If you’re wondering what type of career paths are possible for a graduate in environmental sciences and analytical chemistry, you might want to talk to Dr. Kelly LeBlanc.
The Trent Ph.D. graduate is a research officer at the National Research Council (NRC) Canada in the Inorganic Chemical Metrology group.
“The Metrology Research Centre is Canada’s National Metrology Institute – basically, Canada’s measurement experts,” explains Dr. LeBlanc. “It’s responsible for Canada’s time signal and played an important role in the recent redefinition of the kilogram.”
As part of the Metrology team, Dr. LeBlanc’s work focuses on the production of Certified Reference Materials (CRMs).
“It’s been an interesting journey to go from a student who used CRMs as part of my analysis protocol to a researcher on the team who develops these materials, and to learn about all of the processes involved in ensuring their quality,” she says.
Joint undergrad program led to interest in doctoral studies
That journey started in 2007 when Dr. LeBlanc first came to Trent as an undergraduate student. She knew she was interested in the sciences—but was not quite sure how those interests fit into an area of study.
Then she discovered the Environmental Chemistry B.Sc. program, a joint program between the Department of Chemistry and the Environmental and Resource Sciences program. “It was the perfect balance of analytical chemistry and environmental science,” says Dr. LeBlanc. “The hands-on experience in chromatography and mass spectrometry I got during my undergraduate research, combined with the knowledge of analytical chemistry, was something I could apply to real-world environmental issues.”
After graduating in 2011, she continued at Trent in the Environmental and Life Sciences Graduate (ENLS) Program specializing in Trace Contaminant Toxicology and Chemistry, completing first her M.Sc. and then her Ph.D. in 2016. “What I really enjoyed about both of these programs was their interdisciplinary nature,” says Dr. LeBlanc. “While my main focus was analytical chemistry, I still had the opportunity to take courses relating to other subject areas like environmental science, geography, and biology.”
Two months after completing her doctorate, Dr. LeBlanc started working as a research associate at the National Research Council (NRC) Canada in the Inorganic Chemical Metrology group, until she was offered her current position last year.
Love at first sight with initial campus visit
Thinking back to her time at Trent, Dr. LeBlanc remembers falling in love with Trent as soon as she saw the campus.
“I remember the first time I visited, driving through the campus along Nassau Mills Road and thinking this is exactly where I want to be.” The more she learned about the University, the surer she became of her choice.
“I particularly liked the small class sizes, allowing for much more personalized learning,” she says. In addition, the relatively small size of her program meant she could work one-on-one with professional researchers at the Water Quality Centre, further enhancing the personalized learning experience. The faculty and staff at the WQC taught her not only how to conduct research and operate instruments, but also how to troubleshoot issues that arise during day-to-day activities in a lab—skills she uses in her current job.
“This sort of training just isn’t possible in institutions with many more students all competing for resources and instrument time,” says Dr. LeBlanc.
The combination of smaller class size, access to the staff and resources at the Water Quality Centre and the opportunities for research in analytical chemistry, were all key in Dr. LeBlanc’s decision to continue her studies at Trent.
“The Trent Water Quality Centre is one of the best analytical chemistry facilities in Canada, and I learned more while there than I could have at most other universities,” she says.
Key faculty mentorships, influences, and interactions
Just as Trent’s resources, programs and facilities were important to Dr. LeBlanc’s academic and career success, so too were the faculty interactions.
She speaks highly of her Ph.D. supervisor, Dr. Dirk Wallschläger, whom she credits as being a key mentor during her time at Trent. “Dirk taught me about research and about what can be discovered by asking questions and then putting in the time, work and effort to answer them,” she says. “He also helped me to become more confident in my abilities and proud of my accomplishments, things I’ve always struggled with.”
Another key mentor was Dr. Raymond March, professor emeritus, one of the leading experts in the field of mass spectrometry. “When I took his mass spectrometry course during my first year of the ENLS program, there were only two other students enrolled, making the class more of a conversation than a lecture,” she says. “I think small program size and the personalized learning offered at Trent is extremely beneficial to fostering these types of faculty-student interactions.”
Dr. LeBlanc recently contributed to a peer-reviewed journal article in collaboration with her Trent Ph.D. supervisor Dr. Wallschläger and others.