GCI gets behind-the-scenes look at GreenCentre Canada
September 20th, 2017
by Dan Haves
This summer, the Green Chemistry Initiative (GCI) at U of T's Department of Chemistry made a visit to GreenCentre Canada. The group of nine graduate students were in Kingston for a crash course on the transition from academia to industry in green chemistry. They learned from experts in the field on everything from product development to patents and intellectual property. We spoke with PhD student and GCI member Julia Bayne about the day.
What was the rationale behind organizing this career day?
Most graduate students are unfamiliar with green chemistry and tend to be unaware of potential careers for chemists other than academia or research positions in industry. Additionally, most students find it difficult to make the connection between academia and industry and this transition tends to cause a lot of people anxiety given their unfamiliarity with the latter. With this in mind, we, the Green Chemistry Initiative at U of T, wanted to plan a career day that would give students the opportunity to learn about other possible career options and to see the inner-workings of a successful company, whose mandate is built around green chemistry principles and sustainability.
Can you share a little bit of what you learned about GreenCentre and the work they do?
GreenCentre Canada is a one-stop shop for the commercialization of green chemistry technologies. They have a very hands-on approach to technology development and support the creation and development of green chemistry-based companies. They work with academics and entrepreneurs to commercialize their discoveries. As well, they provide support for established companies and help further develop research and development. They have a very diverse group of employees: experienced chemists, commercial experts and business professionals. Their unique skill set and talent has allowed them to develop new green chemistry-based technologies, support existing ones and create small businesses.
Were there any take-aways from the day in terms of potential career paths you may not have known about or some that you learned more about?
I think most people believe that in order to pursue a career outside of your field of study that you need to go back to school, which for graduate students who have been in school for at least ten years, can be intimidating. However, one thing that stood out to me from the visit was that you don’t necessarily have to have a degree or years of experience in a field outside of chemistry to hold a position that requires less chemistry. For instance, with a chemistry background, starting in a research position will definitely help develop your skills as a scientist, but this does not mean you can only be a research scientist. We learned that if you apply yourself, if you ask for additional responsibilities, if you teach yourself about another field you're interested in, you can prepare yourself to change positions/careers and move away from a laboratory position - if you want. We learned that our chemistry degrees are valuable, not only for researcher positions, but also for leadership roles and business development roles. For most chemistry graduate students, these positions may seem unattainable with only research experience in your niche field. However, I found it interesting and encouraging to learn that the main separator is on-the-job-training and the passion and willingness to learn. Moreover, I learned that careers outside of the laboratory - like management or business development roles - are not outside of our reach as chemists!
What excites you the most about where you see green chemistry going?
Green chemistry has been receiving an increasing amount of attention in the recent years and most people now understand and appreciate that green chemistry has the potential to change our world for the better by developing sustainable, prosperous and healthy communities. With an overwhelming increase in population and decrease in resources predicted for our future, we need everyone to be thinking about green chemistry and sustainability. We've seen green chemistry practices used throughout U of T and we have seen first-hand the benefits associated with these changes, including energy and cost savings and a smaller environmental footprint. And I hope this continues!
I am looking forward to seeing these practices being implemented more at the university level throughout Canada and then at the federal level. Being the first school in Canada to sign the Green Chemistry Commitment, U of T has taken a pledge to implement green chemistry principles and practices into the undergraduate and graduate curriculum, and I hope this becomes the standard for all universities. I'm excited to see all levels of academia, industry and government working together to implement more green chemistry into our society, I'm excited to see how green chemistry will impact our lives and I am looking forward to what the future will look like!
Julia is a 4th-year PhD student working in the Stephan Research Group. Her research is focused on the design of new phosphorous-based compounds for Lewis-acid catalysis and frustrated Lewis pair reactivity.