Chat With Us: Dr. Edna Matta-Camacho shares interview advice

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Chat with us!

By Icten Meras, Hermine Counil & Léa Lescouzères

In the latest installment of our Chat With Us series, we met with Dr. Edna Matta-Camacho, an Assessment Officer at the Therapeutic Products Directorate at Health Canada and co-founder and general director of STEM sin Fronteras Fondation.

Graduate students and postdocs from all over Canada logged in to hear more about Dr. Matta-Camacho’s postgraduate career path. Many of the audience members were preparing to take the next steps in their career journey, and her story sparked many questions and discussions.

Tips and tricks

During her presentation, Edna underlined the importance of seizing opportunities outside of academia and networking within and outside your field, citing our “Chat With Us” event as a great way to do both!

Edna also highly recommended volunteering, as it is a great way to go beyond your comfort zone as you test and develop your soft skills. 

Besides volunteering and networking events, Edna also took advantage of LinkedIn to grow her network within the government sector. Having obtained her Ph.D. from McGill University, she searched for McGill alumni who were working in government. After connecting, she was able to learn about their positions and learn from their experiences before she initiated her career change.

First steps into Health Canada

To get yourself noticed in Health Canada, Edna recommends checking the diploma required for the job in question. Some jobs, such as clinical assessment officer, require a Ph.D. from a relevant field, while others do not. 

Your experience is also an essential component of your application and can help demonstrate why you are a good fit for the position. When you are preparing your CV, think about all the work you have done as a graduate student and highlight the pieces most relevant to the position you are applying for — and don’t forget to include what you have done as a volunteer! 

Certifications can also be an important part of your career hunt outside of academia. Edna spoke about how, although she is a biochemist at heart, she wanted to learn more about pharmacology and took some certifications in order to round out her skillset. 

Preparing for the interview

Edna also shared advice on how to prepare for an interview. When applying for a new position, she recommended researching the company and the department with three questions in mind:

  • What is the goal of the company in Canada?
  • How can you contribute to the company as a scientist?
  • What are the specialties that you can bring to the team?

The interview is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate your communication skills. If you have been part of a collaborative project, you can also showcase your ability to work successfully in an interdisciplinary team. 

There are questions that can often be expected in interviews — how you deal with conflict and prioritize deadlines being two of the most common — and Edna shared how thinking about these ahead of time will help you make connections to your experience and ensure you are prepared for them in advance.

Opportunities at Health Canada

Do you know Health Canada offers internships for students? They are an excellent way to get experience in a government position and increase your chances of getting hired when you apply for permanent positions. 

Opportunities in Health Canada range from remote to hybrid and in-person. When you are ready to start applying for a position at Health Canada, Edna suggests setting up email alerts for the positions you are interested in. Don’t apply any filters at first, so you can get an idea of what types of positions are available, and then narrow them down based on your educational background and the career path you hope to enter. 

However, entering into one position does not set the trajectory for the rest of your career — Health Canada encourages movement between departments, so even if you start in regulatory affairs, you can still make the switch to science policy. 

Transitioning out of academia

Going from a lab to a government position can be overwhelming, but do not let this feeling stop you from going after the career of your dreams. After Edna started at Health Canada, she was provided with orientation packages, introductory webinars, training and a mentor who helped her navigate her position for the first six months. 

Edna’s mentor ensured she understood how to navigate the systems within a governmental organization, went over the reporting systems and data entry, and ensured she had everything she needed to be successful in her role. 

Edna also highlighted the fact that she always felt the support of her colleagues and manager and never felt alone. At the end of the day, their work is a team effort, and she knows her team members, who are experts in their fields, are always making the best decisions for Canada. 

Keep in touch

We hope that these tips and tricks from Dr. Edna Matta-Camacho will help you during your job search, and we warmly thank Edna for her time and advice! Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn or sign up for our newsletter to get updates on when the next Chat With Us event will be happening.

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