Marie Fraser

Marie Fraser

I would advise girls or young women who are interested in careers in science and engineering to investigate the wide variety of possibilities. Get good advice from career services or high school guidance counsellors on which careers best match your talents.

Associate Professor of Biological Sciences
University of Calgary

Dr. Marie Fraser is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Calgary. She teaches biochemistry and has a research lab investigating the catalytic mechanisms of enzymes. Marie graduated from Queen's University in Chemistry and returned there for her Ph.D. to learn crystallography. As a postdoctoral fellow, she joined the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Alberta to learn macromolecular crystallography for the study of proteins.

As an academic, what is your favourite part of your job?

My favourite part of my job is working with the people I get to work with. These would be other scientists at my workplace and around the world, and undergraduate and graduate students, especially those in my research lab. We get to think deeply about our projects, challenge each others’ thinking and we are always learning.

What are you researching and what excites you about it?

We investigate how proteins function in the living cell. To "see" the proteins, we grow crystals of them and expose these crystals to X-rays to collect the diffraction pattern. From the pattern, we figure out where the atoms are in the protein and interpret from that how the protein works. What excites me is the sense of discovery in seeing the protein for the first time or seeing how a ligand binds to the protein for the first time. I enjoy the challenge, then, of trying to figure out how the protein works.

What types of professions can students graduating in your field enter?

Students graduating with skills in structural biology can enter careers in the pharmaceutical industry or in biotechnology. Those aren't the only options, though. Our graduating students will be the problem-solvers of the future.

Is your workplace male-dominated? If so, how do you negotiate being a woman in a male-dominated workplace and/or field?

Even in the biological sciences, there are more male than female academics. The biggest thing I had to get used to was that people would know who I was, because the women academics stand out. I've had to work at recognizing other faculty members and students, and remembering their names.

What advice would you give to girls or young women who are interested in careers in science or engineering?

I would advise girls or young women who are interested in careers in science and engineering to investigate the wide variety of possibilities. Get good advice from career services or high school guidance counsellors on which careers best match your talents, but try different things and see what appeals to you most.

As a professional in science or engineering, who are your role models and mentors?

Academic supervisors, in graduate school and postdoctoral training, are very important mentors and role models. I think that all of my instructors and colleagues have served as role models and mentors, although the ones I knew best did the most.