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Career Profiles

Li Tan (he/him)

Molecular Lead
Li Tan wearing white lab coat, in his lab, smiling
Li Tan wearing white lab coat, in his lab, smiling
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I coordinate the day-to-day operations in the DNA Extraction Lab.

About me

I was born/grew up in: I was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. I grew up in Watrous, Saskatchewan.

I now live in: Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

I completed my training/education at: I have a BSc in Biochemistry and Microbiology and Masters in Applied Microbiology, both from the University of Saskatchewan.

What I do at work

I spend 30% of my time in the lab and 70% in the office.   In the office, I’m analyzing and reviewing data that has been generated.  In the lab, I’m helping with daily processes. These include DNA extractions and setting up Polymerase Chain Reactions. These reactions are used to make copies of specific DNA segments in a test tube. It’s sometimes called “molecular photocopying”. It is used so you have enough DNA to be able to run tests on.  When time permits, I’m looking for ways to improve our processes.

You need a good understanding of genomics and molecular biology for this type of work. We use specialized pieces of equipment like liquid handlers and PCR machines.

I help with troubleshooting when we’re improving processes or trying to understand why certain tests don’t work. I make decisions from facts and data. Having knowledge in these fields allows me to narrow down the approaches I take.     

I work as part of a team. Our interactions occur in the lab, via meetings, or virtually. English is the primary language we use at work.


My career path is

 When I was in high school, I thought I was going to be a pharmacist. Instead, I completed a BSc in Biochemistry and Microbiology, and a Master’s in applied microbiology. During my undergraduate program, I participated in summer research programs at the University of Saskatchewan and at the National Research Council.

A supervisor in my 4th year of undergrad really helped steer my path towards research. I was at a crossroads about whether to follow a life in research or go back to school and become an engineer. My supervisor's passion for the work inspired me to pursue my Masters.

I've encountered many failures. They are bound to happen in one's career. But you should not dwell on them. Instead, take lessons from them to learn and grow.     

I am motivated by

I enjoy working with the amazing people here. We are always trying to stay on the cutting edge of technology in crop development. Knowing I’m making a difference for the future is what really gets me excited. Being able to see our work going from a seed to full plant is really cool.

Because I work in a smaller program, we can work in many different areas. This means I can develop a better understanding of the process. Also, my work is very flexible in terms of time. I have a busy schedule outside work, and my job allows me to accommodate my needs.

How I affect peoples’ lives

My job is helping feed the future. I am doing this by helping to develop new crops. Without people in my field, the crops would not be able to withstand the pressures of the future. These include drought, pests, global warming and more. What we do in the lab helps plant breeders speed up the breeding program. This saves resources and time.

Outside of work I

I love being active. In the warmer months you can usually find me biking, kayaking or running. In the colder months I love to head out to the mountains to snowboard. To relax, I love to just lie on the couch with my dog.

My advice to others

This field is constantly changing. As we evolve, we will continue to use more automation in our processes. If you are interested in genetics, robots, and feeding future populations, this is definitely the career for you.

When I was a student, I enjoyed:
  • Math
  • Foods and Nutrition
  • Science
  • Technology
When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:
  • Liked helping people
  • Played on a sports team
  • Enjoyed working with my hands
  • Engaged in volunteer activities
  • Played video games
  • Felt great satisfaction in getting good grades
  • Learned best by doing

Related Topics


Nutrien logo

Let’s Talk Science appreciates the support of Nutrien in connecting us with this individual.

Nutrien is the world’s largest provider of crop inputs and services, helping to safely and sustainably feed a growing world. We operate a world-class network of production, distribution and retail facilities that positions us to efficiently serve the needs of growers. We focus on creating long-term value for all stakeholders by advancing our key environmental, social and governance priorities.

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