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Arlene Ponting, CEO of Science Alberta Foundation. (Science Alberta Foundation)
Arlene Ponting, CEO of Science Alberta Foundation. (Science Alberta Foundation)

My career

Science Alberta's Arlene Ponting urges youth to consider a 'cool' industry Add to ...

Arlene Ponting is chief executive officer of Science Alberta Foundation. She has held the role for 11 years. She has also served on the board of trustees of the Alberta Ingenuity Fund and was chosen as one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 by the Women’s Executive Network.

What’s your background and education?

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I have a bachelor of science in pharmacy from the University of Alberta, which I completed in 1969. While I was director of continuing pharmacy education at the University of Alberta, I started a masters in adult education, which I didn’t conclude, and I completed a PhD in education administration in 1995.

How did you get to your position?

We moved to Calgary in 1998 because my husband was made senior partner at his law firm there, and I set up my own little consulting company. I was hired by the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology to work in their educational resources department. A year later, I was headhunted for the CEO position by Science Alberta.

What’s the best part of your job?

Facilitating the development of programs that are so creative and innovative in a very difficult context – making science engaging and relevant is not easy. There are so many misconceptions about science being hard, about it happening only in labs and text books. Science is actually becoming cool. It’s an exciting time to be in this field.

What’s the worst part of your job?

I think the hardest part is finding the talent that we need because we’re not for profit, we’re resource-constrained, we’re not paying market rates, yet we have very unique positions. We work incredibly hard and I have to find people who are driven by passion, who love what they do and are prepared to do it for less.

What are your strengths in this role?

My strengths are strategic thinking, opportunity sensing, and I have an unscratchable itch to make things better. For us, every project we do needs to be absolutely wonderful and that’s something I bring to the place. We’re know for delivering on promises, for getting the work done on budget, so that takes a lot of attention and I’m known for that, and for running a high-performance organization.

What are your weaknesses?

I have high expectations. It’s not always easy to have to say, “I think we need to do this over, we need to improve this.” And I have such ability to do a whole lot of things that sometimes it’s easier to say, “I’ll do that.”

What has been your best career move?

Probably this one. And people often say how lucky one is, and I really don’t think that’s a factor. I think we make our own luck and we go after positions we want.

When I got the director of continuing pharmacy education job, it was highly competed for, and I had been at home seven years with my kids. I just did tremendous research, I was really prepared, I had done all kinds of volunteer work, and I got the job. It’s a matter of being really prepared and going for opportunities.

What has been your worst career move?

There hasn’t been one, really. It’s about making it work out. There’s good things about jobs and there’s absolutely annoying things about jobs.

What’s your next big job goal?

After Science Alberta, I’ll probably move into retirement. I’m 64, but I have no intention of stopping working. I love working and I’m good at, but I want to do it in a different way and have some flexibility.

We have three adult kids living in the United States and two grandchildren, so I want to be part of that. We’ll probably get a vacation home down there.

What’s your best career advice?

Find a job that you really like, work hard at it, apply all the intelligence that you have and continue learning.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

For the next generation, there’s going to be some really fabulous jobs and a shortage of talent in Canada. I think there’s going to be a mismatch between industry and skill, especially in science, technology and engineering.

It’s a great time to be in the work force and planning a career path. Parents need to help their children think about the broad gambit, the whole spectrum of what there is there.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Dianne Nice is the Careers & Workplace Web Editor for The Globe and Mail.

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