Researcher builds onto the basics

When looking for their next ‘life project’ last year, Ana Dias and family initially thought they would build a new house in their home country of Brazil.

Instead, today, Ana spends her time analyzing and reporting on the business needs of small- and medium-sized Canadian enterprises as a research assistant with Research & Innovation’s Business & Commercialization Solutions team.

How did this leap come about? A happenstance conversation from a fellow Brazilian who told her she should look at education opportunities at Niagara College (NC).

Alberto Hardt, now also a research assistant in a different NC innovation centre, came to Ana’s house one day while selling his worldly goods (in this case, a Lego set) in preparation for a move to Canada. “He came into my house, and he said, ‘You should go to Canada!’ so I asked him to tell me more,” she recalls.

And the more she and husband Guilherme learned from the conversation, and their own research, the more it made sense for them to take Alberto’s advice, pack up everything in their home city of Campinas, and move to Niagara at the end of 2021.

Today, Ana is in her second term of the Business Sales and Marketing program; Guilherme runs his graphic design studio remotely; and daughter Celeste just finished Grade 1 in a St. Catharines school.

“We decided it would be good for our family to go abroad and have this experience together, that it would be a better investment than just to build a house.”

No sooner was Ana in school, enhancing her sales and marketing knowledge, then she was also looking for a part-time position to further augment her classroom learning. She has a marketing degree and worked on an MBA in Branding Management, and has worked in the business for 20 years before coming to Canada, but she says she needed to go back to the basics for a fresh perspective on her career.

“Working in research allows me to embrace a variety of industries and get to know the different nuances of each market. I think that’s amazing!”

When a position was posted with Research & Innovation, she applied right away, she says. “I love academics so much that I told my husband I was going to try to get a job at the college. I love to research about different products and projects. Working in research allows me to embrace a variety of industries and get to know the different nuances of each market. I think that’s amazing!”

Her studies for her classwork and her work as a research assistant have both allowed that love of research to blossom. And she is gaining brand-new information, she adds, as she works on a research team that solves business and marketing challenges for SMEs who come to the college for applied research projects.

For example, she had to start from scratch on the topic of greenhouses – they just don’t have them in Brazil – while diving into a project helping a greenhouse software company in need of reaching a certain market. “It’s B2B business, so there is not as much information online about this type of product. We had to do primary research and find competitors in the market to build a case on how to market themselves.”

While she sometimes feels challenged by researching and presenting in English, she is also excited for the opportunity to be able to speak with the industry partners and help them on their innovation journey. “Sometimes I get nervous because I have to think about the research and how to answer questions. But I like the challenge and I like to bring new insights to the clients. I need that in my world.”

Her persistence has served her well thus far. She recalls a time about 13 years ago when she spoke very little English, but she was in London, England and needed a job to pay rent. She persuaded a pub owner to hire not only her, but also her husband (then her boyfriend), to clear away dirty glassware, so they could pay their bills. They also improved their English while on the job, and she continues to work on her English every day now that she is in Canada.

When not in class or working on projects for the research group, you can likely find Ana enjoying the many outdoor activities of Niagara, including hiking in Short Hills Provincial Park, cycling along the Welland Canal Parkway Trail, or kayaking the recreational canal in Welland. Most of her days start with a workout in the earliest hours of the morning: “I need to work out to start my day; that makes it a good day.”

Her family is also looking forward to another first when they experience camping in Muskoka later this summer.

Update: Since this profile was published in July 2022, Ana has moved back to Brazil where she works on branding and design products. She’s also gone back to school again, this time studying pedagogy. Her plan is to work in the education field with children at early stages of development. Ana shared that she’s confident that her work experience with Research & Innovation and Niagara College education will set her apart and make a difference in her new area of study.