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One to watch

One to watch

Last year, Chatelaine magazine named Josephine Tsang, PhD’06, as one of the top “80 Canadian Women to Watch ” for her work in chemistry.
Josephine Tsang, PhD’06Photo by Greg Black, University Photographer

Josephine was involved in a post-doctoral research project at the University of Alberta on the structural characterization of misfolded infectious prions, a form of which is thought to be responsible for illnesses such as mad cow disease.

For her work, Josephine was one of two recipients of the 2007 L’Oreal Canada/Canadian Commission for UNESCO Women in Science Research Excellence Fellowship.

I think I am one of the most fortunate people in the world. I have had a great education, and great mentors.

Of her work in chemistry, Josephine says, “I think I am one of the most fortunate people in the world. I have had a great education, and great mentors.

Josephine's career path in chemistry began in high school, in tiny Provost, AB, where her parents sent her for schooling from her native Hong Kong. "Mr. Hurley, my grade 10 chemistry teacher, taught chemistry with such passion that I fell in love with it. My late host father in Provost, Mr. McCormick, also studied chemistry in university," she says.

As an undergrad at the U of Calgary, Josephine had the opportunity to work as a co-op student at a National Defence lab near Medicine Hat, under the supervision of Dr. Garfield Purdon, Sc’67.

"My research work was on decontamination of chemical warfare agents. I looked up to Garfield as my mentor and I wanted to be just like him. Since he had studied at Queen’s, I decided to come to Queen's."

A further incentive was hearing about Dr. Stan Brown of the Queen's Chemistry department and his groundbreaking approach to destroying toxic chemicals, including chemical warfare agents and pesticides. Josephine says, "I thought, 'What a great opportunity it would be to work for Dr. Brown!'"

She was at Queen's for about five years, completing her PhD in physical organic chemistry under Brown's supervision.

"I get very excited about my research and am very proud of my work. It was a wonderful time," she says. "I loved the teaching assistant role and the mentoring role that I had for second-year organic chemistry students. A lot of students enjoy organic chemistry and a lot of students …" she laughs, "do not. It can be a very daunting subject."

A year ago, Josephine began working at O'Connor Associates Environmental Inc. in Calgary, a company established by three Queen’s alumni: Mike O’Connor, Sc'68, PhD'76, Hon. DSc'92; John Agar, Sc'73, MSc'78; and Doug King, Sc'70, MSc'75.

Josephine's work at the environmental consulting firm is vastly different from her time in a university lab, from the dress code (no more lab coats and jeans) and deadlines, to the range of skill sets of her colleagues and the variety of projects that come to them. She has applied her chemistry knowledge to projects ranging from interpreting groundwater geochemistry at a former refinery site to studying the fate and transport of agricultural fertilizers and their impact on soil and groundwater. "Every day brings a new learning experience and challenge," she says.

Josephine has remained connected to Queen's. "When I returned to Alberta, I signed up for the Common Room@Queen’s to stay in touch. The Countdown to Queen's, where alumni share information with area students heading off to Queen's, was my first time attending a Branch event. I got to meet high school students getting ready to go to Queen's, and I would say to them jokingly, "I'm so jealous! I wish I could go back and re-live my time there.'"

She continued her involvement with alumni Branch activities, first in Edmonton, then in Calgary. "Everyone in the Branch is so welcoming and I feel like I am part of the family," she says. "I'm loving it."

The Calgary Branch is particularly active, hosting curling bonspiels, fundraising runs, and other social events throughout the year. This September, Josephine took another step as a QUAA volunteer, becoming the new president of the Calgary Branch, beginning April 2010. "I'm excited to have this opportunity to be the branch representative, meet alumni in Calgary and help out in as many events as I can."

[Queen's Alumni Review 2009-4 cover]