January 07, 2006

From Stingers to Gryphons, Blues and Rams

buzz stingers.jpggryph.jpgblues2.jpgeggy ram 2.jpgOne of my former professors from undergrad, Dr. Kimberly Gilbride, joined us for lunch on April 29th and told us about her journey to becoming a professor at Ryerson University. She had originally planned on going to the Unversity of Guelph with the intention of becoming a veterinarian. Nearing the end of her bachelor’s degree at Concordia University, she developed an interest in molecular biology research and this, combined with receiving an NSERC in her final year to do a master's degree, veered her off the vet school path and towards a career in research. With her early interests still in mind, she completed a master's degree in veterinary microbiology at Guelph. Having just conducted independent research for two years, she decided that she wanted to end up with a career where she didn’t have a boss – this meant earning a Ph.D. She obtained a Ph.D in microbiology from the University of Toronto.

What's Next?
She was unsure about what to do next. She had been a teacher’s assistant during graduate school, but was terrified to teach in front of a class, which would be required as a professor. So she applied to all the pharmaceutical companies in the area between her two thesis defenses that were required to finally graduate. An unexpected opportunity came when an undergraduate student told her about a job posting at Ryerson Polytechnic Institute requesting a faculty member with a focus on microbiology. After a bit of hesitation she decided to apply, and three days later she received a call from the chair of the department she’d applied to asking if she could come by that afternoon for a chat about the position. She took a quick look at her outfit and decided she was dressed appropriately enough for the meeting. It turned out they’d already hired someone for the position, but they needed someone for extra teaching duties on contract. She was still going for an interview at the pharmaceutical company Connaught Laboratories so she agreed to TA one afternoon per week.

How to Decide?
After the interview with Connaught she returned there to give a seminar on her Ph.D. work, and admitted being terribly nervous for this. At around the same time there was a new posting at Ryerson for a microbiologist. She talked to someone there that had just been hired and he said the hiring package was good and the position was unionized (unlike at other universities, including U of T). She applied for this position and had her interview two days before her final thesis defense. She was required to give a lecture about what she would bring to the department – Ryerson at this point was just starting to move more towards research. She presented in front of a panel of six people and one of their questions was, “What came first, DNA or RNA?”. She countered with, “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” – they seemed satisfied. The next day, while still waiting for the Connaught offer, the chair of the department at Ryerson called to offer her the position. She had planned to say, “I need two weeks to think about it” but her excitement got the better of her and she jumped in with a “yes” right away. Two weeks later while visiting her old lab at U of T Connaught called with a job offer. She turned them down.

Good Choice
She feels that joining Ryerson was a good decision for her in the long run. The school’s research program was just starting to build and the institute became a university in 1993. It was less competitive at the time to get tenure, compared to other universities, but that has since changed. The research progressed more slowly than at bigger schools because there were no graduate programs, but they did have undergraduates doing some of the research. In 2000 they introduced their own graduate programs, but not in microbiology – the closest was a master's program in environmental and applied science management. They’ve since introduced two new master's programs (pending final approval) in biomedical physics and molecular science to begin in the fall of 2006, which means the hiring of more professors. The school still did not have the resources and research infrastructure inherent in larger universities, but despite this most of the professors at Ryerson had NSERC grants and Dr. Gilbride learned to conduct microbiology research with few resources.

And Now?
In her department (Chemistry and Biology) people are hired with either a research focus or a teaching focus, but the people in the research stream still do a significant amount of teaching. She teaches three courses per year (also coordinating the labs related to these) and coordinates a fourth year thesis course. She once told me that to this day she still gets nervous before a lecture, but as a former student I’d have to say I never would have guessed it. The average class at Ryerson in the 2nd year has about 80 students and in 4th year about 40 students. 250 students were admitted into 1st year last September – they later split off into the different programs within the faculty. The school itself has 20,000 day students and 50,000 continuing education students.

How About Ryerson?
Even though Dr. Gilbride got a position fresh out of grad school, these days Ryerson likes to see Postdoc experience with relevant research on a CV. They used to look for industry experience, but not so much anymore. The department has a large environmental focus (air, water, soil etc.) and a focus on surfaces (cellular, wood, adhesives etc.). If you’re thinking of applying one day, keep an eye on the changes at Ryerson through their website and other news sources. If they’ve not placed an ad, they’re probably not looking to hire anyone at the moment, but if you send a resume anyway it’ll get filed and they’ll pull it out when they are looking. They post for positions in the Globe and Mail, but the careers page on the Ryerson website might not get updated fast enough, so keep your eye on the newspapers. To get an idea of your chances, there were 80 applicants for the last position posted – five people got interviews and one got offered the job. The second favorite got offered a limited-term faculty position. So, as in Dr. Gilbride's case, if you don't get the first position you tried for, be patient - the next one could be for you.

Posted by Susan at January 7, 2006 10:58 PM
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