Courteney Lai, Graduate Student (PhD), Terry Fox Laboratory, BC Cancer Agency Research Centre; and President, Graduate Student and Post Doctoral Society of the BC Cancer Agency Research Centre

After high school, I was accepted to the University of British Columbia (UBC). I knew I wanted to focus on cell biology and genetics, study the effects of genetics on how cells work, and how this influences health and disease. But I was at a loss for how this could become my career path.

Eventually I learned about the Cooperative Education program at UBC. This program allowed me to gain related experience in my field of study while completing my first degree. It extended my academic career by an extra year, but in the end I gained more than a year of experience in my field of study and learned what research work is like in a hands-on manner.

My first placement was at a large biotechnology company, called Genentech. As part of a research team there, we focused on assessing and refining the manufacturing process of the non-Hodgkin lymphoma cancer and rheumatoid arthritis treatment called Rituxan. From this experience, I gained an understanding and appreciation for the drug development process and the biotechnology industry, which sparked my interest in conducting translational research in the future.

After this industry experience, I wanted to expand my knowledge and appreciation for the disease research process by studying upstream processes leading to drug manufacturing, specifically the elucidation and investigation of the mutations that give rise to diseases such as cancer and identification of druggable targets.

As such, I started to look at academic laboratories that were studying the mechanisms of cancer.