Catalina Lopez-Correa knows more about genetics than just about anybody. She’s currently the Chief Scientific Officer at Genome Canada. She previously served as the Executive Director of the Canadian Covid-19 Genomics Network.
She’s worked around the world, from Colombia to Iceland to Canada, and is one of the foremost researchers in her field.
Catalina sat down with Paul and Johanna on an episode of The Intern Group’s podcast How to be the Difference. She talked about her career trajectory, the global pandemic, and her top skills for success. You can listen to the full episode here.
The Importance of Genetics
Genetics is a challenging field. Catalina said she was always curious, even as a young child, and carried that with her throughout her life to the present day.
She initially wanted to study biology. However, Catalina ultimately decided to study medicine, because she thought it might have more real-world work applications.
“For me, medicine was great as a knowledge, but I never saw myself as your typical clinician, or a medical doctor seeing patients all day.”
When she finished her medical studies in Colombia, she moved to France, where she had the opportunity to pursue a master’s degree in genetics in Paris. But her path there wasn’t easy. She overcame many challenges, including a language barrier.
Catalina landed her first job at a biotech company in London, and the rest is history!
“Genetics is the essence of everything,” she explains. “It’s at the core of every single living thing.”
Today, many companies are using genomics to advance innovation in every field you can think of, Catalina said.
Lessons From the Pandemic
Of course, genomics has played a huge role during the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly when it comes to identifying variants.
For Catalina, the immense challenges of the pandemic and the response of the scientific community “took genomics out of the lab.” As a field, genomics is often perceived as a technology that’s for research, and research only, she explained.
The pandemic took genomics and showed its immense importance and applicability in real life. “Suddenly with Covid, now you hear politicians talking about sequencing, and genomic surveillance!”
On a personal level, Catalina says the pandemic has been an opportunity for growth and learning, in her career and in her life. “Every big challenge brings a big opportunity,” she says.
Skills for Success
Both during the pandemic and outside it, Catalina works closely with high-level professionals from a wide variety of different sectors, including academics, government officials, and the private sector. Managing such a diverse group can be challenging, as can influencing everyone to push for the same goal, she said.
Catalina identified two key elements for success in that scenario: work to be an expert in your own field, and have a high level of emotional intelligence.
It’s important to have a solid foundation in your field, Catalina said. That strong base of knowledge gives you credibility, which is important when you’re working at such a high level. So, do the extra degree, take the classes, and never stop learning, even in your own field!
Perhaps most important to success is emotional intelligence. No matter who you’re working with, emotional intelligence allows you to connect with people. As a leader, emotional intelligence allows you to make people feel valuable. That’s essential when you’re working to overcome a challenge together, Catalina explains.