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How IsoSiM changed my career path: a Q+A with Jefferey Jang

02 May 2019

Jefferey Jang is no stranger to the winds of change.

Like most students, Jefferey has felt the tug of different opportunities throughout his career, each pulling or pushing him in a different direction: continuing academic studies, committing to a Ph.D., graduating and entering the workforce, or pursuing something entirely new (to name just a few!).

These decisions can be daunting, but they highlight the many options available to students – especially in the increasingly interconnected field of science, where the traditional boundaries that separate students from their career work are becoming less defined.

To navigate this changing landscape, students like Jefferey are turning to programs like IsoSiM, which provides training and opportunities for students to apply their expertise in isotope science within the industries and fields in which they will eventually work – whichever career or academic path they choose to follow. For Jefferey, who enrolled in the program as a M.Sc. student before he was accepted to pursue a Ph.D., IsoSiM provided unique training and work experience, and valuable insight to help him decide on the future of his career.

We caught up with Jefferey to ask about his journey so far and why it’s important to always consider your options:

TRIUMF (TR): Tell us a bit about some of these academic transitions you’ve been through so far.

Jefferey Jang (JJ): While I was working on my Masters as part of the UBC Department of Chemistry, I received an offer to pursue a Ph.D. Like many students, I was thrilled, and was ready to jump at the opportunity.

However, while enrolled in the IsoSiM program, I was provided the opportunity for an internship at TRIUMF Innovations. With TRIUMF Innovations, I was excited to experience work that was different, something that wasn’t always just grinding away in the lab. I worked on research for helping with the start-up plan for the Institute of Advanced Medical Isotopes (IAMI). During my internship I researched the services that IAMI is looking to provide, reviewed other facilities and operations that could serve as models to the Institute, and identified areas of IAMI that still required planning. I found the experience to be incredibly refreshing - to see the diversity of opportunities available to students that go beyond just a typical lab-bench experience.

After a few long conversations with my mentors and my supervisor about my desire to pursue a career beyond the lab, I ultimately decided against pursuing a Ph.D. and to instead graduate and seek out opportunities to leverage my expertise in industry. It was a tough decision, of course, but I’m confident it’s the right one for me. I’ll continue to work through my Masters, and I’m looking to graduate this coming summer.

TR: What was special about your experience at TRIUMF Innovations?

JJ: TRIUMF Innovations really stood out to me because it was different than other employers – my work was in the field of chemistry, but in a very unique setting, one where I could apply what my knowledge and continue to learn more about industry applications and develop skills beyond just the lab. In my experience in science, you’re never working in a silo. You always end up working in a web of interdisciplinary activity, and organisations like TRIUMF Innovations sit at interesting junctures between these disciplines.

Growing up in northern B.C., I had an understanding of scientific research that was rooted in things like environmental science or materials sciences (pulp, ore, etc.), but my internship really showed me that you don’t have to be glued to a lab bench to be considered a scientist. There are a lot of ways to apply your knowledge and skills – if you know how and where to look.

TR: What are some of the benefits that you would highlight for students considering training programs like IsoSiM?

JJ: I think one of the things that students overlook is that school is not your only option. While there are obvious benefits to being a student – exposure to high-level ideas, a constant state of learning – there are a lot of advantages that come with exploring other opportunities beyond academia. I always found that for those who stay strictly to the academic path, your mindset can get skewed a certain way – if you only interact with chemists, or only biologists, you only ever learn to solve problems like chemists of biologists. As we tackle more and more complex problems, and as science becomes inherently more interdisciplinary, that approach simply falls short.

IsoSiM was interesting – it allowed me to interact with a wide variety of disciplines, which is one of the things I’ve really come to enjoy. When we’re setting out to solve a problem, we have access to expertise and opinions from not only chemists but engineers, physicists, biologists, pharmacists, and clinicians. You get to watch as people from different backgrounds all tackle the same problem, each with their own mindset.

The IsoSiM program leaders are also really effective at delivering valuable tools and skills, too – I took advantage of professional development, seminars and talks on skill building, and discussions around career trajectories and plans – and figuring out exactly what you want to do with your career. I absolutely felt more prepared after having worked through some of these program offerings.

TR: What’s on the horizon for you now?

JJ: Nowadays, I’m wrapped up in my Master’s research, which is on chelators – molecules that can bind to the isotopes that TRIUMF produces using particle accelerators and then secondarily binding these isotopes to molecules or compounds that can be safely injected to visualize or act as therapies for cancer and other diseases. While the chemistry itself is pretty fascinating, I think the skill set I’ve developed is quite diverse and I’m looking forward to using it in new ways. Having a way to use all the knowledge I’ve gained is a truly wonderful feeling.