Photo by Andrew Dobrowolskyj
by Sylvain Comeau
Science is a demanding pursuit, suitable only for those who love the challenge. Science College graduate Louis-Eric Trudeau made that abundantly clear in a lecture on Jan. 25 as part of Science College Day.
Trudeau, who teaches pharmacology at the Université de Montréal and runs a genetics lab there, shared the love of science he learned at the College, a passion which has sustained him through long hours and precarious research funding. He spoke after a day of poster presentations by Science College students who hope to follow in his footsteps.
The major attraction for me was the ability to do research in real labs throughout my bachelors degree, Trudeau said. That is really a unique feature of the Science College.
Trudeau, who worked on diverse research projects as an undergraduate, feels that early experience, and the Colleges multidisciplinary approach to science training, prepared him for the usually scary experience of being plunged into research for his masters degree.
Most undergraduates only learn about what its like to do research when they are ready to start their masters. But I already knew what to expect from a career in science because of my involvement in real lab work as an undergraduate student.
Those real projects in the lab yielded real publications [in scientific journals], which was an incredible plus on my c.v. when applying for scholarships to do graduate studies, Trudeau said. The evaluating committees have to look at a lot of c.v.s, and they are looking for something that differentiates yours from the pack. Research work makes you stand out.
Early research led to scholarships
The result for Trudeau was four scholarship offers to do his masters. He accepted one from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and did his masters at the Université Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris. He did his PhD at Université de Montréal and a post-doctoral fellowship at Iowa State University.
It takes a lot of time to get your PhD, but then youre still not finished. You cant get a job in academia or in research institutes with just a PhD.
There again, his early experience paid off. The norm today is that you usually need two postdoctoral fellowships; in my case, I did a single fellowship [before getting a job in academia].
Trudeau set up his own pharmocology lab when he was hired at Université de Montréal, which required a lot more intellectual heavy lifting.
They gave me a big lab, but it was almost completely empty. I had to start from scratch, which is pretty hard to do. First you have to get salary support, because nowadays many universities, especially faculties of medicine, hire you but dont pay your salary. You have to pay your salary, and for your lab, through grants, which is an interesting challenge.
The next challenge was staffing his lab with quality students; currently, a science college graduate works there, and Trudeau hopes to get more in the future. He points out that he certainly needs all the help he can get.
If you wonder why professors look tired when you come to their classes, maybe this will help you understand, said Trudeau, displaying a graph with a breakdown of a typical professors activities.
I would say I spend 50 to 60 per cent of my time in research activities; 25 per cent of my time teaching; another 25 per cent of my time writing or reviewing grant applications; 10 per cent writing journal articles and attending seminars; and finally another 10 per cent attending meetings. That adds up to about 130 per cent of my time, which I think is a fair reflection of my schedule.
He quickly added that the rewards are rich, even if the professors themselves never are.
The rewards are mostly internal, not monetary, but despite long hours, I am very happy to be where I am.