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Alumni Profile
Cynthia Leclerc Turcotte '93





Cynthia Leclerc Turcotte graduated with a biology major from Saint Michael�s College in 1993. She completed her Ph.D. at Yale University and is currently Manager of Sequencing Production at 454 Life Sciences, a Roche company, in Branford, CT.

What got you interested in your current field, and what led you down the path to where you are now? 

Unlike academic science, your topic of graduate study isn�t necessarily important when pursuing a career in industry.  It is more important to know how to plan and execute experiments and troubleshoot problems.  In graduate school, I always enjoyed learning new techniques and that has served me well in industry as our work is constantly evolving.  After completing my graduate degree, I began work as a scientist at CuraGen Corporation.  My job was to help develop a microarray screening test that would indicate whether a test drug would be damaging to the recipient.  After several years, I moved to 454 Life Sciences a next-gen sequencing company.  In my current position, I lead a team of 12 scientists who perform DNA sequencing for outside clients.  Some of my responsibilities include managing the client project through the different steps of the sequencing process, assigning daily production activities in order to meet project deadlines, troubleshooting problems when they occur and interacting with other scientists in the company to help launch new sequencing protocols to our clients. I really enjoy what I do as it is a nice balance of science, business and project management.

What experiences in the Saint Michael's College biology department prepared you for your career? 

Saint Michael�s College provided me with a strong foundation for my career as a research scientist.  The small class size and supportive faculty allowed me to really learn and understand the given topic.  The biology curriculum exposed me to different areas of science (cell and molecular biology, anatomy and physiology and environmental science) helping me determine my field of interest.  The curriculum also focused upon communication skills for biologists by teaching students how to read scientific journals and present data in public forums.  These skills have helped me through graduate school and in my present career.  In my senior year at SMC, I opted to do an independent research project.  The faculty advisor allowed me enough freedom to feel that the research was truly my own while simultaneously providing me with guidance that I needed.  This experience was a great introduction to graduate school. 

What options or opportunities do you see in your field for SMC biology graduates?

There are certainly job opportunities for SMC graduates in the biotech/pharmaceutical industry.  My lab group is mainly composed of recent college graduates.  I don�t expect an entry level research associate to walk on the job knowing everything but some basic lab skills are helpful.  It is important to be honest on your resume.  If a job candidate says he can do something, I expect that he can do it.  An entry level job in industry can certainly be a stepping stone to graduate/professional school as I�ve seen several people in my group move onto further studies after working for a few years.

Are there specific opportunities you think biology majors should pursue before graduation? 

Additional research experience outside of the mandatory lab requirements is always helpful whether you are applying for graduate school or a job.  You could accomplish this by finding a summer internship or by completing an independent research project.  Whichever route you choose, be sure to really understand your research.  In interviews and essays, you need to be able to speak intelligently and passionately about your outside research.  Unfortunately, I�ve met with some graduates who had done some really cool research but they didn�t really understand what they had done.

 Finally, what advice would you give current Saint Michael's College students interested in graduate study and/or specifically interested in your field?

After graduation, I would suggest working in a lab for a year or two.  I was lucky to find an academic lab environment that allowed me to have my own research project while simultaneously working on the larger group project.  I was up front with my supervisor that I wanted to go to graduate school and he was extremely supportive.  Working in an outside lab will not only give you additional research experience but will give you a feel for daily lab work.  Research is often a rollercoaster ride and it is extremely helpful to experience this before entering graduate school.





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