Julie J Burtt
Radiation and Health Sciences Officer
As a Radiation and Health Sciences Officer, I analyze the potential health effects of radiation exposures on people. I read the latest studies and scientific publications, and use my training (epidemiology, statistics, dosimetry and radiobiology tools and models) to understand how radiation affects the body.
Based on my assessments, I make recommendations that are factored into decision making on radiation protection policies and regulations. My work helps keep nuclear energy workers and the public safe!
What is a typical day like for you?
My days vary, which is nice. I review a lot of technical papers to ensure the CNSC stays on top of current scientific thinking. I also have the opportunity to conduct research on radiation health issues. Another big part of my day is helping “translate” science into everyday language the general public can understand.
What is the most enjoyable part of your job?
It thrills me when something I wrote gets posted to our external Web site for the world to read. You can visit CNSC’s online Reading Room to check out some examples: nuclearsafety.gc.ca!
What is the least enjoyable part of your job?
Delays are always hard. Having a project that is important to me get cancelled or postponed can be discouraging. Luckily it doesn’t happen too often!
Explain the path you took to get to this job (education, internships, etc.).
I did my undergrad in Biochemistry at the University of Ottawa. I started at the CNSC as a student, and after working for a few years, I decided to go back to school for my Masters in Chemistry at Laurentian University. The CNSC was really flexible in giving time off for my studies, and Laurentian encouraged me to complete some of my schooling at the University of Ottawa and Carleton University.
Who or what was the greatest influence that set you on this path?
Although, my parents did not attend college or university, they really encouraged me to go. My high school teachers (physics, chemistry and biology in particular) also made a big difference; they went the extra mile to make science exciting.
What advice would you give others seeking a similar job?
Nearly every organization offers summer jobs for students — get one! The smallest bit of experience can go a very long way to give you an indication if a job is truly something that you may want to do for your career.
I received two summer jobs through the Federal Student Work Experience Program (FSWEP), but jobs are also posted on the Careers section of organization Web sites between January and May.
How does your job make a difference?
My job contributes to the protection of Canadians and the environment. By studying Canadians who work in the nuclear field or live near nuclear facilities and applying my knowledge of how radiation impacts health, I help the CNSC ensure Canada's nuclear industry is safe.
How do you use science, math and technology in your job?
My job is largely radiation science, but understanding the basics about electrons, neutrons and protons is the key to understanding radiation science. For instance, a radioactive beta particle is essentially the same thing as an electron.
Is there one course you wish you had taken in high school but didn’t? Why?
Home economics. I can’t cook, I don’t know how to set a table and I wish I could sew or knit or something. I rely heavily on my artistic friends to teach me things that I should have learned years ago.
What makes this job right for you?
No two days are the same. I am constantly learning new things and being challenged.
What's the most bizarre or silliest thing you’ve ever done in this job?
I participated in one training course where I got to dress up in a “tyvec” suit (basically a paper one-piece pyjama) and look for radioactive sources in the woods. The goal of the training was to learn how to use different types of radiation detectors.
What activities do you like to do outside of work?
I love sports. In high school, I was more interested in all of the teams I played on (football, tennis, badminton, swimming, volleyball, track and field) than my homework. But as an adult, I bike to work and play volleyball and tennis in the evenings.
You just won $10 million! What’s the first thing you’d do?
Surprisingly I wouldn’t quit my job! I love my job, and I would just make sure my family was taken care of, my mortgage was paid, and I had an extravagant, month-long trip planned every year. I may retire young, but I feel like I should work for at least as many years as I went to university for my three degrees — it took me 6 years!