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Informational Interview Delivers a Lucky Break

How an informational interview helped me to land an internship that is helping me to diversify my skills.

Earlier this year I took Dr. Rancourt’s professional development course that is offered through Biomedical Engineering. The only assignment in this class was to research an assigned career path, to contact a professional working in the area and ask if they would be willing to meet for an informational interview. I am not a shy person, however just the thought of cold-calling/emailing professionals for an informational interview pushed me out of my comfort zone but I couldn’t be happier at the outcome.

I landed an informational interview with Jill Thompson, director of strategic development at Oncolytics Biotech Inc. Oncolytics is a local biotech company located in the Kensington community of Calgary, Alberta that focuses on the development of oncolytic viruses for use in a broad range of cancers. At our meeting I had free-range to ask Jill any and all questions I had about Oncolytics, her day-to-day activities and role at Oncolytics, as well as her education background and how she ended up in her position. These were all important questions to me because, as a PhD student, I had only been exposed to the world of academia and had no background and/or experience in industry. I learned a lot from the meeting, thanked Jill for her time, and before I left I gave her a copy of my CV. A week after I met Jill Thompson, I found myself sitting in office of Dr. Brad Thompson, President, Chairman and CEO of Oncolytics Biotech Inc. He had received my CV and offered me a part-time internship (1 day a week) as a research associate in his company.

I have been interning at Oncolytics since June and believe that I am learning more about industry than a class, textbook or website could teach me. As a research associate my job role is related to intelligence work, meaning I spend my time researching current drug trials being conducted around the globe, determining the incidence and prevalence statistics of various cancers in different countries, gathering patent information related to stem cells and cancer therapy, and writing lay summaries of original Oncolytics conference abstracts to help explain the key findings and future directions of Oncolytics’ innovative research to investors and the general public.

When I began my PhD studies I was looking to develop a wider scientific understanding at the bench level and the unique soft skills required to effectively communicate with industrial companies striving to advance clinical practices. Through my internship I am learning that a successful career in industry is the product of more than just knowledge in an area of scientific research. It is about being adaptable in different situations and having attributes that enable effective teamwork and successful problem solving on a day-to-day basis, including strong communication and leadership skills – It is about versatility. The informational interview has given me a real-world perspective on working in industry and the tools necessary to create my own career opportunities. I am grateful to my supervisor, Dr. Roman Krawetz, who has given me the opportunity to pursue this part-time internship.

Based upon my good fortune, my advice to graduate students is to get out there and pursue your career exploration before the completion of your degree because it can lead to important opportunities that can diversify your graduate school experience.


  Christina Jablonski is a PhD trainee in Biomedical Engineering.