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Beyond your imagination: Finding your dream job through science

When Lauren Bergman recalls the path that led to her dream job, she admits there was a time when she didn’t know the job even existed.

Growing up in Vancouver, she always enjoyed science, so she registered in the University of Victoria’s Biology program.

“That’s when I realized that I was studying alongside a lot of pre-med students, and it was a very competitive environment. While I knew I wanted to stay in the field of science, I realized it just wasn’t quite the right fit,” she says.

She kept exploring and fell upon the little-known combined Bachelor of Science in Biology & Earth and Ocean Sciences program. The program was so small, she was one of just three students in her graduating class!

Although she still wasn’t sure what career she was preparing for, Lauren explored various aspects of her field through co-op placements. These included studying new varieties of strawberries and raspberries on an Agriculture and Agri-food Canada experimental farm in the Vancouver area, studying the effects of mountain pine beetle on the lodge pole pine forests in British Columbia and Alberta with Natural Resources Canada, and finally, radon research at Health Canada’s Radiation Protection Bureau in Ottawa.

“I moved to Ottawa for that co-op term just to try living in a new place. I ended up really loving the area, the people and the workplace,” she says. “Once I finished my degree in 2009, I learned of a potential job opening in that office, so I packed up and moved to Ottawa hoping that things would work out.”

“I joined Health Canada permanently that fall, working in the area of human health risk assessment in the context of environmental assessments and radon research.”

Lauren’s dream job became reality in 2016, when she became a Radiation Coordinator Specialist in Health Canada’s Nuclear Emergency and Preparedness Response Division.

There, she is responsible for working with partners at the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, Environment and Climate Change Canada and in the provinces to conduct modeling to determine the potential radiological human health consequences of a nuclear emergency and to help develop strategies to address the consequences.

Strategies could include protective actions such as evacuation, sheltering, temporary relocation and food restrictions. Stable iodine thyroid blocking is also an effective strategy, where people at immediate risk can take potassium iodine pills in order to saturate their thyroid and protect it from the radioactive iodine emitted during an incident.

Lauren also helped with the revision of Health Canada’s national guidance on these protective actions following the lessons-learned from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident.

She has worked with international partners including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to develop guidance on protection strategies and recently assisted with the delivery of an IAEA regional workshop on this topic in Fukushima prefecture, Japan.

“At no point in my studies and early work experience was it clear to me what career path I wanted to take,” she says. “There are so many opportunities for women in STEM that most people aren’t aware of. If you work hard, follow your passions and take on the opportunities that present themselves, you can end up doing things that you not only enjoy but are beyond what you ever imagined possible!”

Let’s draw attention to the incredible work of women in science! This article is part of a month-long series celebrating women in science, from International Day of Women and Girls in Science (February 11) to International Women’s Day (March 8). For even more articles about amazing women working in science, head over to the Canadian STEM Femmes blog.

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