National Postdoc Appreciation Week: Dr. Georgina Butler shares the various responsibilities and challenges working as a Research Associate

In honour of National Postdoc Appreciation Week (NPAW), we spoke with different Postdoctoral Fellows and Research Associates at the CBR to highlight their research, share their stories and celebrate their journeys.

Dr. Georgina Butler, Research Associate – Overall Lab

Dr. Georgina ButlerTell me about your research. 

My research focuses around proteases, enzymes that work like scissors to cut other proteins, which we have more than 500. Some proteins are completely destroyed by proteases, but others are lightly trimmed which can change their function by altering how they interact with other proteins. Using proteomics techniques, I am investigating the role that proteases play as master regulators. I am identifying which proteins they cut, and the effect that trimming has on protein function. Following on from MMPs, I’ve been looking at the SARS-CoV-2 main protease to determine which human proteins are cut. As well, how this helps viral infection, to identify therapeutic targets for COVID-19.

What led you to the lab?

I arrived in the lab in January 1999 from the U.K and remember being shocked at how much it rained. 1999 was a record snowfall year – they had to dig channels in the snow for the chairlifts on the North Shore. I was studying structure-function relationships of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) with Prof. Gill Murphy in the UK. I then came to Prof. Chris Overall’s lab with a Welcome Trust Travelling Fellowship to expand on that work. Almost 25 years later and I’m still here!

What does being a Research Associate (RA) involve?

Being an RA has enabled me to continue to work at the bench for my whole career. This is something that most Principal Investigators (PIs) do not get to do. One of the most enjoyable aspects of my job is designing projects and supervising CBR students. These include our summer students, COOP students and PhD students. I was very happy to receive the Centre for Blood Research Neil Mackenzie Mentorship Excellence Award in 2019. I have additional responsibilities that facilitate the smooth running of the lab. This can include writing animal care and ethics protocols, editing lab manuscripts and grant writing. Being an RA also has its challenges. The position is grant dependent, contracts are annual and as a group, RAs tend to fall between the cracks. This is because we are neither tenure track faculty nor postdocs. Despite this, I have enjoyed my 2 decades in this position and being a part of the CBR community since the opening of the Life Sciences building in 2005.

What do you do outside the lab?

I love working at the bench because it is like doing crafts. At home, I alternate between many different projects – stained glass, macramé, photography, sewing, quilting, furniture upholstery, crochet, watercolour painting, acrylic pouring, gardening, furniture and clothing upcycling. At the moment, I am trying to keep unwearable clothes out of the landfill by crocheting them into rugs. I also enjoy canoeing, mountain biking, skiing with my family, and being with my cats.

Canoeing photo from Dr. Georgina Butler

Thank you for speaking with us, Georgina! Learn more about National Postdoc Appreciation Week (NPAW) 2023 at UBC which recognizes the significant contributions that postdoctoral scholars make to research and discovery.