Eric Irissou

“INRS, which is devoted exclusively to research and graduate training and promoting multidisciplinary approaches, provided me with a unique framework for developing a variety of knowledge and skills that have proven to be essential for my career progression at NRC. ”


Eric Irissou
M.Sc. Energy and materials sciences, 2000
Ph.D. Energy and materials sciences, 2005

Team leader, Thermal spray and Senior research officer
National Research Council Canada

Why did you choose INRS for your studies?

I first heard of INRS when I was an undergraduate physics student at Université Laval. Two students from the Énergie et Matériaux centre came to make a presentation in my department in order to recruit new students. The research subjects they presented really appealed to me, because of the multidisciplinary aspects and because their purposes were related to national issues. Following that, I had the chance to visit the centre. It was a shock to discover its vast, cutting-edge laboratories and I was pleasantly surprised by the availability of the professors, who took the time to show us around their labs and to explain their research projects with passion and generosity.

It was at that time that I met my future master’s and doctoral supervisor, Daniel Guay, who offered me a summer internship in the field of nanostructured materials for electrocatalysis, a project in partnership with IREQ, the Hydro-Québec research centre. The confidence that Daniel showed in me led to my operating several characterization devices and carrying out electrochemical experiments by myself. He literally threw me into the research project at the same level as his graduate and postgraduate students. It was undeniably this internship that revealed my great interest in research and, at the same time, in the materials sciences. In addition, other research experiences, in particular during an exchange year in France, increased my appreciation for INRS, which concentrates on research, a unique context that combines what is found in industry and at university. It’s the best of both worlds, I would say.

What has stayed with you from your INRS experience?

Research funding is a preponderant aspect for its quality and impact. Thanks to the fact that INRS is Canada’s premier university when it comes to research intensity, the professors have the resources to undertake world-class research. It offers research laboratories and equipment that are quite comparable with those of the best universities while access is facilitated by a smaller number of users. Moreover, the concept of a centre for graduate and postgraduate research and training ensures greater availability of teaching faculty to supervise and guide students in their research projects. I remember the numerous interactions that allowed me to extend my research to other scientific horizons and to make improvements thanks to feedback received from several professors. I also remember the quality of the dedicated and enthusiastic technicians who played an essential role in the completion of some of my key experiments.

Do you have a favourite memory about the campus?

One characteristic of the Énergie Matériaux Télécommunications research centre that undeniably contributed to the quality of my time at INRS was the array of social and sport activities organized both by employees and by students, and how everyone was involved in them. From this developed a real spirit of camaraderie, mutual aid and support at all levels, not just among students, but also with the professors, technicians and administrative staff. All were passionate about research, curious about the work of others, and always ready to contribute. 

What is the most important lesson you learned from your time at INRS? 

The dissertation is a long-term research project to which you entirely dedicate yourself. There’s little or no equivalent in the workforce, even during a career in research. Postdoctoral researchers, professors, researchers in an industrial setting, or those like me, in a national laboratory, are required to work on several projects in parallel, supervise research activities, find funding, present our research capacities and establish collaboration among other activities. The dynamic at INRS encourages idea exchange, collaboration and co-operation in a multidisciplinary context. This dynamic is naturally distance from working in isolation that is often the case with the dissertation, which significantly improves the quality of your research project, encourages the development of team problem-solving reflexes and, at the same time, allows for contributions to others’ projects. This dynamic is very formative and well prepares you to a career in research.

Can you speak about your career path since you obtained your degree?

After my doctorate, I obtained a postdoctoral scholarship allowing me to continue my research work at the Colleges of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, which are part of the new Albany NanoTech complex. However, a few months later, an opening was created and I joined the ranks of the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) in Boucherville, formerly the Industrial Materials Institute, as a researcher with projects resulting from a new cold spray facility. Between 2009 and 2013, I devoted a large part of my work to research and development (R&D) projects, funded by industry, some of which promoted the marketing of new technological products and solutions. From 2013, I have been coordinating, as team leader, NRC’s thermal spray activities. The team is comprised of eleven researchers and nine technicians. This position has led me to play a more strategic role, both at NRC and in the scientific community, by directing multi-partner projects—such as one with an industrial R&D group on cold spray additive manufacturing—and by participating in international committees and organizing conferences.

How did your time at INRS prepare you for your career?

In addition, of course, to the scientific and technical knowledge I acquired, general skills for research that I was able to develop—thanks in particular to the considerable involvement of my supervisor—were determinant for my career at the NRC. In addition, my time at INRS well prepared me to team work with technicians and collaboration with student colleagues, and during my master’s, at work with industry clients.

What advice would you like to give to today’s students?

A master’s or a dissertation is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. It’s a process that allows you to develop not only your knowledge, but above all, all the skills that you won’t have the time to develop to this level in a workplace and which will be a guarantee of your future success. A diploma is not an end in itself, it’s a springboard and your results will be proportionate to your efforts and the resilience you demonstrate during your research project.

So, live your project with passion, explore different routes, make mistakes, read a lot in your field. But, also expand your horizons, take an interest in other people’s projects, seize opportunities for internships abroad and outside of the university setting, as well as the opportunities offered by your work projects. And, most of all, surround yourself with others, consult people, seek advice at all levels because, today, research is a co-operative matter.

In fact, R&D is a continuum. No matter where you are, whether in basic research or in the development of a commercial product, you’ll benefit from learning what’s done before you and after you in your field. Understand both the issues of the ecosystem in which you are evolving and those where others in the scientific community concentrate their efforts.

What are your wishes for the future?

The challenges we face collectively, like climate change and other environmental issues, population growth, and the need to increase the food supply, new contagious diseases like the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic are unprecedented. Scientists have sounded the alarm; they have provided a profound comprehension of the situation and have started to develop technological solutions. Without a doubt, intensifying our research, science and technology that target these questions is the only viable approach for continuing our lifestyle. Still, these problems are worldwide and concerted global action of a scale unequalled in history is necessary. This will have to be accomplished through politics, they will need the skills to convince our societies to join together to fight these threats, and convince citizens to support the necessary transformations. So I wish for the future that this world action occurs, allowing scientific research contributors to live in a new, optimistic and fulfilling era.

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