Jean Michel Lauzon

Pursue what you like and be honest with yourself about what you don't like.
Product Manager
Ottawa, Canada
Vancouver, Canada
Inorganic catalysis for reducing waste in organic reaction

Where and what is your current position?

As a product manager, I am responsible for taking in all the information from customers and the market and translating that to the engineers who build the product. Our team talks directly to customers, to partners who sell our products, to analysts who follow the market, and then all the internal stakeholders as well. This communication involves building marketing materials, performing virtual demos of the product, and attending conferences to have personal interactions.

Is your current career path as you originally intended?

No at all. I knew partway into my PhD that I did not want to be an academic but didn't really have much direction after that. Neither of my supervisors had many contacts outside of the academic realm but they did find a postdoctoral fellowship for me working with the Canadian forest products industry. This exposed me to performing research within an economic framework, which was fascinating. During my postdoc I worked with another professor to spin-out a cancer imaging company and once that ran its course I worked at a start-up incubator helping companies expand into international markets. Now I work in product management for a software company. I'm not sure I could have planned that path even if I'd wanted to!

How does this job relate to your graduate degree?

At the surface, my work in a software company is completely unrelated to my chemistry work but at a deeper level, there are a lot of similarities. My graduate studies taught me how to learn quickly and deeply about a specific subject and then communicate that knowledge, but also its importance to a wide audience. The ability to seek out useful information, digest it so its understandable, and then demonstrate that value of your findings is the common thread between being a product manager and doing a PhD.

What motivated you to pursue graduate work at UBC?

I went to Mount Allison, a small university in New Brunswick that doesn't have a graduate program so the undergraduate students do all the research. For a small university they had an active chemistry research program and I had the opportunity to perform research, publish papers, travel to particle accelerators in the UK and TRIUMF in Vancouver, and be a teaching assistant. One of my supervisors, Laurel Schafer, came to a conference we were hosting and gave a fantastic talk so I approached my professors for advice. They all said she was an amazing up-and-coming talent and I would be lucky to work for her. I asked if I could join her group and 4 months later I started my graduate studies at UBC.

What did you enjoy the most about your time as a graduate student at UBC?

The people I met, both in a professional and personal fashion, were incredible. That goes for the faculty and staff as well, not just the other students. The access to skiing didn't hurt either.

What are key things you did that contributed to your success?

Being flexible helps to make sure you're not limiting yourself. That's not to say you should do whatever is available but rather not be afraid to take a few steps to get where you want to go. You might find something even better along the way.

What is your best piece of advice for current graduate students preparing for their future careers?

Pursue what you like and be honest with yourself about what you don't like. I felt a little trapped since I didn't want to become a researcher but the whole system is set up to train you to become a researcher. I found talking to people that were research-adjacent helped me discover just how many options were available outside the university. I was surprised at how giving people with their time even though they had no idea who I was. Taking the time to get off campus to go talk to people was refreshing and they always were able to suggest someone else I should talk to.

What do you like and what do you find challenging about your current position?

We have a small team for the size of our organization so each of us gets to participate in lots of different work activities rather than the same process every day. It's similar to my lab group at UBC where we all had a particular function on paper but if someone need help to get something done, everyone would chip in. I've learned I prefer small groups and many different types of assignments. That being said, you have to constantly learn new techniques which can be challenging as you never develop a true expertise.