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Marianne Torres-Heckford

Microbiology Technologist
University of Winnipeg
Marianne Torres-Heckford in laboratory

Marianne Torres-Heckford in her lab

Marianne Torres-Heckford in laboratory

Marianne Torres-Heckford in her lab

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I provide technical assistance to the University of Winnipeg Biology Department teaching and research labs.

About me

I was born/grew up in: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

I now live in: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

I completed my training/education at:  University of Manitoba – Microbiology & Psychology

What I do at work

My lab is classified as a Biosafety Containment Level II lab. This is because we work with and store bacteria that can be harmful to humans when used incorrectly. We have standards set by the government to follow. There is also specialized equipment (i.e Biological Safety Cabinetsautoclaves) to use. We need to keep any pathogens from potentially harming people and the environment. A big part of my job is to ensure that materials and bacteria are kept sterile. I do this by following sterile procedures, wearing the proper PPE, and making sure that others working in my lab follow safe practices.

During a given day I will start up sterilization equipment and set up teaching labs. I will also prepare media including agar platesstains, and reagents. I will grow and maintain bacteria cultures. I train Honours and Grad students on how to use equipment, and I troubleshoot their equipment and experiments.

My position requires me to do a lot of planning and thinking ahead. I need to make sure labs are ready for the students. When things don’t grow or media doesn’t work or when our equipment is acting up, I have to problem solve. This involves some research to find out why something isn’t doing what it’s supposed to and to find a solution to fix it. The work environment is fast paced and a mix of both routine and spontaneous tasks. I work with a team of seven technologists. This team specializes individually in different parts of the biological sciences. We communicate daily and work together to address any issues that may arise. In this way we ensure that our department labs are safe for the students to learn and work in.

Another part of my job is to work with the instructors to improve or introduce new experiments to the labs. This ensures that students are learning skills and techniques that they can take with them into their future careers. This includes testing out experiments and making decisions on new equipment that can be added.

My career path is

As a young student, I was always interested in Microbiology. I wanted to find a cure for cancer. In high school, I enjoyed computers and graduated with an IT diploma along with my academics diploma. After high school, I decided to pursue a Bachelor of Science Degree with a major in Microbiology and a minor in Psychology. I did want to become a doctor at one point but chose a pre-med degree. That way, if things didn’t work out I would have another option that I equally enjoyed.

After graduating I got the opportunity to work as a Research Technician for a small biotechnology company. This company specializes in targeted cancer therapy. Over the course of 10 years, I learned numerous technical skills. These included molecular engineering (pcrsequencing, etc), cancer and human cell culturing. I also learned about tissue prep for histology, sample preparation, and how to do assays. It was a unique situation where I was able to work in the lab as well as the business side of the company. I prepared budgets and documents necessary for trying to get our therapy on the market. I learned a lot about the drug development process during my time there. STEM skills played a big role in why I was able to take on so many different tasks in and out of the lab. Over time, this allowed me to become a Senior Research Associate.

As situations change and as job security became more important to me, I moved on to my current position as a Microbiology Technologist. This position was a change from what I used to do. It requires me to use all the skills that I learned at my previous job, though. It also requires my experience in the industry to provide the best education we can for the students. The great thing about STEM skills is that they are versatile and you can use them in different types of jobs.

I am motivated by

Being able to provide a good learning experience for the students is rewarding. In the past, my job was very focused on one particular path. Working in education has now opened up more opportunities to learn about other branches of Biology and Science. I love learning new things. The part I enjoy most about my job is getting to know the students. When I train them, I like to ask them about their projects and what they’d like to do after University. In this way I get to share my experience with them.

How I affect people’s lives

I get to help students learn about microbiology and how it plays a part in our everyday lives. I also get to provide students with the tools to perform biotechnology techniques and to learn safety skills that they can use in their future careers. When I was in University, it never occurred to me how all our labs were always ready with materials to use. It turns out that behind every lab instructor is a technologist helping them provide a hands-on education.

Outside of work I

I love to explore and try new things whether it is places, restaurants, exhibits or markets. I was able to travel a lot after University. Now I spend my free time exploring the city parks and doing provincial road trips. I enjoy doing puzzles to relax and love going for hikes and getting outside.

My advice to others

If you enjoy science, have a thirst for knowledge and are up for a challenge then you should pursue a career in Microbiology. It can lead to opportunities in research, health care or education. Things may not come easy as you go forward and the road to your career may not be straight. I guarantee, however, that you will learn valuable things along the way.

When I was a student, I enjoyed:
  • Foods and Nutrition
  • Geography
  • Science
  • Technology
When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:
  • Liked helping people
  • Organized activities for my friends
  • Enjoyed working with my hands
  • Was motivated by success
  • Liked being given specific instructions
  • Liked being given free range to explore my ideas
  • Engaged in volunteer activities
  • Liked reading
  • Felt great satisfaction in getting good grades
  • Learned best “by doing”
  • Always knew exactly what I wanted to do
  • Engaged in activities such as fishing, berry picking and hunting

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