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An interview with Gaël FortinDate: 04/04/2022
You’re currently a doing a PhD in the biology of cancer, could you tell us more about it? How’s your day-to-day, at work?
During my PhD, I focus on a very precise type of cancers : blood cancers. This type of cancer, that we call leukemia, mainly affects the elderly and medical doctors have no efficient medicine to give to the patients to cure them. However, within the group of leukemias, one of them is unique for two reasons : 1) it always starts the same way for all patients and 2) we have found a treatment that cures 99% of patients! This is great but… We do not know how this treatment works which is both embarrassing and very exciting. My work aims at understanding why this medicine is so powerful on this particular disease. Indeed, once we will know how it works, we may be able to use the same mechanisms to cure patients that have other types of leukemia.
There is no typical day of work because each day is different from the others. An important part of my work is to use mice that develop leukemia and try to cure them using different strategies. By modifying the leukemias I work on, I can understand how the medicine kills them and cure the mice. I also do a lot of computer work to analyze the experiments I have done. Both performing the experiments and analyzing them can take weeks!
How did you decide to become a scientist? Did you get inspired by anyone or anything in particular?
It may sound cheesy, but I always wanted to become a scientist. When I was 6, I wanted to be a chemist! I spent my childhood asking dozens of questions to my parents and my teachers. Once in high school, I discovered what the job of researcher was like and I loved it. I decided to follow this path and I am now a (young) researcher!
I did not have the chance to know scientists when I was younger so my main inspirations were my science teachers. Later, in college, I got inspired by the researchers that used to teach us lessons.
What’s your favourite part of your everyday work?
Its diversity! Each day is different. I always have the opportunity to discover new things and acquire new knowledge.
What’s the biggest challenge you feel that you (and/or people in similar positions to yours) face today?
Academic research is difficult. There is a lot of pressure to publish science whatever it takes. This can leads to misinformation, result tinkering… Funding and permanent positions are also rare.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learnt so far?
To enjoy the journey! Whatever your plan for life is, you can be sure that it will not go as planned. Anticipating the future is impossible so I prefer to take the opportunities that I have and to enjoy every day.
Why are you interested in communicating science to students?
My life motto is simple : learn and share. I acquire knowledge in my work and love sharing it to audiences. Passing on science is always a challenge but more than that I think it is our duty, as scientists, to bring this knowledge to everybody so that our work can fully benefit to our societies.
Are you involved in any other projects, apart from Lecturers Without Borders, related to science outreach? If so, could you tell us more about them?
I am involved in a variety of science communication actions. For example, I have participated in the French program “Apprentis chercheurs” to host students (15-17 years old) in my laboratory. I have also presented my work and what being a researcher means to high school students. I also had the chance to be interviewed in a two-hour show hosted on Twitch to talk about my PhD project (it had a lot of fun!)… I also plan to produce my own science communication content in the coming year (podcast or videos).
Outside your career, what do you enjoy doing?
Even outside of my career, I enjoy science. I love biology but also physics, history, mathematics… I also host a blog (smartjeunes.com) and a podcast (3,9) to help students in their daily lives.