The Journey to the Jude series highlights how St. Jude employees developed a passion for their careers and how that journey translates to their current roles.
By Deanna Tremblay
My first international trip was during high school. I was visiting Mazatlan, Mexico, with a friend who was part of an exchange program the year prior. This wasn’t a trip to the beach in Cancun—it was a full immersion in Mexican culture.
The experience was incredibly eye-opening. At the time, I had no idea how to interact with people who were so different from me. I quickly learned there was nothing to fear, and that our differences should be celebrated.
Two decades later, I’ve had the privilege of traveling to almost 60 countries and landing a dream job.
This is my Journey to the Jude—the story of how my work at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital marries my lifelong passions: science and travel.
Growing up in Windsor, Canada, science was always a part of my life. My mother is a chemist. She had me memorizing science-related definitions like “temperature” at 10 years old.
As an undergraduate at Brock University in Ontario, my first foray into research was challenging. I studied organometallic chemistry, looking at chemical compounds that contain at least one chemical bond between an atom of an organic molecule and a metal. It was fascinating work, but I thought I could make a greater contribution in the biomedical sciences.
In graduate school at the University of Western Ontario, I worked on a rare disease known as X-linked alpha-thalassemia intellectual disability or ATRX syndrome. My project focused on determining how chromatin regulators, such as the ATRX protein, contribute to early developmental regulation of the brain.
After graduation, I worked in a teaching lab at the University of Windsor for a few years, and then an opportunity to move south arose. I accepted a position as a research scientist at Florida State University.
While I absolutely loved my experience at FSU, I realized I was not cut out for a lifetime of lab work. I felt deeply that I had to take a break from science and pursue another great passion—seeing the world. At the age of 32, I sold all my belongings—except my car—left Florida and set out on a yearlong adventure exploring the world.
The World Calls
Before my yearlong trek began in 2014, I had already visited about 25 countries as part of a post-college Western European backpacking adventure, as well as additional journeys through South America, Africa and Asia.
In 2014, I spent around three months each in Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia, with a focus on interacting with new cultures and wildlife immersion—another great love of mine.
Most of my Europe trip was a well-planned solo journey. whereas I joined an overland adventure tour for the African leg. This journey started in Cape Town, South Africa, traversed 10,000 kilometers setting up camp each night, and finished in Nairobi, Kenya.
I visited friends in India and helped build a school in the Himalayas in Nepal—toting 40 pounds of rocks on my head along a narrow path on a steep mountain. I later backpacked through Southeast Asia before ending my journey traveling throughout Australia.
As my trip neared its end, I began to think more of my next career steps. I assumed I would return to Florida State. But after returning home, I was fortunate enough to see a posting for an opportunity at St. Jude. I had never heard of St. Jude before, but the more research I did, the more determined I was to find a position there.
St. Jude Awaits
I will celebrate my fifth anniversary at St. Jude in August, and I feel like the luckiest person ever. As a senior postdoc recruiter in the Academic Programs Office, I am still very involved in science. I am in my element, spending a fair bit of time recruiting on the road.
I directly contribute to the mission of St. Jude every day by identifying the diverse and talented scientists who will contribute to finding cures for our kids. On the road, our team of recruiters attend conferences such as the annual meetings of the American Association for Cancer Research and the Society for Neuroscience. We usually set up a booth in an exhibit hall so people can come talk to us.
While at conferences, we also attend poster sessions where graduate students present their research. All of the recruiters on our team are scientists, so we are able to identify the bright minds who are conducting research that is relevant to our work at St. Jude.
We discuss research opportunities with graduate students and hope to get them excited about potentially joining St. Jude as postdocs.
Another large part of our job is hosting two recruitment and professional development events each year—the National Graduate Student Symposium in March and the Future Fellow Research Conference in June. We spend a great amount of time preparing for these events with the intention of showcasing St. Jude facilities and research opportunities. We invite students who have met our recruitment team on the road, as well as students who have been nominated by faculty.
Every conversation we have about St. Jude is different and overwhelmingly positive. I’m out of the office recruiting about two months annually, and after more than four years I’m still energized by it. My work at St. Jude is incredibly rewarding, and I could not imagine myself anywhere else
Deanna’s favorite country to visit is Ecuador because of the friendly people and the stunning beauty of the country that spreads across a dozen different ecological zones.
Work-life balance is celebrated at St. Jude. Since arriving at the hospital, she’s been encouraged to continue to pursue her second passion of seeing wildlife all over the world.
She’s trekked the forests of Uganda to see mountain gorillas and chimpanzees, sat on a johnboat for 13 hours to find a rare harpy eagle deep into the Peruvian Amazon, and watched whales breaching in the midnight sun from north of the Arctic Circle in Norway.
Most recently, she met a century-old tortoise in the Galapagos Islands. Her goal for 2020 is to meet wild orangutans and proboscis monkeys in the jungles of Malaysian Borneo, which will be her 61st country to visit.