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A rough overview of employment in Toronto's life sciences sector.
Here is a profile of the life sciences sector in Toronto, focusing on laboratory occupations. It’s shocking how little even job counsellors in employment services know about the sector. I’m no guru, but these people don’t even know the differences between related positions. Figured I may as well and make something useful out of my continued failure to make my degrees useful. This is heavily biased towards biomedical laboratory research, but I have tried to include other fields of biology such as ecology. There are some healthcare and teaching occupations listed here, but I feel those sectors would be better analyzed by someone else who knows them and deserve their own profiles. The National Occupation Classification or NOC
also maintains this separation by having healthcare occupations begin with 3 and education with 4, as opposed to 2 for natural sciences. Also excluded are positions which are primarily managerial, business, sales, or manufacturing trades (as opposed to technicians): these NOCs start with 0, 1, 6, and 9, respectively.
These listed organizations that have a heavy focus on life science (excluding certain sectors like food and cosmetics) are based in Canada (unless otherwise stated) and appear if I’ve seen a GTA-based posting of any of the positions listed here from the organization at least once since I started job searching in 2016. This criterion hopefully means that the organizations listed here are actively hiring, at least on a timescale that thinks 5 years ago is “recent”. This obviously does not include hidden jobs as this write-up is based on (mostly) transparent, publicly-available sources. The best job boards in terms of accessing organizational postings seem to be Indeed (widest net) and Eluta (local positions). This is not advertising for any company, so links are provided only if they provide additional information related to the jobs they offer. I welcome any additional contributions for things where I have little knowledge. And I hope this may inspire others to write about other industry sectors in Toronto to aid young people graduating from school and trying to establish a career in the post-Great Recession milieu. Let’s begin with an overview of the life sciences sector in Toronto according to a number of reports, available online as PDFs, in the grey literature. The latest one (though it cites 2016 and earlier sources) is the 2019 report published by the industry association Life Sciences Ontario. The concentration of the industry in the Greater Toronto Area means the impressions here are that of life sciences in Toronto as well. This industry that generates billions of dollars and thousands of jobs is mostly dominated by small (less than 10 employees) and medium (less than 100) enterprises. A 2016 Toronto Region Human Health and Sciences Cluster Action Plan reiterates these facts for the GTA itself in addition to marking out oncology, cardiology, and neurology as strengths.
The Ontario Bioscience Innovation Organization’s 2016 Industry Engagement Report, while acknowledging advantages such as a high proportion of university graduates, mentions weaknesses of the industry such as low investment capacity within Canada, with most funding being from public sources. The industry perspectives shown reveal that companies think “there are too many co-op and ‘new grad’ programs”, hinting at how useful these university programs really are, as the main hiring challenge for these companies is filling senior positions. This also potentially suggests a general unwillingness to invest in training their workforces, which is actually stated in the 2013 BioTalent Canada Labour Market Information Report. According to this document, firms in the report also tend to outsource talent requirements to other organizations in the GTA, Canada, US, and then from abroad. When they do recruit people into their workforces, they prefer to use informal methods such as personal contacts and employee referrals. One needs connections to have a good chance of securing a job in the industry.
Healthcare Hospitals and other organizations that focus on providing care to patients.
These hospitals, mostly found in the downtown area, maintain research institutes with close connections to universities such as U of T.
- St. Michael’s Hospital The odd one out of the downtown hospitals, being right next to the Eaton Centre. Most of its research activities are in the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute across Shuter. It has research programs in injury care, neuroscience, cardiovascular disease, orthopedics, imaging, urban health, and global health.
- Hospital for Sick Children (Sick Kids) With an eye towards children’s health, their main research programs are in the fields of cellular biology, developmental biology, genome biology, molecular medicine, neuroscience, translational medicine, and health evaluative services.
- University Health Network (UHN) The largest medical research network in Toronto, spread over a number of hospitals and research institutes. Most of the institutes are localized to a particular hospital, with the exception of the McEwen Stem Cell Institute at MaRS.
- Toronto General Hospital (TGH) Home of the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre, TGH’s research specialties include cardiovascular disease, organ transplantation, regenerative medicine, infectious diseases, autoimmunity disorders, psychosocial care, and health systems.
- Princess Margaret Hospital Specializes in cancer with its titular Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, with subspecialties in cancer imaging, computational medicine, genomics, immuno-oncology, structural biology, stem cells, and supportive care.
- Toronto Rehabilitation Institute KITE conducts research in the areas of prevention, restoration, enhanced participation and independent living.
- Toronto Western Hospital One of the major research hospitals outside the downtown core. The Krembil Research Institute focuses on research regarding diseases of the central nervous system, skeleton, and eyes.
- Mount Sinai Hospital The Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute has programs in molecular biology, stem cells, cancer genetics, metabolism, neurodevelopment, precision medicine, and population health.
- Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre The other major research hospital found way beyond downtown, over near Bayview and Eglinton. They have programs for brain, heart, cancer, trauma, orthopedics, rehabilitation, obstetrics, and veteran’s health.
- Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital Its research centre focuses naturally on childhood disabilities, both mental and physical.
- Baycrest Health Sciences The Rotman Research Centre focuses on the elderly brain, with [programs] dedicated to cognition, aging, dementia, and computational biology.
- Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) Toronto’s premier psychology research organization has three campuses at College, Queen, and Russel Streets. Their programs concern basic research, brain imaging, computational approaches, brain stimulation, personalized medicine, adult disabilities, youth issues, and public policy.
- Lifelabs Chain of diagnostic labs, possibly the largest in the GTA.
- Dynacare Another chain offering diagnostic services, based in Brampton.
- CReATe Fertility Centre Downtown fertility clinic.
- CHARM Fertility Fertility clinic in Etobicoke.
Positions Most research positions in the biological sciences correspond to NOC 2121 (“Biologists and related scientists”).
- Lab/Research Technician/Technologist Typically works in research labs. On paper the minimum is a B.Sc. but in practice prefers higher degrees with considerable experience (bare minimum of 1 year, more for higher grades), especially in specialized techniques such as flow cytometry. Animal handling positions may sometimes be a more specialized Animal/Veterinary Technologist/Technician (NOC 3213) position, requiring a veterinary degree. Note that this position is not the same as a Medical Laboratory Technician position (NOC 3211) that requires certifications.
With the increasing emphasis on data-driven approaches, computational and mathematical skills and experience are becoming crucial. Bioinformaticians have increased specializations in statistical approaches, requiring degrees in mathematics or computer science. Knowledge of programming languages (e.g. Python) and software (e.g. R, MATLAB) is valuable. Microbiologists focus on microorganisms, especially pathogens, and as such also find employment in food product manufacturers.
- Research Assistant While similar to Research Technicians, Research Assistants are typically more involved with clinical studies involving human subjects. Requirements are somewhat lesser, with a three-year college degree being acceptable, but at least 1 year of experience is generally required.
- Laboratory/Research CoordinatoManager Typically work in either larger lab groups or oversee core facilities shared by groups of researchers. They use their technical expertise to assist other members of research groups in specialized techniques/equipment. Requires post-secondary degrees and 2-7 years of experience.
- Staff Scientist/Biologist/Primary Investigator Run their own research laboratories and are typically cross-appointed to university life science departments. Requires at least a Ph.D. with a strong publication record.
Education In addition to providing degrees in the life sciences, their departments also run research programs that constitute the traditional career routes of academia.
- University of Toronto Has campuses downtown, Scarborough, and Mississauga. Co-op degrees are only offered at the Scarborough campus, where life science courses are run by the Department of Biological Sciences. The Mississauga campus has its own Department of Biology. The downtown St. George campus has a variety of life sciences programs run departments in the Faculty of Medicine and Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
- York University While the smaller Glendon campus has its own biology program, the bulk of the teaching and research is at the larger Keele campus. The Faculties of Science, Health, and Environmental Science contain Keele’s life science departments. Life sciences constitute the first batch of York co-op programs.
- Ryerson University Offers biology programs through the Department of Chemistry and Biology, which offers co-op programs.
- Centennial Has a number of campuses in Toronto, but the life science (biotech, environment) programs are taken at the Scarborough Morningside campus.
- Humber Based in Etobicoke with a Lakeshore campus. Life sciences are covered under Health & Wellness programs.
- Seneca Campuses in North York and one downtown with biotech and environmental programs.
Positions The occupations mainly fall under the NOC 4011 (“University professors and lecturers”, also includes postdoctoral positions) and previously-mentioned 2121. Most of the positions listed here form the post-graduate path of academia, at the end of which is the treasured tenured professorship.
- Lab Technician While often similar to the research technician positions in hospitals (NOC 2121), some of these positions are designated instead by NOC 4012 (“Post-secondary teaching and research assistants”). These techs work in teaching labs with more routine setting up of hands-on exercises for students.
- Postdoctoral Fellow Usually abbreviated as “postdoc”, the name indicates this is the next step in the academic ladder after getting your Ph.D. Unlike graduate school, the recruitment is more formal and the successful candidate is expected to carry out research projects mostly independently, with only oversight instead of supervision from the lab’s primary investigator. In addition to the doctorate, a great publication record is necessary to secure these positions.
- Research Associate A more senior position, they typically require around 4-6 years of postdoctoral or related experience along with an excellent published portfolio and knowledge of specialized techniques. In larger labs, research associates may be in charge of subdivisions, possibly even managing projects and supervising others.
- Professor The coveted goal of the academic research path, accessible only after years of schooling and research and often not even after that. There are several levels, from Assistant Professor to Associate Professor, and then just full professor. Tenure is typically only available at the later stages. A very strong publication record gained from successful, high-profile postdoc and higher positions is a prerequisite.
Pharmaceuticals The largest constituent of the private sector in Toronto’s life science community, these companies manufacture and distribute products used in healthcare. Drug companies in Canada have been affected by the same trends that apply to the industry worldwide, particularly increased cost pressures that force companies to streamline operations. Increased manufacture of biologics (large molecules derived from organisms as opposed to small, synthesized ones) provides an opportunity for those with a biology as opposed to chemistry background. Parts of operations have been outsourced to outside companies like testing labs and CDMOs (Contract Development and Manufacturing Organizations, see Lab Services subsection for examples).
Multinational companies with revenue in the billions. Most of their facilities are on the outskirts of or just outside Toronto.
Minors Includes many start-ups, many of which are located at the MaRS incubator located downtown close to U of T.
- Sanofi Pasteur The vaccine division of the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi has sites in North York (manufacturing facility) and in Mississauga (office for Genzyme subsidiary).
- Eli Lilly A US pharmaceutical concern with a recently closed Scarborough facility, now located downtown.
- Johnson and Johnson American corporation with offices in Markham (consumer and medical products) and North York (medicines under the Janssen banner).
- GlaxoSmithKline A British pharmaceutical company with a Mississauga manufacturing facility and head office.
- Amgen American biotech firm with an office in Mississauga.
- Bayer This German company has a corporate office in Mississauga.
- Roche Swiss company with an office in Mississauga.
- AstraZeneca European pharmaceuticals concern with a corporate office in Mississauga.
- EMD Serono The North American subsidiary of the German company Merck has a Mississauga office.
- Purdue This US pharmaceutical’s Canadian division is based at a facility in Pickering, which is apparently closing mid-2020 according to onlyhalalporkallowed.
- GE Healthcare US medical equipment and systems provider with a Mississauga facility.
- Mediphage Bioceuticals Gene therapy company based at MaRS.
- BlueRock US cell therapy company with lab space in MaRS.
- Deep Genomics Computational drug discovery at a lab in MaRS.
- Geneseeq Applies advanced sequencing techniques for cancer at MaRS.
- Telo Genomics Telomere analytics at a MaRS lab.
- Ranomics Provides genetic analysis tools from its MaRS lab space.
- Inagene Diagnostics Personalized medicine genetics at a midtown laboratory.
- Luminex American molecular diagnostics company with a downtown lab.
- Vital Biosciences Personalized diagnostics in Mississauga.
- Therapure Biopharma Protein therapeutics company with Mississauga factory and office/warehouse.
- Microbix Manufacturing of viral and bacterial products at a Mississauga facility.
- Theralase Produces laser treatment devices at a facility just west of Scarborough.
- ANGLE Biosciences Develops cancer diagnostic devices at its Etobicoke facility.
- Fluidigm American microfluidics company with manufacturing facility in Markham.
- Baylis Medical device firm with office/production in Mississauga.
- Qvella Diagnostic devices company with headquarters/production facility in Richmond Hill.
- Baxter US medical device firm with Mississauga office and manufacturing site.
Manufacture pharmacologically-similar copies of drugs that have expired patents.
- Apotex Largest generic drug company in Canada. Multiple facilities with additional functions in the GTA: North York (headquarters), Etobicoke, and Richmond Hill (warehouse).
- Teva Canada Subsidiary of the major Israeli generics manufacturer, it has facilities in Scarborough (main office and logistics centre) and Markham (antibiotics production).
- Leo The Danish company’s Canadian subsidiary has a facility in Markham.
Positions Laboratory and production occupations in pharmaceuticals mainly fall under NOCs 2221 ("Biological technologists and technicians") and 2233 (“Industrial engineering and manufacturing technologists and technicians”). Office positions here fall under NOC 1122 (“Professional occupations in business management consulting”).
- Intern True entry-level positions that require nothing more than one be currently-enrolled in the degree related to the job. Experience requirements for most positions in pharmaceutical companies make these absolutely essential.
- Quality Assurance/Control Ensures procedures and products abide by the common Title 21 Code of Federal Regulations pharmaceutical standard used by the US Food and Drug Adminstration. Requires 5-10 years of experience in testing and investigations.
- Production Technician Usually divided into upstream (raw materials) and downstream (production line) specializations. Requires a science degree and 1-3 years of industry experience depending on the grade. Recent experience is valuable due to rapid changes in methods such as the emergence of continuous manufacturing.
- Scientist Usually involved in manufacturing as a senior qualified expert. Requires a postsecondary degree and 2-4 years of pharmaceutical industry experience.
- Medical Advisor A degree and 2-5 years in the pharmaceutical industry are recommended. Bilingualism is ideal.
- Regulatory Affairs Associate In addition to a degree, one ideally also has a certificate in regulatory affairs and 1-2 years of drug company experience, especially with Health Canada submissions. A recent global trend in regulatory harmonization makes this position a crucial one for pharmaceutical firms.
- Document Reviewer A life science B.Sc. and 2 or more years of pharmaceutical experience are needed.
- Ontario Institute for Cancer Research Institute funded by the province based at MaRS, with programs focusing on cancer monitoring, translational medicine, and drug development.
- Public Health Ontario Operates a network of laboratories across Ontario that perform testing services to support public health maintenance. The Toronto location is at MaRS.
Mainly serve the pharmaceutical industry, though some offer their services to consumers as well.
- Nucro-Technics A testing lab in Scarborough.
- Eurofins Luxembourgish laboratory analysis chain with locations in downtown, Markham, and Missisauga.
- Canadian Analytics Laboraties Mississauga drug and cosmetics analysis lab.
- EMC Scientific Environmental testing lab in Mississsauga.
- Diteba Operates testing laboratory in Mississauga.
- SGS Swiss verification and certification company with labs in North York, Markham, and Mississauga (also has offices).
- Everest Clinical Research Headquartered in Markham.
- Lambda Therapeutic Research Indian clinical research firm with Scarborough facility.
- Dalton Pharma Services CDMO offering drug discovery and manufacturing services, based in North York.
- Thermo Fisher Scientific US-based laboratory supplies and equipment manufacturer with an office in Mississauga.
Most are in the field of environmental planning, especially for engineering projects.
- Pinchin Mississauga head office with downtown branch.
- Amaris French consulting firm with an office downtown whose life sciences division is focused on manufacturing.
- Dillon Has an office in North York.
- Wood PLC British multinational with offices in Toronto and Mississauga.
- AECOM American firm with branches in Mississauga, Markham, and Vaughan.
- Stantec Offices in Toronto, Markham, and Mississauga.
Organizations with a primary focus on environmental work, other than municipal governments themselves.
- Toronto and Region Conservation Authority Head office in Vaughan.
- Credit Valley Conservation Authority For Mississauga region.
- Toronto Zoo Aside from exhibits, they also have wildlife conservation initiatives.
- Ripley’s Aquarium
- Kelly Services Its scientific division covers a variety of life science fields such as biotech, pharma, and environment.
- PIVOTAL Has a narrower focus, mainly in pharmaceuticals.
- Field Application Scientist Provides support for specialized techniques provided by laboratory supplies. Requires a life sciences degree and at least 3 years of experience.
- Ecologist NOC 2121. Engages in field work in support of environmental services. Requires a related degree, at least 3 years of related experience, outdoor certifications, and a driver’s license. Related are Aquatic/Fisheries specialists and Risk Assessors (requires at least 2 years of field experience).
- Arborist/Nursery Technician Covered by NOC 2225 (“Landscape and horticulture technicians and specialists”).These tree-care professionals need a related degree and at least 3 years of experience. Licensing, if required, is covered by the Ontario College of Trades.
What can we conclude from looking at these various organizations and positions? To be an excellent candidate a life sciences student should focus on securing many internships that grant valuable experience. In addition, these also cultivate connections, the one merit to rule them all and in the hiring process select them. Co-op work terms are not sufficient to make one competitive, given how common these programs have become. The primacy of smaller organizations that are incapable or unwilling to use proper formal selection processes means networking is absolutely key in this industry. Education must be focused on obtaining key mathematical, statistical, and computational qualifications, along with experience in specialized procedures. Why various levels of government here tolerate such severe mismatches between students’ skills and position requirements while continuing with policies that create an oversupply of graduates in fields with global competition (see Appendix C) is an important question that needs to be answered.
Appendix A: Specialized qualifications for life science positions. If the people working at a certain lab publish results, reading their papers is a good way to ascertain if they use the tools laid out in this appendix.
Working in labs that use these specialized techniques gives experience that is in demand.
- Flow cytometry A technique for analyzing and sorting cells via a stream of liquid and laser optics.
- Animal handling Generally rodents, though some labs use more exotic options like zebrafish.
- Protein purification Comprises a number of procedures, from expressing proteins in models like bacteria or yeast, all the way to the use of various chromatography procedures to isolate the fraction the protein is in.
- Next-generation sequencing A method of sequencing genetic material that relies on a massively parallel procedure to ensure fast reads, it is the workhorse of genomics in this day and age.
- qPCR A Quantitative implementation of the Polymerase Chain Reaction amplification technique allows for the enumeration and analysis of gene expression profiles.
The current trend in the life sciences has been for the use of computers to analyze large data sets. These languages, platforms, programs, etc. are very important qualifications in the current era.
- Python This general-purpose programming language finds a lot of use in the sciences, and is often required for computational biology positions.
- Perl Another general-purpose programming language that is an alternative to Python.
- SQL Widely-used language for databases.
- R A programming language and software program for statistics which appears to be the most popular. This may be due to it being free software compared to proprietary packages like SAS and SPSS.
- MATLAB A proprietary programming language and software package used for mathematical operations and visualizations.
- LIMS Laboratory Information Management Systems are programs that keep track of various lab operations such as inventory and databases. Industry positions may make use of related enterprise software such as SAP.
- Linux Due to its open-source status, this operating system finds use in some labs.
Appendix B: Selecting a lab to work at. Aside from the techniques mentioned in Appendix A, there are other factors to consider in selecting a laboratory for your internship/co-op work term/grad school. Reading published papers also reveals their collaborators, which is an indicator of the probably connections you'd make by working at said lab. The other means of gathering information on the suitability of a lab is a tour, usually done if you are interviewing with a potential supervisor. By looking at their facilities and talking to the other members, you can glean more about the methods available in the lab as well as how people get along in this prospective workplace. An important consideration is the supervision style of your superior, and whether it might not be the best fit for how you do things (e.g. a hands-on supervisor with an independent-minded student).
Appendix C: Canadian immigration programs for life sciences workers. The vast majority of the positions here require skilled workers, accessible to newcomers primarily via the federal government’s Express Entry permanent residence program. Potential applicants are prioritized based on language, education, experience, age (18-35), and offers of employment. The different programs that comprise Express Entry share the basic overall process and requirements for the employers. Of particular note to job seekers is that these positions must pay at the minimum the median wage given by Job Bank. These positions must also be advertised on Job Bank or alternative methods for a few weeks.
After the employer has gone through this process and there have been no suitable Canadian candidates, they must then file a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) which proves the need for newcomers. LMIAs are then either approved or denied based on the circumstances of their filing. Programs that require an LMIA include the Federal Skilled Worker Program and the Canadian Experience Class (as the name indicates, the candidates already have legal work experience in Canada). The last Express Entry program relevant to the life sciences that uses the LMIA are the Provincial Nominee Programs.
The Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program is based on the Ontario Immigration Act 2015. The streams involved have the usual education and qualification requirements in addition to various requirements such as settlement funds (or an equivalent job offer), intent to reside in Ontario, and recent residency in Ontario. Streams that affect the local life sciences sector are the Employer Job Offer (Foreign Worker, International Students) and International Graduate (Master’s and PhD) streams. As of the time of this writing (March 2020), only the PhD stream is open for applications.
Quite a few Express Entry programs are exempt from the LMIA requirement. The International Mobility Program covers various things such as agreements signed by Canada (e.g. free trade agreements with movement of labour provisions) and sectors considered to be “Canadian interests” (relevant ones include postdocs and co-ops, the latter via the International Experience Canada program). The Post-Graduation Work Permit Program covers international students who have finished their Canadian programs, allowing them to obtain Canadian work experience. Global Skills Strategy allows companies to hire top talent in an expedient manner, LMIA-exempt for the life sciences which require university degrees.
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