Name: Rachael LeBlanc
Field of Work: Horticulture Research, Applied Genomics
Place of Birth: Niagara Falls, ON
Your job title: Senior Lab Technician, Molecular Breeding, Vineland Research and Innovation Centre
Ever wonder where all those different varieties of fruits, vegetables and plants come from? Well, for Rachael LeBlanc, Senior Lab Technician at Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, it’s her job to help improve Canadian crops by breeding new varieties of species. Read Rachael’s profile below to learn what her job is all about.
What is a Senior Lab Technician?
The goal of our research is to improve horticulture crops in Canada in part by using genetic information to speed up the breeding process. I am responsible for the day to day operations in our lab. I make sure we have all the required supplies for the lab to function and I also perform a lot of the lab work for our various research projects.
What is a typical day like for you?
I spend some time in the lab doing DNA extractions, quantification, PCR, capillary electrophoresis. I analyze data from previous experiments. I also spend time in the greenhouse. I am currently growing hundreds of grape plants.
Did you always want to be a lab technician?
Since high school I have always been interested in Biology and Genetics. I didn’t always want to study plants but couldn’t be happier now.
What courses in high school prepared you for this field?
Obviously Biology is a big one but Math and Chemistry are equally important … not to mention English. Any scientist who thinks they don’t need to do well in English is mistaken. Effective communication is so important.
Where did you go to university/college?
I went to the University of Guelph for both my BSc and MSc degrees.
How did you decide where to go?
I visited a few different universities that offered molecular biology and genetics degrees and found that the University of Guelph was the best fit for me. I grew up in a relatively small town (Timmins, Ontario) so I like the “small town feel” of Guelph.
Was there extra training required for this career after you finished college/university?
The most important thing for me is the experience I have gained working in a several different labs.
What is the coolest part of your job?
Being a part of developing new fruit, vegetables, ornamental plants etc. to help the horticulture industry in Canada. For example, I have the opportunity to try new varieties of fruit before they are commercially available and one day I might be able to say “see that ‘cold tolerant grape’” – I helped develop that!
What’s the worst part of your job?
Being in the research field there are times when the experiment you are running just doesn’t work. It’s hard to spend several days doing something only to have it not work.
What’s the salary range for this particular job and field?
This really depends on who you work for (private vs. government) and what level of position you have. My best guess would be starting around $40,000 for a lab technician and going up from there.
Ooooops! Everyone makes mistakes so what was the dumbest thing you've ever done at work?
Part of working in breeding involves making crosses between different parents. I once made a cross but forgot to keep samples from the parents. I had no way to track back which traits came from which parents.
Any advice that you would give others seeking a similar career?
Try to gain experience working in a lab. Approach labs that you might want to work in and volunteer or work as a summer student. In university, try to find a co-operative education program.
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?
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest. Jam it – the whole trilogy is pretty good.
What’s your motto?
Appreciate who/what you have every day.
Chose a sandwich: Peanut butter and jelly or peanut butter and banana?
Peanut butter and cheese is my favourite … but of the two, peanut butter and jelly. I don’t like bananas.
What’s your biggest pet peeve?
When people spell my name incorrectly, especially people I’ve known or worked with for a long time!
Tattoos: cool or uncool?
Cool. I have one of a moon on my shoulder.