. Basically, I do everything I can to make sure the grant comes together and is submitted by the deadline. I regularly support grants submitted to the Canada Research Chairs Program and the Canada Foundation for Innovation competitions. I also support the development of award nominations and the annual UHN Research Report. I write lay summaries of research articles that will be published on the UHN websites and in newsletters. I also help maintain researcher profiles on the UHN websites.
Describe your career path from your Bachelor’s degree to where you are now.
I completed a Bachelor of Science in the Life Sciences at Queen’s University (Kingston), then obtained a PhD in Biochemistry at the University of Toronto (UofT). In the middle of my PhD, I realized that bench research was not for me, so I started looking around at other opportunities and career paths. I went to conferences to network, started a food blog and volunteered at a student-run scientific journal. After my PhD, I worked briefly as a postdoc in a friend’s lab in Germany, then spent a few years as a postdoc/research associate in the Chemistry Department at UofT.
During my time in the Chemistry Department, I started thinking more seriously about the next step in my career. I went to a lot of career centre seminars and did lots of informational interviews and networking, which was very helpful and educational. I also took a class in public relations at Ryerson University, which taught me that I really like writing. I shared this discovery with my supervisor at the time, and he asked me to write a small grant application. This entailed working with him, the CEO of company and UofT’s tech transfer office. I loved it. I had so much fun writing it and collaborating with all those different people. I started applying for jobs in writing and communication.
A UHN postdoc who I had met through a career workshop knew I was interested in writing and suggested that I apply to become a science writer for the ORT Times, the newsletter published by the Office of Research Trainees (ORT) at UHN. So I did. Although I didn’t get the job, I was offered the coordinator position on a maternity leave contract. I accepted and made the best of this opportunity. In this position, I wrote articles for a monthly newsletter which I assembled and helped organize activities for trainees. I worked with a lot of different people at UHN, including the manager of the Strategic Research Initiatives Development (StRIDe) office. She thought I did good work and invited me to apply for a vacancy on her team. I got the job and have been working there since November 2013.
What influenced your decision to leave the bench and move to a more administrative role?
I found bench research slow, tedious and too narrow to suit my interests. I wanted to learn about different types of research, experiments and diseases. Also, when experiments didn’t work…for a long time…I found it really discouraging and took it personally.
How has having your PhD helped you in your career, if at all?
Knowledge – a basic understanding of cell and molecular biology. I have foundational knowledge that helps me to understand the science in different fields.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job? What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Meeting a grant deadline can be stressful, especially if the grant comes together at the last minute. There is absolutely no flexibility. In addition, it’s not uncommon for me to work evenings and/or weekends to get a grant done and make sure it’s done well.
The most rewarding aspect of my job is learning about new research. I’m always reading papers and grants. I also enjoy working with researchers, the vast majority of whom are passionate about their work and incredibly dedicated.
What advice would you give to current graduate students who are trying to figure out the right career for them?
Take classes, volunteer, talk to people. Invite someone out for a coffee so you can do an informational interview with them. Tell people what you’re interested in doing. When people know you’re interested in, they can share opportunities with you. Most importantly: be brave!