I have the distinct honour of being Dawn’s very first PhD student – a badge I wear with pride, particularly because I was so fortunate to work with Dawn. Dawn was a wonderful supervisor: brilliant but thoughtful, always available for her students, and incredibly supportive. I began my time at MIRC with the intention of understanding why the elderly are more susceptible to S. pneumoniae infection. As we continued building upon prior findings, this project naturally progressed into a study of the effects of age-associated inflammation on the aging process. I was very lucky, because at the end of my studies, my body of work managed to tell a story about the interactions between many different aspects of immunity and aging, including the role of pro-inflammatory cytokines in the aging process, the dysregyulated responses these cytokines lead to in the elderly during bacterial infection, the contribution of the gut and internasal microbiomes to aging, and how different types of immune cells (including Dawn’s beloved macrophages) fit into all this.
As a litigation associate at a large Toronto Bay Street firm, my job is fast-paced, exciting, and demands a large amount of brainpower. I have the chance to engage in fascinating, high-profile work on a daily basis. But I am thrilled to work on even the smallest of cases, because it’s really the prospect of being able to serve my clients’ needs and advancing their cause to the best of my ability that gets me up in the mornings. I spend much of my time mulling how to overcome problems and tailoring the solutions to address them, be they simple and elegant ones, or creative, out-of-the box ones. The diversity of my work is another bonus: I see a broad array of cases on a regular basis, ranging from what you would expect given my background – intellectual property, including patent, copyright, and trademark matters – to things far beyond the scope of my scientific roots. Some of the issues I have worked on have touched on constitutional law, class actions, employment law, securities law, aboriginal law, and property law. Additionally, I love the advocacy part of being an advocate. Starting with compiling the legal research and factual evidence necessary to build a case, and ending with the culmination of years of work in the form of written and oral arguments before a court, I enjoy the whole process.
While completing my doctoral studies, Dawn and I sought a patent relating to some of the research I was working on. This experience provided me with exposure to the intersection between law and science. I was able to assist with the patenting process, through which I realized how readily the skillset I had gained in graduate school translated to the legal field. At first, I went into law for practical reasons: with my background, I knew I could find work on the transactional side of intellectual property matters, and three years of law school with a guaranteed job at the end appealed more to me then pursuing a post-doc for an indeterminate amount of time. But as it turned out, I fell in love with the law: the way in which the common law evolves in a very logical, principled, but people-sensitive manner; how advancing a case is all about learning from the past by applying it to the present, while thinking about the implications for the future; and, the way that the law is all-encompassing and far-reaching, touching every aspect of our lives. I got bit by the litigation bug in particular, because of the meaningful way litigation allows you to interact with general, established legal principles in the context of your client’s specific case, while potentially influencing cases yet to come.
My time at MIRC was invaluable in setting me up for success in a career in law. My graduate studies embedded in me a great sense of discipline, which is essential in law. My experiences of working in large teams at MIRC, where I organized and implemented projects with many moving parts and deadlines, have prepared me for doing the same in law. Although the subject matter may be different, the people management and project management skills required are the same. Additionally, much of the law is about examining precedents and applying them to solve your client’s problems; I use the analytical, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills that I developed at MIRC every day in my legal practice. Finally, as an advocate, I draw regularly on my oral and written communication skills, which I honed through many opportunities at MIRC to present findings orally and draft research articles.
MIRC fosters a wonderfully collaborative atmosphere that really is unique. From daily group lunches in the atrium to weekly Frisbee with the Biohazardiscs, my favourite memories from my time at MIRC (and I can’t pick just one!) all revolve around the people I interacted with. It was always nice knowing that, even if I was stuck working late and ran into a wall, someone in my lab our one of the many labs just next door would be around and willing to lend a hand.
When it comes to career opportunities, and thinking about what you will do after graduate school, keep an open mind. It may seem like the path from graduate school to a career in academia is the only viable option – but it really isn’t! It wasn’t until I began exploring my options in a career in law that I realized just how wide the horizon was. Although my graduate studies have formed the foundation for a successful transition into law, it was thanks to a willingness to embrace a path less travelled (and of course thanks to a very encouraging supervisor in the form of Dawn) that I found a career that is perfectly well suited to my ambitions and interests. Making the jump was scary, but I haven’t looked back since.