Moncton cancer research institute unearths talent through student wage subsidies

woman working on spectrometer

You wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the Atlantic Cancer Research Institute (ACRI) operates in research and development related to cancer. It’s fairly obvious just from the name of the institute. So, why does this article about the Moncton, New Brunswick organization’s experiences with BioTalent Canada’s Student Work Placement Program (SWPP) begin with a quote more closely related to geology?

“After two years of participation in (SWPP), we are thrilled to report that we discovered at least one true gem,” says ACRI Researcher Dr. David Barnett, Ph. D.

Of course, Dr. Barnett is not talking about a literal precious gem. He’s referring to ACRI SWPP participant EmmaRae Murphy. EmmaRae, who is from the New Brunswick village of Petiticodiac, is a recent Mount Allison University graduate. She finished with a Bachelor of Science with an Honors in Chemistry and a minor in Biochemistry.

According to Dr. Barnett, EmmaRae is poised to make a significant scientific impact for many years to come. For her part, she feels fortunate to have been a SWPP participant and ACRI intern.

“SWPP gave me the opportunity to experience the laboratory field in a career setting,” says EmmaRae. “Being able to work with someone like Dave, who is so knowledgeable in the field of analytical chemistry, has

provided me with a greater understanding of the work and what to expect as my career progresses.”

The importance of recruitment in Atlantic Canada

The overarching goal at ACRI is to better understand and detect cancer. The institute works hard to develop the analytical tools needed by others to pursue collective goals on a global scale. A major component to the success of ACRI, and the cancer research industry as a whole, is its ability to identify, recruit and develop highly skilled research professionals to ensure the continuation of this important work.

This is even more important in Atlantic Canada. According to BioTalent Canada’s recent research brief—Academic Bonds: Examining the ties that bind STEM grads to their school—70% of Atlantic-region graduates were still working in the region three years after graduation. For reference, that’s compared to 92% from Western Canada and Territories, 90% from Ontario, and 92% in Quebec.

Dr. Barnett happens to be an example of an Atlantic-Canadian who studied in New Brunswick and moved to Ottawa after graduating. But he ultimately returned to Atlantic Canada.

“The company I worked for was sold and relocated to California,” explains Dr. Barnett. “After declining the opportunity to move stateside I was fortunate to find an opportunity to return to my home province at the Atlantic Cancer Research Institute where my research has been able to flourish since September of 2007.”

As a non-profit organization, ACRI relies on programs like SWPP—and the funds that come along with it—to attract young, talented minds like EmmaRae. It helps build the relationship early and increase the likelihood that that person will remain in the region.

“SWPP offers a critical mechanism for our Institute to engage emerging prospective research professionals,” says Dr. Barnett. “We find that youth often bring renewed curiosity, excitement and energy to our organization. Often the greatest byproduct of engaging and training young researchers is, ironically, the growth and development of the senior scientist.”

SWPP participants at ACRI are initially relied upon for research while they learn the meticulous planning processes at ACRI. But ultimately, they’re tasked with conceiving of new experiments as their work evolves.

EmmaRae works as an assistant researcher in ACRI’s Mass Spectrometry lab where a large focus is on the analytical tools and method development needed to diagnose, treat and monitor cancer.

“I think my experiences at ACRI have made a huge impact on my academic and professional career,” says EmmaRae.  “One of the more notable achievements has been the opportunity to publish one confirmed paper with a few others that are in the process. That is something I did not expect.”

Some other notable accomplishments of ACRI SWPP participants include:

  • A fundamental change in how ACRI conducts quantitative chemical assays by liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry.
  • The development of a multiplexed online method for the optimization of enzymatic chemical assays and derivatization reactions.
  • Testing, characterization and iterative design of novel prototypes for instrumental chemical analysis.

“Financial support from BioTalent Canada has significantly enhanced the timelines for tackling these projects and the competencies of our recruits have made them successful,” explains Dr. Barnett.

The process is quick and efficient

BioTalent Canada places great emphasis on ensuring the process for employers and participants applying for SWPP is seamless. Dr. Barnett has been working with BioTalent Canada for a couple of years now and has had nothing but positive experiences.

“The hiring and recruitment process is simple and flexible to the needs of our organization,” says Dr. Barnett. “We recognize that individuals are unique in terms of skills, interests, attitude and work ethic. The SWPP program provides a low-risk forum to assess these attributes in the work environment.”

EmmaRae had had a similarly good experience working with the team at BioTalent Canada.

“My experience working with BioTalent Canada was always positive,” she explains. “Any time there was a question or concern they were able to answer and help. Now, I subscribe to the emails where they send useful information about and opportunities within the scientific community.”

ACRI has hired one of the three SWPP participants full-time. The other two are still completing their undergraduate programs.

To apply for SWPP, or any other of BioTalent Canada’s wage subsidy programs, visit You never know where you may unearth your own precious gems.

Funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Student Work Placement Program.