Yani Picard - Radiation Physics Specialist / Radiation Safety Officer

Yani Picard

Radiation Physics Specialist:

I’m responsible for the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) calibration laboratory. We calibrate the radiation survey meters to make sure they take accurate measurements when used by CNSC inspectors in the field to verify licensee’s radiation limits. I am also the “go to” expert for questions about the survey meters.

Radiation Safety Officer:

Every nuclear facility in Canada must have a licence issued by the CNSC—even the CNSC laboratory! As part of the licence that lets us use radioisotopes (nuclear substances) in our lab, we need to have a Radiation Safety Officer (also known as an “RSO”). As the lab’s RSO, I’m responsible for managing and controlling the licensed activities at the lab and making sure we have a strong radiation protection program in place.

What is a typical day like for you?

My work is different every day! Some days, I’m in the calibration lab doing hands-on scientific work, like improving the calibration process or working on Monte Carlo simulations. (A Monte Carlo simulator is a software that allows us to track radiation in a virtual world. For example, we use it to predict the thickness of shielding required to reduce the radiation exposure to an operator before we build or modify the real thing.) And about eight times a year, I teach a course about radiation instrumentation.

Other days are a bit less exciting; filling out paperwork and reviewing calibration or safety procedures to make sure they are up-to-date and as strong as possible. I also take inventory of our radioisotopes.

What is the most enjoyable part of your job?

I love the variety of tasks I have and that all days are different. I also really enjoy having a flexible work schedule.

What is the least enjoyable part of your job?

I don’t love the administration and paperwork (filling out timesheets, expense claims and other sorts of forms).

Explain the path you took to get to this job (education, internships, etc.).

I completed a Bachelor of Science in physics at the University of Moncton and a Master of Science in medical radiation physics at McGill, where I also worked towards a PhD in physics. After that, I did a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Sherbrooke, specializing in medical imaging.

Who or what was the greatest influence that set you on this path?

My early interests in both medicine and physics made a career in radiation physics really appealing to me.

What advice would you give others seeking a similar job?

I would suggest people looking at a career in radiation physics map out their educational path. In hindsight, I may have spent a little less time in school; a Master’s degree in physics or medical radiation would have been enough.

How does your job make a difference?

As RSO, my job improves the safety of the people around me. In my work as a Radiation Physics Specialist, making sure survey meters are properly calibrated means CNSC inspectors can be more confident that the instruments are accurate when they use them. Accurate instruments help inspectors ensure that nuclear facilities licensed by CNSC are carrying out activities in a way that protects Canadians and the environment.

How do you use science and math in your job?

I use them all the time! My job is based on scientific and mathematical information. I need science to know about how radiation interacts with matter, and to understand how survey meters work and why they respond how they do. If two meters show different readings for the same thing, I need to be able to know why and explain it. I also use math in many ways; for example, to calculate the efficiency of contamination meters and the minimum amount of radioactivity they can detect.

Is there one course you wish you had taken in high school but didn’t? Why?

Not in high school, but in university I would have liked to do a course on organic chemistry. It seemed cool, but because it wasn’t really related to what I was studying, I didn’t take it.

What makes this job right for you?

This job really suits my lifestyle and allows me to have a good balance between work and my family. Most of the time, I don’t need to work overtime, which is important when you have children doing a lot of hockey and gymnastics!

What's the most bizarre or silliest thing you’ve ever done in this job?

Before coming to the CNSC, I worked in Health Canada's X-ray and mammography section as a medical physicist. Part of my job was to respond to questions from the public. One day an international caller asked why radiotechnologists (the people who operate medical X-ray equipment) in their country must drink at least one glass of milk in the morning before going to work. After scouring the regulations and all possible information, I came up empty-handed. Since there is no scientific evidence that milk protects from radiation, this "milk" policy remains a mystery to me to this day!

What activities do you like to do outside of work?

I really like to play hockey.

You just won $10 million! What’s the first thing you’d do?

I’d probably start my own company in something related to science. I have some ideas…

CurioCity Careers

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