Head of Genome Sciences, Associate Professor in Human Genetics
McGill University and Genome Quebec Innovation Centre
ASHG: If you could go back to when you were a trainee, what is one piece of advice you would give yourself for your current career?
Dr. Ragoussis: Decide early on whether you want a career in academia, industry, or as a professional. This is not always easy to do and I would advise to gain work experience in a range of settings.
Once decided, for a career in academia, the best course is to get good grades that will allow one to obtain scholarships for postgraduate studies. Then choose an inspiring subject to work on. For me this is the most important point, because in order to obtain a PhD, the drive has to come mainly from within. During PhD, attend national and international meetings to start networking and getting a picture of what the developments are and the direction towards which the field is moving.
The first postdoc is key as the way to get there: Select the lab with the best reputation and obtain a postdoctoral fellowship, so that you have independence and the respect of your supervisor. Once you start, try to develop supervisory skills and help PhD students. A key aim is high-profile publication. Then, the foundations for a career in academia are set.
For industry, I would recommend to join as early as possible, or immediately after PhD.
ASHG: What are your favorite and least favorite parts of your job?
Dr. Ragoussis: Conceiving new projects, designing experiments, and following them in the lab. I love the project discussions with my staff and other scientists, the creativity and buzz one gets through the exchange of ideas. I enjoy trouble shooting and the thought process linked to it.
I very much enjoy teaching students and in particular PhD level students. Helping them to review published work and their own is a fulfilling experience! Examining a good candidate is also very rewarding!
My least favorite part is completing paperwork and reports. Academic committees can also be very tedious at times.
ASHG: What do you think the future holds for the field of genetics?
Dr. Ragoussis: Genetics will move towards more intensive clinical applications: Very efficient decoding of an individual’s genetic information at the sequence level in terms of cost and effort will provide clinical geneticists with an array of tools to counsel families and individuals. It will also become standard in diagnosing newborns with congenital anomalies.
Development of more sophisticated data mining approaches and new statistical tools will increase the number of traits that can be associated with one’s genetic information. It will require intensive work on regulatory and policy issues in order to harness how far predictions will go in terms of them being available and how to protect such information.
Furthermore, integration of the DNA sequence information with other functional data and epigenetic marks in order to predict genotype-phenotype correlations as well as environmental influences is currently a major challenge, and I would expect this to become an even more intensive research topic.
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