Guest blog by Julien Sénécal

Originally posted on the CDRD blog, July 10, 2014

At CDRD, we value the importance of science education, outreach and promotion of young scientific innovation.  This year, we were proud to be national sponsors of the Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada (SBCC).  Several of our scientists were pleased to have met with the participants and sat on the regional judging panel for the BC stage of the competition.  They were overwhelmed with the in-depth scientific knowledge that these young scientists displayed, as was our President and CEO, Karimah Es Sabar when she met the National Finalists in Ottawa in May.  Julien Sénécal, one of the top-five finalists took the time to write about his experience of SBCC 2014, and why such initiatives are so important in nurturing young scientists.  Well done to Julien and all participants in this year’s competition.  We look forward to SBC 2015.  Enjoy!

By Julien Sénécal……

In the Fall of 2013, I was offered the opportunity to partake in the Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada, 2014 competition and to conduct my research at the Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research in the area of HIV.  Here is my story:

Initially, the Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada (SBCC) was presented to me as a two weeks winter internship. It is only later that I discovered what was really entailed in the SBCC, and the great opportunity I had to conduct my research in a medical laboratory with state-of-the-art equipment, and work at the forefront of technology alongside expert scientists. Personally, I have a strong interest in science, and scientific research is a passion. To have the opportunity to develop a project and to realize it is in itself what motivated me to participate in the SBCC — not to mention the tremendous amount of knowledge gathered throughout the competition.

My mentor first introduced me to his Post-Doctoral Fellow who took the time to discuss the project and its development. Similarly, the laboratory team were very easy-going and welcomed me as a colleague. Firstly, I helped to establish a solid protocol to use our bacterial defense system, CRISPR/Cas9, to fight against HIV. In order to bring me up to speed, numerous lecture hours were required and it is partly what increased my knowledge of science and everything surrounding it.

It was demanding at some point to manage school and lab hours, but after all these hours, which now seem to have lasted only a few days, I was in front of the jury, proud to present my results. The judges were very comprehensive and asked many questions linked to the methods and possible amelioration. Even concerning things that I have not thought of, which gave me new perspectives on many parts of my research.

In the end, what really makes the SBCC such an amazing experience is the practical and theoretical know-how you gather throughout the whole competition. Learning about the projects of the other competitors is also a great experience. After all, everybody is there to share their love for scientific research and what makes it so great!

Something I think is important to mention in the whole process of the BioGENEius Challenge is that it would not be possible without the help of both regional and national sponsors. These sponsors allow students, such as me, the possibility to gather first-hand laboratory experience by endorsing the SBCC. It enables us to gain scientific knowledge by conducting research in a laboratory and reading scientific literature, thus increasing our passion for scientific research. As an example, it would not have been possible to have BioGENEius in Quebec without the endorsement of the Projet Seur. Sponsors such as The Centre for Drug Research and Development, who were a national sponsor this year, allow us to live a “once in a lifetime” experience and meet many other young scientists and also experienced scientists to start building our network. Thank you to all the regional and national sponsors, it means a lot to us to have your endorsement!

About Julien Sénécal:

I am an 18-year-old student. I graduated high school in 2013 where I attended a program enriched in science. I will graduate College in 2015 in the International Baccalaureate program at the Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf. Having always been interested in science; microbiology and immunology to be precise, it is the path I will follow at University and do further graduate studies in the same field. All of which is to pursue a research career. Since my childhood, my parents, teachers, friends, etc. have all been there to help me with anything from school topics to personal interests, even learning with me at some point. This help and the keen interest maintained throughout high school lead to me graduating with the Governor General’s Academic Medal in hand.

Previously a guide at the Allan Brooks Nature Centre in British Columbia, during the summer of 2012, I now work in a research laboratory on HIV. The opportunity began with the Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada (SBCC); an international biotechnology competition with regional and national qualifications. I ranked top 5 in Canada, which I believe is great, especially knowing I made it with only three months of research. Now pursuing a different research project at the same laboratory, I intend to participate in the SBCC next year.

Other than science, I have practiced guitar and have been a swimmer for many years. I love to help others, observed throughout all the volunteer hours done, and this has led to lifeguard certifications. Being a lifeguard allowed me to ensure a safe environment for swimmers, while also allowing me to swim at the same time. When I was two years old, my parents introduced me to the great substance we call water, and since then, they consider me a living fish when it comes to swimming.