First-Ever Canadian Biofair a Huge Success

TORONTO--The first Canadian job fair specifically devoted to the life sciences took place last week, in what most people attending felt was a huge success. Entitled "The Biofair," the Toronto event was organized by Cortex Human Resources Inc. and funded by the federal government. Job-seekers and companies came from all over Canada, to meet and exchange information, job postings, and job applications.

François Blanchette, a Ph.D. student at the University of Sherbrooke, traveled over 725 kilometers to attend the event. He explains, "I owe a lot to the friend who told me about this [event, that he heard about] through his MRC [Medical Research Council] mailing; otherwise I would probably never know about it. I made the trip from Sherbrooke to Toronto especially for this biofair, and I don't regret it for a second." The reason for this enthusiasm was success in making inroads to finding a job: "I've made an excellent contact with a company that wants to start interviews for me in the fall," says Blanchette.

As might be expected in a fair with over 6000 participants and job-seekers and only 130 posted jobs, not everyone had the same luck. But even the students who didn't score jobs felt the event was useful. "There's a huge need for something like this. I think it's a wonderful idea," said Estee Buaron, a B.Sc. biology student at the University of Western Ontario. She thought the show revealed what many don't see until they've done their third postdoc: "For people like me who are just entering the field, it's a little scary to see so many people frantically looking for jobs. They're having a lot of trouble, a lot of them look like they've been searching for a while, and I hear them talking about their frustrations, and it worries me."

Michael Stinson, associate director of the Life Sciences Research Investments branch of the Medical Research Council (Canada), shared the same reserved optimism: "People are well dressed, well behaved, and have stood in line for hours very intent on acquiring information. This is a very impressive display of people. I just hope that there are sufficient jobs to be able to absorb them."

Although the large number of eligible job candidates and the relatively smaller number of postings discouraged many students, they were a boon for recruiters. Janet Simmons, manager of human resources at Base4 Bioinformatics, said, "It's been incredibly busy today. There are lineups. I've been standing here talking to people from the moment I got here to the end of the day." Although the small bioinformatics company was looking for computer programmers and software developers with life science skills rather than traditional bench scientists, they felt the fair was incredibly successful. "We really didn't know if we would get any relevant résumés of people coming by, and we've been surprised by the amount of programmers and software developers with a scientific background. It's great," said Simmons.

And for the candidates that couldn't find jobs working the bench? Well, Science's Next Wave was there too, handing out over 800 leaflets and letting people know about our resources for finding alternative careers. And after talking to many of the scientists at the fair, we shared the feelings of two of the people we interviewed: Michael Kalchman, managing director of Cortex HR and one of the main organizers of the event, who, after many hours of running around talking to exhibitors, fair attendees, speakers, and employees, said, "I think my feet hurt," and François Blanchette, a student who has seen too many of his friends 'go south' due to the lack of Canadian job opportunities, who said, "I hope, with time, that this event will put a dent in the brain drain."

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