Senior Scientist at the BC Centre for Disease Control and TV Host for CBC Television
I was born/grew up in: Vancouver, BC, Canada
I now live in: Vancouver, BC, Canada
I completed my training/education at: BSc at the University of British Columbia, Graduate Diploma at McGill University, PhD at Simon Fraser University
Describe what you do at work.
At BCCDC, I lead a research group studying infectious disease outbreaks. As the leader, I spend a bit of my time analyzing data but most of my time leading my team. That involves going to meetings, looking for money to fund our research, writing papers and giving presentations about what we've found, and networking with colleagues around the world. Our main tool for studying outbreaks is genome sequencing - we use specialized equipment to quickly read the complete DNA instructions that encode a bacterial or viral pathogen. We do this for tens, hundreds, or even thousands of pathogens at a time, and then use bioinformatics tools - computer programs that we run on large, high-performance computing clusters - to process the genomes. Once the data has been processed, we use statistics, evolutionary biology, and epidemiology - the science of understanding diseases and how they spread - to figure out how an outbreak happened.
When I was a student I enjoyed:
How does your job affect people’s lives?
What's cool about our work solving outbreaks with genomics is that we can see the results of what we do right away. In some scientific fields, you might make a discovery that takes years before its impact is felt by the public. With our work, when we're successful, we see fewer cases of a particular disease. We know our research is working right away, and most importantly, we're keeping Canadians healthy!
What motivates you in your career?
My favourite thing about my job is that every time we sequence a genome and peek under the hood of an outbreak, we're seeing data that nobody has ever seen before and learning completely new things - that sense of discovery is amazing! It's even better when you realize that those discoveries are helping combat infectious diseases. I also really love how much collaboration, communication, and travel there is in research science - I'm lucky to be able to travel the world, woking with colleagues in different countries and sharing our discoveries with them. This week, for example, I'm heading to a conference in Washington DC and only two weeks ago, I was in London, England meeting with some friends who do the same sort of research that I do!
When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:
Describe your career path to this career.
I've always loved infectious diseases so even in highschool, I had a sense I'd end up in this field. What I didn't appreciate at the time was how following my interests during university would get me me interested in other fields, like genetics, computer science, and communication, that I'd then be able to combine with my passion for germs to create a totally niche career, where I spend my day using computational tools to analyze the genomes of infectious disease agents, and my evenings working on science communication projects, like documentary hosting for CBC Television. By being open to options and pursuing whatever it was that I was excited about at the time, I ended up with a really unique combination of skills.
What activities do you like to do outside of work?
I love travelling and enjoying all the different foods around the world, and I love cooking at home. That means I have to keep up with my exercise too, so I do a lot of Pilates and tennis. We have two dogs that keep us pretty active too - we love to take them hiking in the woods, and if it's fall, we use the hikes to look for mushrooms and other edible plants.
What advice or encouragement would you give others seeking a similar career?
Passion and enthusiasm are the keys to success - follow your interests, no matter where they take you, and you'll always enjoy your day at the office, no matter where that office is!
Let's Talk Science recognizes and thanks Jennifer Gardy for her contribution to Canada 2067.