Sylvie Cloutier - Research Scientist

Above: Image © hidesy, iStock

Sylvie Cloutier

Sylvie Cloutier

Research Scientist – Molecular geneticist, Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada

I was born/grew up in: up Quebec city, Quebec, Canada

I now live in: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

I completed my training/education at: Bachelor of Applied Science – Bio-agronomy at Laval University, Quebec; M.Sc Biotechnology at University of Guelph; Ph.D. Molecular genetics at University of Montreal

Describe what you do at work.

Science, math and technology are my job. On a day to day basis, I manage research activities. I spend most of my time at a computer. This is where I write grant proposals, manuscripts for publication in scientific journals, reports, analyze data and mostly deals with email requests. Managing research means that I collaborate with other scientists from across the country and internationally. Sometimes, I lead these projects and, on other projects, I am a participant or co-lead.

Managing research also means that I supervise graduate students, research assistants, post-docs, visiting scholars, coop students, etc. Day-to-day management includes overseeing their progress, helping them with troubleshooting experiment and assigning tasks. Every now and then, I get to perform some hand-on activities such as showing someone how to perform certain techniques. I particularly enjoy the summer because, while I am a molecular geneticist, I work on agricultural crops and, in the summer, I get to do field work. While this is physically demanding, it is also a nice change of pace. It is important to get comfortable with the material you work with and it is highly rewarding to see ones’ plants grow in the field.

As a molecular geneticist, my area of expertise is genomics and epigenetics studies. I look at the genetic control of traits such as disease resistance in wheat, particularly resistance to the fungal pathogens causing leaf rust and fusarium head blight. In flax, I am interested in the production of omega-3 and resistance to drought for examples. In terms of technology, I use Next Generation Sequencing data producing Terabytes of DNA sequencing information. This requires state-of-the-art computing algorithms, software and pipelines for analysis. I wish I was more knowledgeable in computing science, i.e., I wish I was able to use a few programming languages or at ease with various operating system such as Linux. This would make my life easier. To compensate my shortfall, I collaborate with brilliant bioinformaticians. Interactions can be via email, video or teleconferencing or face-to-face meetings. We make it work. Data sharing is done through shared drives.

In 2016, I am the program organizer for a conference on wheat genetics. This involves numerous meetings and countless of email and phone communications. This sort of task is not part of my regular duties. But, as scientists, we are constantly asked to participate in committees, teams, and activities that are on the periphery of our main duties. Scientists rarely work 9 to 5. We tend to be self-motivated and driven.

When I was a student I enjoyed:

How does your job affect people’s lives?

Currently I work on flax. Do you know that it is the best plant based source of omega-3 fatty acid which are essential for your brain function and reduce risk of cardio-vascular diseases – pretty important particularly for vegetarian and vegans who do not consume fish?

What motivates you in your career?

Every day, I have the possibility to do something I love and that is intellectually challenging and stimulating. I can lead and excel doing what I love to do. I have a lot of scope for decision making. I can decide what area of research I want to tackle and how to do it. It is a very intellectually stimulating career.

When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:

Describe your career path to this career.

I have a BSc in agriculture (bio-agronomie), an MSc in biotechnology and a PhD in genetics. After graduation with my PhD, I worked as a post-doctoral student for one year prior to joining the Cereal Research Centre of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada as a research scientist.

What activities do you like to do outside of work?

I like the great outdoors and to be physically active. That includes running (half-marathons), hiking, camping, canoeing, cycling. I also like to travel. If I can combine both, that is even better.

What advice or encouragement would you give others seeking a similar career?

If a career in science entices you, get involved in science fairs, contact professors in your area(s) of interest, whether they are in high school, college, university or research centre. They can provide the mentorship, the guidance and the contacts you will need to explore the possibilities.

CurioCity Careers

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