Career Interview: Eric Alan Shoubridge, PhD

Professor and Chair, Department of Human Genetics
Montreal Neurological Institute of McGill University

ASHG: What non-academic skills would you encourage trainees to develop to prepare for successfully running a lab? What specific skills have proved invaluable for you?

Dr. Shoubridge: One of the biggest challenges in running a lab is people management. Scientists, by their nature, often have rather distinct personalities and skill sets, and putting together a mix that functions seamlessly requires constant effort. As a PI one must develop leadership skills, be able to recognize, direct, and reward talent, manage disputes – whether personal or academic, and recognize and deal with conflicts as soon as they arise. I have probably left out a few other management issues, but these are the main ones.

My sense is that very few people are born with innate talent in any of these areas; certainly I was not, and had to learn on the job, often the hard way. So if I had to do it all again, I think that I would seek out leadership training courses that would better equip me to direct and inspire the most effective research team.

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. Shoubridge: Two pieces of advice: follow your passion and never stop doing experiments. I notice these days that many people try to position themselves to have a good looking CV -even though that may require them to make decisions that they might not otherwise have made- because they think that it will make them look better to future potential employers. Don’t do it; do what you love doing.

Early in my career, I was convinced that I had solved a particular metabolic pathway, and I when I finally got around to doing the experiment, I found that I was dead wrong. Keep doing experiments, you will always – I guarantee it – find something that you did not anticipate.

ASHG: What are your favorite and least favorite parts of your job?

Dr. Shoubridge: My favourite part of the job is discovering a new disease gene and figuring out the mechanism of pathogenesis. With the advent of NGS, genetic mutations are becoming ever easier to discover, and the real fun is to figure out how things work. Of course I must say that I live this thrill vicariously through my trainees who actually do the work.

The least fun part of the job is the constant hunt for research dollars. I certainly do not mind writing grant applications; it focuses the mind, but not when the process becomes akin to a lottery.

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