Name: Melody Montgomery
Field of Work: Cancer Cytogenetics
Place of Birth: Nelson, BC
Job title: Clinical Genetics Technologist
Genetics definitely has a cool factor that makes it a really interesting field to study (full disclosure: your trusty editor has a degree in genetics and maybe a DNA tattoo). But what can you really do with it in the real world? You might run out of ideas after CSI, but have a look at Melody Montgomery's profile. She is a clinical genetics technologist, which means she analyzes patient samples for certain genetic markers, in her case looking for signs of cancer. She loves her job and gets to make a significant contribution to science and medicine!
What is a clinical genetics technologist?
A clinical genetics technologist performs testing in a medical laboratory to diagnose a variety of conditions that have a genetic basis.
What is a typical day like for you?
In my lab we rotate through several different tasks. In the tissue culture area my job is to take care of cells as they grow. This includes giving them the food they need (tissue culture media) and monitoring their growth. In the analysis area I analyze samples using a microscope and a computer. At the “wet bench” I process samples and make slides.
Did you always want to be a clinical genetics technologist?
From a very early age I was interested in genetics. After spending some time in research I knew that the laboratory was the place for me.
What courses in high school prepared you for this field?
Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Math, and English.
Where did you go to university/college?
I went Carleton University for my BSc. After that, I completed my post-graduate diploma in clinical genetics at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. I did my clinical training at the BC Cancer Agency and Vancouver General Hospital.
How did you decide where to go?
I went to Carleton because it is a school where undergraduates get a lot of hands-on laboratory experience.
Was there extra training required for this career after you finished college/university? If so, what?
Following the didactic (in school) portion of the clinical genetics program, I did two practical placements, one in molecular genetics and one in cytogenetics.
What is the coolest part of your job?
I specifically look at genetic mutations that cause cancer. It is amazing to be able to detect what causes a person’s disease. Each patient is unique, and some cases are very complex.
What’s the worst part of your job?
Sometimes I look down my microscope and I can immediately tell a patient is very sick. I can only imagine how difficult the next few weeks will be for the patient and their family.
What’s the salary range for this particular job and field?
Starting fresh out of school a clinical genetics technologist can expect to make between $55,000 - $75,000 each year, depending on the type of lab and the province.
Ooooops! Everyone makes mistakes so what was the dumbest thing you've ever done at work?
I’m very clumsy, and I’ve broken a few things including a haemocytometer. I also dumped half a bottle of Giemsa stain on myself — I had purple hands for several days!
Any advice that you would give others seeking a similar career?
Follow your area of interest and you will find a job you love.
What are some great web links or references for someone interesting in reading up more about this career?
What was the last book you read? Jam it or can it?
Little Bee by Chris Cleave, it was excellent.
Would you rather smell intensely of raspberries or be blue like a Smurf?
Smell like raspberries.
What’s your favorite piece of clothing?
What’s the best thing about Canada?
Working in the field, I know it’s great to have universal health care.
If you were to sing a song at a karaoke bar, what would it be?