From Ghostbuster to Graduate School

GradLife McGill is proud to present a 3-part, guest blog series by McGill alumni Dr. Christopher von Roretz as part of #AfterGradLife. In his first post, Dr. von Roretz shares what motivated him to pursue graduate studies in the department of Biochemistry at McGill.

Shockingly, as a child, I didn’t dream of doing graduate research. In fact, my earliest career aspirations were to be a Ghostbuster, but my parents eventually encouraged me to find an alternative (no need to dwell on my traumatic discovery that Ghostbuster hiring opportunities weren’t what I expected…).

Image 1 - What could have been...
What could have been… Photo credit: Lesley James

One of my earliest interests was insects, and becoming an entomologist became a more tangible goal up until CEGEP, when I was introduced to the field of molecular biology. I was completely captivated by the idea that life and all it encompasses – being active, growing, healing, communicating, having emotions, forming memories – is governed by chemistry. This directed me to join McGill’s Biochemistry Department for my undergraduate studies. My goal was to better understand how something as complicated as a cell could be “alive” while essentially being a pile of molecules.

On a more professional level, my sights were set on either working in a biopharmaceutical lab, or having my own lab at a university. During a summer studentship, I found my way into the lab of biochemist Dr. Imed Gallouzi. What struck me early on about the lab was the amazing dynamic among the lab members – it was a group of friends working together, helping each other, and I was given an encouraging balance of independence and support from my supervisor. As I was finishing my BSc, it wasn’t a difficult decision to choose to start my Master’s with this group.

Shockingly, as a child, I didn’t dream of doing graduate research. In fact, my earliest career aspirations were to be a Ghostbuster…

I was quite fortunate when I started grad school, as the lab was finishing a study that combined two fields that fascinated me – cellular suicide (“apoptosis”) and the regulation of gene expression through mRNA degradation. Essentially, Dr. Rachid Mazroui, a post-doctoral fellow in the lab at the time, had been leading research that found a link between the control of cellular suicide, and how a cell succeeds (or fails) to kill itself. This process is critical in preventing cancer growth, and is well known to be blocked in tumour development. Over the next months, I started to take ownership of the project, as Dr. Mazroui established his own lab at the Université de Laval.

And then I did grad school. I found my project fascinating, and my supervisor gradually afforded me greater independence, eventually allowing me to direct and manage my own side-projects, supervise undergrads and on occasion a Master’s student, and draft papers and reviews with minimal consultation. But despite the great personal development I was gaining from grad school, I wasn’t sure what my future held. I knew that I was supposed to do a postdoctoral fellowship – it’s what good PhD graduates do. I even had a few opportunities present themselves for possible supervisors, sometimes in labs that had interesting projects and great potential for future scientific growth. If I wanted to fulfill that goal, of having my own lab and becoming a university professor, I knew what I was supposed to do…

 

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Chris von Roretz is a guest blogger for GradLife McGill. He completed his Ph.D. in 2012 in the department of Biochemistry. His graduate research focused on the molecular regulation of cellular suicide, and he now teaches full time at John Abbott College. He is also an Affiliate Member of the McGill Biochemistry department, and a municipal Councillor for the City of Dorval. In his spare time, Chris enjoys volunteering, outdoor activities, and has recently tried his hand at amateur theatre. Instagram: @cvonroretz LinkedIn: Chris von Roretz

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