Karine Auclair

Karine Auclair

Karine Auclair

When did you first know that you wanted to be a scientist or engineer? I have always “been” a scientist. I live my life like a scientist! I think like a scientist in my every day life. I even married a scientist and cannot imagine spending my life with a non-scientist. That being said, I started thinking seriously about my career when I was about 12 y.o. and it was already clear to me that I was going to study science.

What is your happiest moment in science or engineering so far? The university where I was an undergraduate student used to have an award ceremony at the end of each year for graduating students. At the end of my last year, I was invited to attend the ceremony because, I was told, I would receive at least one award. I attended with my mother. In the end I received every possible award that I was eligible for. I went to the podium so often that for the last few awards, just before my name was announced, the entire audience would say my name out loud. It was a very special moment! It was also great for my self-confidence!

Would you ever leave science or engineering? Why? A career unrelated to science is simply unimaginable for me. I don’t see where else I would fit or be able to contribute. My guess is that I will leave my current job only when I retire, at which time my goal will be to spend more time with loved ones and my horses.

What was the most challenging experience you ever had as a scientist or engineer? I hesitate between two, listed in chronological order below.

First: For graduate studies I moved from one end of Canada to another, and had to live away from my now-husband for two years. I also had to transition from French to English (my English was poor), from a small convivial school to a large highly competitive one, and from being mostly successful to adapting to the regular failures that one experiences in research. The first year or two were challenging.

Second: When I started my career in academia, there were a lot of grant opportunities available for young professors. As a result I was able to secure several grants and my research group grew in size very rapidly. When those funds ran out, the only funding opportunities that I was eligible to involved competing with well-established researchers, which is hard when you are inexperienced. These competitions also had much lower success rates and for almost two years most of my applications were unsuccessful. I had to dramatically shrink my lab and even had to borrow money to respect my commitments to the existing group members. I hate debts so I felt terrible! This was a very stressful period which had a negative impact on my self-confidence. Eventually I was able to secure a large grant (which was renewed for many years) and the stress went away.

Knowing what you do now know, would you be a scientist or engineer again? Why? Definitely! A career in science, especially in research, can be very demanding yet it is also highly rewarding at times. My job involves many types of tasks. It is diversified and constantly changing. The collaborative aspect of research is also pleasant and important. I enjoy the flexibility in my schedule and greatly appreciate the job security!