Where Are They Now: Marie-Laurence Tremblay

At BioCanRx, we are incredibly proud of our HQP and their dedication to cancer immunotherapy research. Whether they are working on viruses in the lab or examining the socioeconomic barriers to adopting certain treatments in Canada, each one plays a unique role in strengthening our network and expertise in immunotherapy.


BioCanRx is invested in our HQP by providing them with both the training and skills they need to be leaders in academia and industry. We are pleased to introduce Marie-Laurence Tremblay.


1. Tell us about yourself. Give us a brief background. Who are you? Where did you go to school and what is your association to BioCanRx?


Hi, my name is Marie. I was born in Quebec, raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and have lived here ever since. I’m someone who’s curious, creative, and loves puzzles. I developed a knack for organic chemistry in high school, which lead me to pursue my undergraduate degree as a double major in Biochemistry and Chemistry, with Co-op and honours at Dalhousie. I joined Dr. Jan Rainey’s Lab for my honour’s work and continued on to a Ph.D. in protein biomolecular nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), studying the structure of spider silks. Unsure of my next steps but curious about trying a new scientific field, Dr. Rainey directed me to the Biomedical Translational Imaging Center (BIOTIC) in Halifax, where I met Dr. Kim Brewer and with whom I did my postdoctoral work with. I spent the next four years investigating new pre-clinical methodologies for in vivo immune cell tracking by magnetic resonance imaging in gynecological cancers. Looking back, I don’t think I was ever aware of how much I would need to learn for this postdoctoral position: I was completely new to the field of cancer, had to learn immunology in the context of immunotherapy in animal models, and I was also learning how to operate an MRI machine. Those four years were, however, a very rewarding time as I attended numerous conferences, wrote my first animal ethics protocols, learned how to network and collaborate, and received two Mitacs Accelerate internships, one with Cubresa and the other with IMV Inc.


I became associated with BioCanRX during my postdoc through the Summit for Cancer Immunotherapy, which I attended three years in a row. BioCanRX provided unmatched opportunities for trainees to learn, develop, and network with fellow cancer researchers across Canada. In 2018, I joined the BioCanRx HQP training workshop committee and that was a great opportunity for me to give back to this amazing community.


2. Where do you work now, and what is your position?


I now work at the Nova Scotia Health Authority as the Research Ethics Board (REB) Manager with the Research, Innovation, and Discovery portfolio. My office, which consists of four coordinators, an administrative assistant, and myself, oversee the ethical conduct and the overall administrative integration and coordination of hundreds of clinical trials and clinical health research studies taking place across the province. In my position, I work cross-functionally with our Research Leadership Team, health systems, other REBs, and Health Canada, among others, to provide support for the REB and our research community on ethical conduct, processes, guidelines, and regulations. In the past year, our Research Leadership Team, which I am part of, has been tasked with developing and implementing a framework aimed at harmonizing and integrating our research administrative processes that we aspire will grow our research enterprise in Nova Scotia.


3. What does typical work day look like for you?


My main goal is to advance the strategic development of the REB office, advance policy and guidelines as our culture and social norms evolve, in the context and framework of the strategic directions of the Research & Innovation Portfolio. In a nutshell, I spend most of my days answering emails, attending/leading meetings, or answering calls about REB processes. I spend most of my days finding new ways to improve our research ethics review processes and timelines, helping our research ethics community navigate the ethics review process, updating or implementing policies, or communicating said direction to stakeholders. What makes my job fulfilling is the direct visible impact my office and the REB has on our research ecosystem and to patients and families.


4. How has your experience with BioCanRx contributed to your career development?


BioCanRX had a huge impact on my career development during my postdoc. Through the BioCanRX HQP travel awards, I was fortunate to attend the Summit for Cancer Immunotherapy three years in a row, be exposed to leading-edge clinical immunotherapy research, and meet and connect with other HQP and prominent researchers in cancer. Furthermore, contributing to the HQP training workshop as a committee member and serving as an abstracts and presentations reviewer for the Summit served as an invaluable experience.


5. What advice do you have for career development that you would pass on to other BioCanRx trainees?


Obtaining a tenured academic position after a Ph.D. is too often looked at as the career gold standard, and I fought hard to move against that culture. Although I enjoyed research, becoming a professor was not for me. That meant my career path a bumpy road as I often struggled with imposter syndrome, depression, and lack of motivation. To leave academia, I had to learn how to navigate the job market. Here are a few tips that I learned along the way:


1) You are so much more than your field of science! I went from a protein biochemist to an Ethics manager and it wasn’t because I took an ethics class! Outside academia, your soft skills are what is going to make you employable. Think of all the soft skills you already have or work towards every day such as presentation skills, project management, teaching/mentoring, networking, etc! You’d be amazed at how much you can stand out from the crowd coming out of grad school!


2) Learn how to write a resume (not a CV) and a good cover letter! I had to ask for help from numerous friends and family, went through dozens of iterations until I achieved a resume I was happy with. I even asked for help from a fellow grad student who turned out to be my boss! There are resources out there to help you realize your potential. Use them!


3) Apply for all the jobs you’re qualified for. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get an interview the first time and keep trying. I had to apply to many jobs before I got an interview for the job I have now.


4) Practice your interviewing skills. An interview is similar to a presentation in that if you practice answering questions, your delivery on the day will be exponentially better and might result in a job offer.