From Peru to Canada: Paving a Successful Career in Biotechnology

 

Elizabeth_Velasque

1) What inspired you to pursue a career in life science/biotechnology?

I come from health science, so my migration to the life sciences was motivated by a combination of the desire to be updated with pressing biotechnology issues and to follow the trends of the pharmaceutical industry.

In Peru, I was a pharmacist working for a company where I had the opportunity to review patent applications of new active ingredients for medicines. Doing that job, I realized biopharmaceuticals were a trend in patents, so I did my research and became fascinated with the advanced state of the biopharmaceutical industry in other countries such as Canada. So I created a plan to move to Canada and to the biotechnology industry. Once here, even though I was focused on the health-biotechnology industry, I discovered that biotech was also applied to other industries such as agriculture and the environment. Such information gave me a broader vision of my professional future.

I think, from time to time, a professional usually looks for ways to evolve and reinvent their careers. This is exactly what happened to me; the time to redirect my career had arrived by moving to biotechnology.

2) You currently work as a project manager at a biotech company. How did your education and experiences back home, in Peru, prepare you for the work you currently do in the biotechnology industry?

If you come from a highly regulated industry such as pharmaceuticals, you know there are not big differences in the technical knowledge. Science is the same everywhere. However, I do believe you have to upgrade your knowledge regularly. In my case, I decided to first take a hands-on training course in Biotech at BCIT (British Columbia Institute of Technology), then I took a Master’s program in Management of Biotechnology at SFU, and finally I got the Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification.

Furthermore, if you check the position profiles posted in trusted websites (e.g. Biotalent, lifesciencesontario.ca, lifesciencesbc.ca, companies’ websites, etc.), you can create your personalized checklist by identifying which skills you have and which ones you need to work on. In my case, I did this exercise when I was in Peru. For example, I upgraded my knowledge in MS Project before moving to Canada because this is one skill the industry is looking for.

In addition to the technical skills, I worked on my soft skills. In my previous position in Peru, I had the opportunity to travel around Latin America and be a witness to how doing business can be different from country to country even though they may share the same language. Hence, I took a workshop about Canadian soft skills through the Immigrant Services Society of BC (ISSofBC), attended events organized by the Immigrating Women in Science (IWIS), and worked with a mentor from the YWCA of Metro Vancouver. I think all the elements described above helped me to successfully transfer my professional experience and education from Peru to Canada, from the pharmaceutical industry to biotechnology, from an assistant position to a manager position.

3) What resource(s) do you believe are currently unavailable or can be further developed to support women in science, particularly immigrants?

Based on the Immigrating Women in Science (IWIS) Information Package written by Mayu Ishida in 2009, there are six main barriers skilled immigrants usually face to advance their careers in Canada:

• Accreditation processes of professional associations and educational institutions
• Lack of bridging programs that support access to appropriate employment
• Lack of pertinent language training programs
• Lack of flexibility in retraining processes
• Demand for Canadian work experience
• Lack of professional networks

Even though government agencies, post-secondary schools, and other organizations are offering programs to improve our language skills, recognize our education, and update our professional training, I think it is still missing a program of paid internships for immigrants to overcome the remaining three barriers described above.

For example, there are great internships offered by Mitacs; however, you need to be a graduate student to be eligible. In my case, I was a Master’s student when I entered the Mitacs Accelerate program and got a paid internship at a biotech company. During the internship I got back into the workforce, other professionals got to work with me (thus building my network), and of course, I got the elusive “Canadian work experience”. Based on my experience, I think internships are an excellent resource for immigrants. However, I haven’t seen any internship program for immigrants who are not currently studying at the graduate level.

4) Have you ever experienced challenges in communicating your credentials and experiences to employers in Canada? What advice do you have for those experiencing the same challenges?

Yes, I have. My first resume didn’t communicate my education and experiences properly. I think the key is to adapt your original resume to the Canadian style and terminology. For example, sometimes a job title in your country has a different meaning in Canada, so you need to find the equivalent title to help employers to understand your previous responsibilities at a glance. I recommend reading resume samples or job profiles posted on trusted websites such as biotalent, servicecanada, etc. You can also take a workshop in resume/cover letters and interviewing skills through the immigrant services organization that is supporting you or the post-secondary school you are enrolled in. Don’t forget to ask your mentor for their opinion on your improved resume.

5) What skills, in your opinion, are essential to hone in order to be successful as an immigrant woman in science? I think soft skills are crucial, such as communication skills. I’m not talking about English or French language skills, but instead how we communicate our ideas or our body language during an interview. I encourage everyone to pay attention to their soft skills. I have been working on mine for the last three years in Canada, and there are still some soft skills I need to keep working on.

6) What words of advice would you give to other women aspiring to become successful in science and technology? My first advice is to define what success is for you, because everyone has different aspirations and expectations. Based on your vision, develop short-term goals (to achieve in less than 1 year), mid-term goals (1-5 years), and long-term goals (>5 years). As science/technology professionals, we know how to do research well, so do your research to find and develop suitable action plans for each goal. My second advice is to be flexible and open-minded with the plan you create. Be aware of how the marketplace and trends are shifting. Excellent sources of information are, for example, the Labour Market Information Report 2013 developed by biotalent.ca or any other updated labour market information/forecast developed by the government or Service Canada.

My last piece of advice is to be aware of the six barriers internationally-trained professionals face to advance their careers in Canada (described previously) and to take advantage of the available resources to overcome each of these barriers.

Written by: Simran Dhunna https://www.linkedin.com/pub/simran-dhunna/58/b2/451