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S2BN Edmonton - Career Spotlight: Working as a Scientist in the Canadian Biomedical Sector

Shanzeh Mumtaz Ahmed & Andrew Locke | May 21, 2023

On March 30th, 2023, the Edmonton Chapter of S2BN hosted a Career Spotlight webinar, profiling the career journeys of three scientists in Canada’s biotech/pharmaceutical sector. In this panel discussion, the speakers shared their career paths, described their current roles, and provided insight on how to transition from academic training to a career in industry. Thank you to the enthusiastic and engaging panelists for taking time to share their insights, as well as the 85+ audience members who tuned in and asked questions!

Our panelists were:

  • Stefanie Vogt, PhD, Senior Research Scientist, AbCellera

  • Hyeyeon Kim, PhD, Senior Scientist I, Cancer Biology, Repare Therapeutics

  • Danielle Johnson, PhD, B100 Validation Manager, Project Quality & Compliance, Sanofi


Two of the panelists did not see themselves working in industry when they began their post-doctoral fellowships. However, they pursued the private sector after considering that continuing in academia would require obtaining a faculty position, writing grants, and securing funding. The remaining panelist continued as a post-doctoral researcher in the lab she obtained her PhD in before turning her attention to industry. Today, one panelist works in a laboratory environment, another is in an office-based position, while the third splits her time between both settings.

Below are a few take-home messages from the discussion.


Is a MSc, PhD, or post-doctoral training required for a career in industry?

  • The panelists have encountered employees with all such levels of post-graduate training. Two panelists have also worked with colleagues that entered after their undergraduate studies and were promoted with time.

  • Two panelists felt your academic training can affect which position you start in. In their companies, PhD holders and above usually start as research scientists or senior scientists, while Masters graduates typically start in junior positions. For some roles, a PhD is required. Nevertheless, advancement can certainly happen with time and a solid track record. The remaining panelist felt extensive academic experience was not needed for an advantage in industry, so this probably varies company to company.

  • Having a PhD is certainly an asset if one wishes to pursue a management role in the future.

  • Unless it is indicated, a post-doc is not specifically needed to start in industry.


What skills do you feel are most important for your roles?

  • Which technical skills you need will depend on the nature of your position. For instance, a laboratory-based role may require specific experience, such as in mammalian tissue culture or in screening inhibitors. Some companies provide extensive technical training on the job, although all companies will provide some training.

  • Transferable skills such as teamwork, communication, giving presentations, interpersonal skills, conflict resolution, decision making, project and time management are critical.

  • When preparing for an interview, take the time to reflect on your transferable skills and how you have developed them through your academic and extracurricular experiences.


What are some lessons you have learned so far?

  • When in doubt, ask for help!  Try networking and look for a mentor. These connections can inspire you, give you advice, teach you new things, and help you excel in your current position. The insights you gain can mentally prepare you for a new chapter in your journey!

  • Stay open to new opportunities and meeting new people. You never know which of the projects you accept, contacts you speak to, or emails you write could kick off your future career!


What advice would you give for those looking for their first industry job?

  • Get an idea of which positions you qualify for based on your research experience. LinkedIn is a great resource for this – use it to look up keywords and read job descriptions. Determine what skills are being asked for and try to align your experiences with them.

  • Some companies have recruiters you can speak to.

  • Go through your mutual contacts and LinkedIn connections. Speak with as many people as you can from companies you are interested in to find out what a successful candidate looks like for them.

  • Start the above processes early in your degree!  That way you will have more time to develop the transferable and technical skills for the role you are seeking.

  • Do as much research as possible for the role you are applying for. Tailor your resume to the position and come to the interview prepared with thoughtful questions.


What do you like most about your job?  What are you most proud of?

Our panelists noted:

  • The direct, real-world impact of projects they are working on;

  • Doing research they enjoyed while being sufficiently compensated;

  • The scientific rigour required, given the high stakes of the molecules being targeted or products developed;

  • The supportive teamwork environment, with everyone working toward the same goal;

  • Constantly learning new things;

  • And being able to mentor junior colleagues and co-op students and watching them progress.


If you found this helpful, make sure to follow S2BN on our socials to stay updated on our upcoming events! Instagram | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook

Shanzeh Mumtaz Ahmed, MSc, is a freelance medical writer and editor. Andrew Locke, MSc, is a PhD candidate in the Department of Oncology at the University of Alberta.


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