Alumni Stories: A Professional Career Built on the International Scene

GCI alumnus Patrick Nédellec shares with us his time at the GCI and what he is doing now.

How are you connected to the GCI? As a French student pursuing a Master’s degree at Paris VI (now Sorbonne University), I wanted to continue my studies in Canada as teaching in France was too theoretical at the time and I felt a need for international openness. Canada felt to me like a welcoming land that bridged the gap between Europe and the United States. My level of English was not the most brilliant then, so I leaned towards the city of Quebec where I did a Master’s degree in Biochemistry. With this experience, I joined the Department of Medicine, Division of Experimental Medicine of the McGill Cancer Center in 1991 (now the Goodman Cancer Institute, GCI) in the laboratory of Prof. Nicole Beauchemin. I made this decision based on my interest in working at the intersection of science and medicine, the international scientific recognition of the Goodman Cancer Institute and my wish to work in English. For the next 4 years, I worked on the characterization and functional study of murine bile glycoprotein (BGP) genes, a member of the carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) family. With the aim of eventually developing a mouse model for colon cancer development, I defined the genomic organization, regulation and expression pattern of the Bgp1 gene. During my thesis, we discovered two other related genes - Bgp2 and Bgp3 - bringing to three the number of Bgp genes in mice, while only one gene exists in humans. We demonstrated that the Bgp2 gene acts as an alternative receptor for murine hepatitis virus (MHV), while a phylogenetic analysis of the Bgp3 gene represents an evolutionary link between the murine Bgp gene family and Psg (Pregnancy specific gene). This study subsequently rendered possible the study of the Bgp1 gene in the process of tissue reorganization by genetic ablation of the gene.

What do you do now? In 1995, after my thesis, I wished to pursue my interest in receptor/virus interactions and joined the Pasteur Institute as a post-doctoral researcher in the Slow Viruses unit in the laboratory of Dr. Michel Brahic. I then started my career at the CNRS (the French National Centre for Scientific Research) as a research fellow and joined the Pitié-Salpétrière Hospital to begin research on a particular form of muscular dystrophy linked to a disturbance in the intracellular interactions of Desmin filaments. I developed an interdisciplinary approach (Cell Biology and Fluid Physics) for the determination of an intracellular viscosity index for patient cells. In 2003, after almost 10 years of research in molecular biology, I undertook a skills assessment with the aim of reorientating professionally towards supporting research. This assessment highlighted a strong taste for research administration, especially in its international dimension. I thus applied to the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs for a position as a scientific cooperation attaché in Copenhagen, then as an innovation attaché in Beijing. During this period, I became trained in the support of international research activities. In 2011, I returned to the CNRS as director of the CNRS office in Beijing, and eventually took over the management of the Department of International and European Relations at the Paris headquarters of the CNRS. In May 2021, I joined the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation as the Delegate for European and International Affairs. At the head of a department of more than 90 people, my mission is to deploy the European and international policies of the ministry.

One piece of advice that you would give to the next generation: Professional paths are becoming increasingly diverse and it is now rare to remain within the same framework all your life. In this context, I always tell young people that it is essential to clearly define your personal compass. For my part, the international support of research has been the compass with which I have oriented my choices. Very early on, I knew that I wanted to work in the field of international relations. My choice to study in Canada was the first of a series of choices guided by this compass. Today, at the head of the Delegation for European and International Affairs of the Ministry of Higher Education and Research, I feel that each of my choices led me to the place I currently occupy.

How has the training received at the GCI helped you become the professional you are? In addition to the scientific challenge of joining the GCI, I was quickly confronted with the challenge of working in English. Although I started my thesis with a linguistic learning curve, it was a deliberate choice that I don’t regret. I am very grateful to Prof. Beauchemin and her entire team for supporting me during my thesis and for teaching me rigor and professionalism. My career path would not have been the same without this experience. I am also very grateful to all the staff of the GCI at the time. I have very fond memories of their kindness towards me.

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