Ali Chou • Posted: February 10, 2021
Our team sat down with former GlycoNet trainee Audrey Belouin to talk about her journey after GlycoNet and how she became to work in a company that helps clients in Canada advance their drug discovery programs.
Let’s talk about your current position. Where do you work now?
I am a Senior Associate Scientist at Paraza Pharma in Montreal.
What do you do on a daily basis as an Associate scientist?
Paraza Pharma is a collaborative research organization, so we have clients. Usually, clients come to us and tell us what projects they have, how many chemists they want to work on their projects, and at the end, we help our clients with design and synthesis. Most of the compounds we make are for medicinal use.
Was this similar to what you were doing in your graduate studies?
Format-wise—yes. In both cases, I did a lot of designs, computer analyses, and syntheses.
But the type of molecules—no, not really. Since I was on a GlycoNet project in my master’s studies, I was synthesizing mostly carbohydrate-related molecules. Right now in the company, I make mostly aromatic compounds because my project doesn’t involve carbohydrates.
So, how did you prepare for the job interview, knowing that the type of molecules you synthesized in your graduate studies would be different from what you would be making in the company?
During the hiring process, the company is really for what I know about in chemistry, and not specifically the molecules I synthesized before. I researched what the company did and familiarized myself with the type of medicinal chemistry they were doing to get prepared for the interview. And I think the company knows that when one has done reactions related to carbohydrate chemistry, the skills could be transferred to other types of chemistry.
Remind me, what was the GlycoNet project you were on during your master’s studies?
I was a master’s student at Dr. Yvan Guindon’s lab for 3 years for my master’s degree. My master’s thesis was within the field of medicinal chemistry, in which I synthesized analogues that I would then send for collaborators to test their activities. I was developing an analogue of Sialyl Lewisx, which is a carbohydrate derivative that can treat inflammation-related illnesses like stroke, psoriasis, arthritis, and respiratory diseases.
Other than the skills and knowledge you acquired from your background in synthesis, what are some transferrable skills you are using now for your current position?
I did put a lot of time into learning how to manage my time efficiently when I was in graduate school. But it’s still a steep learning curve. In the industry, we tend to work on multiple projects at the same time. Also, there are much more meetings to deal with and prepare for. We have weekly client meetings, internal group meetings, monthly staff meetings, lunch and learn, etc. So, part of my time goes into creating reports and slides for our clients, but I still need to balance my time at the fumehood, and at the computer for data analysis.
Now, tell me more about your clients. What kind of clients do you normally have?
We have a lot of clients from pharma—some big companies, and some small ones. We have clients from biotech and virtual biotech and we also have projects from the academia. In some cases we opt for a “shared-risk” business model, in which we don’t ask the clients to pay for the service, but we take shares of their company.
Most students consider moving from academia to industry is a big step. What are some skills that you wished you had learned or realized you were lacking when you first made the transition?
Time management was one. But also I had to learn not to stress out when things didn’t work. Fortunately, our clients have been very open-minded. If, let’s say, there is a type of chemistry reactions that we’ve been trying for months and it still doesn’t work, most likely the clients would tell us to let it go. They’re not going to chase after something that’s very hard to make, because it’s not going to be productive or efficient at the end.
Teamwork is another one. In graduate school, I manage my own project at my own pace. When I moved to the industry, we work in teams. In each team, every member has the same goal, which is seeing the team to succeed. That means we often seek help from each other. I actually had to learn to stop trying to do all by myself and ask for help when necessary.
Aside from all the challenges you took and new things you still yet to learn, what do you like most about in your current position?
I like the fact that it’s a learning environment for me. It’s basically graduate studies with new learnings every day. I’m fortunate to have a positive culture at work. Even if someone is not on my project, they’re still willing to help me. We’re always discussing between teams about the difficulties in syntheses and trying to solve them, although we don’t share the details of the molecules we’re making.
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