Did you know that the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) staffs over 3900 personnel, including technicians, postdoctoral researchers and early-career investigators, in addition to operating 174 research facilities across Canada (many of which are in Ottawa)? While the NRC celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2017, its existence, mission, and operations remain a mystery to many.
In March, the Ottawa Chapter of the Science to Business Network (S2BN) hosted nine employees from the NRC’s Human Health Therapeutics (HHT) Research Centre to participate in an informal meet and greet networking session. The HHT employs 342 scientists and technicians and represents the largest biomedical research department in the country. The event was structured as a Speed Networking session whereby groups of graduate and postdoctoral researchers had opportunities to speak with NRC employees. The event was a great opportunity to learn about the NRC HHT Research Centre, while gaining exposure to the variety of positions available to Life Sciences graduates. Attendees acquired valuable advice from professionals with diverse backgrounds, who have built (and are continuing to build) their careers around science, research and business.
To give you a taste of the diverse positions offered at the NRC, we’ve summarized each of the speakers’ educational background and experience, a brief description of their current position, and a key piece of advice from each speaker below!
Position Description: As their title suggests, Technical Officers (TO) represent the primary “hands-on” or “bench-based” positions in the NRC. Their responsibilities vary, as TOs advance from conducting routine laboratory maintenance, to performing assays and collecting data, and finally to leading entire research facilities. Typically, TOs perform very diverse roles dependent on the project, team and research area.
Key piece of advice: Your goals are more important than what others expect of you.
Postdoctoral Fellow/Research Associate/Assistant Research Officer
BSc, MSc Kinesiology, PhD Cell Biology
Position Description: The NRC recently rebooted their Postdoctoral Fellowship program, recruiting highly qualified candidates (10 per year) to work on cutting edge or high-risk internally-competitive projects. As any postdoctoral fellow, they are put in charge of one or more projects and are expected to use NRC’s extensive resources to complete them as required.
Of note, the NRC historically recruits scientists-in-training into the “Research Associate (RA)” program. RAs are full-time NRC employees with term-based contracts. Each research team of 5-7 people typically has 1-2 RAs. Their roles are similar to that of traditional academic postdoctoral fellows, except they primarily work on internal and/or client-facing projects.
Key piece of advice: You don’t need a strict plan, but you at least need a “pl__”.
We hosted two early-career Research Officers from the HHT program:
BSc, MSc, PhD Chemistry
BSc, MSc Chemistry, PhD Immunology
Position Description: Research Officers (RO) are NRC’s Scientists. Their roles and responsibilities evolve with time; early-career ROs spend significant time “at the bench”, while senior ROs are responsible for leading research teams, scoping NRCs research programs and performing administrative tasks. Early-career ROs fill senior-level technical/scientific roles within research teams run by Team Leading Senior ROs, or could be in charge of small research teams of 3-4 people.
Key piece of advice: “Don’t be afraid to ask to visit groups/companies or to invite individuals you would like to work with for a coffee” and “If you are considering a career in science, you must be passionate in your field of choice because this is ultimately what will drive you forward”.
Position Description: A project manager in the HHT center provides management support for research programs and manages key client projects. These client-facing positions act as points-of-contact for NRC’s collaborators and are responsible for helping them navigate and appropriately utilize NRC’s capabilities.
Key piece of advice: “Simply clone (copy) from the best and don’t try to re-invent.”
Client Relationship Leader
BSc Chemistry, MBA
Position Description: The NRC works closely with collaborators and stakeholders in Canada and internationally. The Client Relationship Leader works to bridge the gap between the research that is conducted at the NRC with possible receptors of the research (e.g. companies that could use innovations created by the NRC). More specifically, Client Relationship Leaders help manage portfolios of patent families, and are responsible for developing collaborations with industry and licensing NRC technology in the field of life sciences. The speaker in this position had over 25 years of experience in research and development and has been involved in the commercialization and transfer of technology from government laboratories for the past 20 years.
Key piece of advice: “Understand the entire value chain of drug development along with the roles and respective motivations of those involved – it will make it easier to achieve whatever you want to get done.”
Senior Research Officer
We hosted two Senior Research Officers from the HHT program:
PhD Biochemistry, MBA
BSc, MSc International Biotechnology, PhD Physiology
Position Description: Senior Research Officers (SRO) have diverse technical expertise and can be can be found in facilities across the NRC. They are research-based positions that require significant experience. One of our speakers began at the NRC as a postdoctoral fellow and progressed to an SRO position approximately three years later. SROs typically manage research staff as Team Leads, publish academic research projects and engage with external stakeholders, clients and other NRC partners. Their teams vary in size between 5-15 people.
Key piece of advice: “ Be flexible, don’t close doors that unexpectedly open and be true to what lights you on fire.” and “Don’t be afraid to ask for help/advice – most people will be happy to oblige. Also, don’t be afraid to take risks early in your career”.
Certified Human Resources Leader (CHRL)
Position Description: The Hiring Advisor is responsible for corporately-mandated hiring decisions. Although individual Research Centres (like HHT) manage their own human resources (Program Directors determine the availability of personnel funds and Team Leads ultimately screen and select their own candidates), the NRC’s corporate-level HR department is in charge of appointing senior roles and determining funds available for larger hiring projects (such as starting a postdoctoral program).
Key piece of advice: The advice that I like to give to students is “know yourself”. Your focus has been on your studies for as long as you can remember. Take some time in your final months to reflect on what you enjoyed most about your experiences, what you are passionate about, the soft skills you acquired, your personal values, your networks and how you will continue to keep in touch. These will grow with you throughout your career. Do you want to work in industry, academia or research? Do you want to live in a city, the country or internationally? What feels right? As you explore the options available to you begin by “knowing yourself”.
Would you like to learn more about these positions or to be introduced to any of these elusive speakers? Please send us an email, and we would be happy to connect you: firstname.lastname@example.org