Moving from France to Canada to become a research scientist in chemistry at OmegaChem
Gary Vallon shares his immigration experience and tells us how OmegaChem supported him in his life-changing adventure.
Gary Vallon immigrated from France in 2017. After struggling to find meaningful opportunities in his home country, he made the bold decision to move to Quebec and work for OmegaChem.
Six years later, Gary leads a group of talented researchers in chemistry as they research potentially life-changing treatments.
We sat down with Gary to hear how OmegaChem helped him with immigration, what he learned from his experience and his advice for newcomers.
What is your role at OmegaChem?
At OmegaChem, I am an Assistant Group Leader. I immigrated to Canada in 2017 and have been working at OmegaChem ever since. In my role, I lead a team of scientists, manage projects and assist scientists with their own projects. I also look after evaluations, vacations and any other administrative tasks that arise for my team.
How did you reach this point?
My career in chemistry started in my home country, France. First, I completed a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at the École Nationale Supérieure de Chimie de Clermont-Ferrand. During the final year of my bachelor’s degree, I did a master’s degree in organic chemistry. I did this as in France, you need to get a master’s degree at the same time as the diploma in engineering to be eligible for Ph.D. funding.
This pathway was really interesting because I was learning about very diverse aspects of chemistry.
After that, I continued to study in Clermont-Ferrand. I completed my Ph.D. in organic chemistry at Université Blaise Pascal (Clermont-II) in January 2016.
What was your trajectory after getting your Ph.D.?
Once I had my thesis in hand, I wanted to start working in a research role in the industry. That’s why I did my Ph.D., as you need a thesis to work in that kind of role in industrial chemistry.
However, when I left university, the job market was not very good. I applied to several jobs, but I soon learned that I was competing with other candidates who had postdocs or already had industry experience. The market was almost the opposite of Quebec: there were not enough jobs for the number of qualified people looking for work.
Even though I wanted to work in industry, I didn’t want to do several postdocs just to get there. I knew I wanted to do medicinal chemistry, but in industry rather than academia. So, after six or seven months of unemployment, I got a job interview with OmegaChem in Paris.
So, was OmegaChem your main reason for moving to Quebec?
Yes. I had already heard of OmegaChem while doing my Ph.D. In 2016, I thought it would be a good idea to work in another country for a few years. So, I applied to OmegaChem and a few other companies in Montreal.
Most other CROs said: “Go through immigration and get a work permit first, then we will give you an interview.” However, during my interview, OmegaChem offered to help me with my immigration application.
Did you have your interview with OmegaChem during their yearly visit to Paris in November 2016?
Yes, I met a delegation from OmegaChem at a hotel in Paris. It’s usually an opportunity for OmegaChem to connect with its clients, but it also allows them to meet talented scientists in France and interview them.
I was interviewed by Francis Beaulieu, Vice-President, Drug Discovery/New Products, and François LaFlamme, President and CEO, as well as the former director of finance.
The portion of the interview with Francis and François was focused on chemistry. I presented my thesis to them and answered their questions, while they shared information about OmegaChem. Then another person came to talk to me about administration and immigration.
It was great to have a person to talk to about the immigration process who would answer my questions. I found it very reassuring.
Did you apply for a work permit from France?
Yes. When OmegaChem offered me the job, they also supported me in applying to enter Canada as a skilled worker. They completed all the steps with the Government of Quebec and the Government of Canada so that I could work for them, including helping me get the essential documents I needed to get a work permit.
With OmegaChem’s help, I was able to apply for a closed work permit via the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada website. I officially got my work permit when I was entering Canada at Quebec Airport. To do this, you need all your immigration documents, your CV and your passport. It’s a little stressful, especially when a border official could potentially put you back on the next flight to Paris. Thankfully, I got my work permit and was allowed to enter.
Once you arrived, how did OmegaChem help you settle in?
OmegaChem put me in touch with an employee who worked in the process team, who had arrived three weeks before me. So, I communicated with that person and that helped me. I also had a friend who had been living in Quebec for three years and worked at OmegaChem, so I asked them a lot of questions!
Our HR director helped me fill out a lot of my immigration forms and supported me on my arrival. During my first two years at OmegaChem, I also worked with her with welcoming new arrivals, as I was able to tell them what documents they needed and what working at OmegaChem was like. In 2020, she also helped me renew my work permit while I was waiting to hear a response on my permanent residence application.
What advice would you give to someone considering immigrating to Canada to work for OmegaChem?
I would advise that you prepare yourself for immigration. You might think that because you speak French, it’s going to be easy. But not necessarily. The culture is very different, and the vocabulary isn’t the same. So, there’s work to do to settle in and get used to the culture.
I would strongly encourage newcomers to find a place to live in Quebec City first. It’s a big city and there are lots of bars, restaurants and cultural attractions. It also gives you the chance to meet people, make friends and network.