Luc Roberts

By Anna Sherwood

Luc Roberts is a PhD student in the laboratory of Prof. Hans-Joachim Wieden at the University of Lethbridge, Canada. His research is part of an exciting collaboration with Dr. Dylan Girodat, a post-doctoral researcher in Sanbonmatsu Lab at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, studying structured bacterial RNAs with a range of biochemical approaches and Cryo-EM. In addition to conducting research, Luc also received a grant to launch a company, Allos Biosciences, together with Dr. Harland Brandon.  Allos Biosciences commercializes technology developed in the Wieden lab, and works to build custom protein-based biosensors using molecular dynamic simulations.

Despite his current interest in scientific research, Luc’s original intention was to pursue career in medicine. “I was sort of just going to medical school because I didn’t know [that being a] scientist was an actual job, and everyone tells you in high school if you’re good at the sciences that you should be a doctor. But I really liked the community and the work I did in the lab so I continued to do another independent study and then an undergraduate honors thesis before signing up for grad school in the same program. One of the biggest deciding factors was the amount of hands-on training I was able to get at the University of Lethbridge. I had spent some time over summers at larger universities [as an] undergraduate, but I was never allowed to run the flow cytometer or whatever as that was the job of a technician. At the University of Lethbridge, if you wanted to run the machines you had to do it yourself which [gave] me the opportunity to better understand the experiments I was running and the ability to better trouble shoot technical problems.” Moreover, Luc emphasizes that he was originally drawn to Wieden lab due to Dr. Wieden’s “passion and excitement in describing the projects and the people in his lab”, but he also adds that “if you love RNA and only being a short drive from the Rocky Mountains, University of Lethbridge is a perfect place to do a degree or a post-doc!” Luc also enjoys being part of the international RNA community, and shares his enthusiasm for RNA research as a member of the Junior RNA Scientist Committee of the RNA Society and in his podcast, The Ribo-Zone, which focuses on “RNA and talking with RNA researchers from academia to industry”.

Luc found his original scientific inspiration in science educators: “I don’t think the importance of public education can be overstated as I would not be in the sciences if it was not for the great teachers I had growing up. Additionally, I remember vividly the biochemistry courses I was taught in my undergraduate by Dr. Ute Kothe and Dr. Steven Mosimann who really made sure that we were engaged with the material and really understanding not just memorizing facts.”

"There are a number of pitfalls that young graduate students fall into..... number one is time management."

Although generally enthusiastic about science, Luc’s career has not been without its’ share of challenges: “There have been a number of very difficult challenges but the one probably most applicable to everyone else especially now with COVID is scientific burn out. The best way I’ve found to mitigate this is by having a hard line drawn between work and personal time. While you may be at home and not able to physically separate the work and personal space making sure you’re setting boundaries like not responding to emails after 5PM has really helped me get a handle on things.” He shared some of experiences in a fascinating opinion article he co-authored detailing how parents in academia were “hit pretty hard by COVID”.

When recalling his early years as a new graduate student, Luc offered several pieces of advice: “There are a number of pitfalls that young graduate students fall into. I’ll talk about [the three that I struggled with the most]. Number one is time management, if you don’t lay out a plan for the week, your time will slip away from you. It’s the basic principle behind a savings account where if you don’t actively put money away, you’ll find a way to spend it. The second pitfall is that hours in the lab do not equal productivity. I used to spend 14 hours a day at work and would convince myself I was doing more work when in reality I usually got more done (with fewer mistakes) than if I had just been efficient for a regular 8-hour work day. Finally, one of the issues I’ve had the most trouble with is understanding research is not a zero-sum game. It probably seems like it as in many cases if you get funding it means someone else did not, however your peers’ successes do not take away from what you’re doing and vice versa. While everyone gets a little jealous when you see others doing well (especially if you’ve been stuck for [months] on some assay), it’s important to remember it’s not a competition.”

Twitter: @ScienceLuc

Favorite RNA: triple helix 

Opinion piece:

Plug: “The University of Lethbridge and the Alberta RNA Research and Training Institute (ARRTI) has started recruiting heavily for their RNA Innovation a joint graduate program with the University of Sherbrooke. If you love RNA and only being a short drive from the Rocky Mountains the UofL is a perfect place to do a degree or post-doc!”