A Coming Home Story: Sean Kristjansson
Sean Kristjansson is a Canadian researcher and data scientist who spent over 20 years in the US. He moved back to Canada in 2013 to live and work in Calgary. He recently spoke with Heather Galt, Communitech's Vice President of Talent Initiatives, about his experiences in the US and what drove him to move back to Canada with his family.
What made you decide to move back to Canada?
There are a few reasons why I came back to Canada. One reason is that being Canadian is a core part of my being. Although I lived in the U.S. for just over 20 years, both of my daughters were born in the U.S., and I hold U.S. citizenship, I always felt that Canada was my home. I missed my home.
Another reason was quality of life. After living in both countries, my impression (backed up by data) is that the middle class in Canada enjoys a standard of living that’s at least as good as (and perhaps even better) than the middle class in the U.S. Income inequality in Canada is less than in the U.S. Also, although the Canadian health care system is far from perfect, I prefer it to the U.S. system. Year after year, rising health care premiums ate up more and more of my income. In 2012, health care costs consumed almost 18% of my gross earnings.
What kind of role did you have in the US?
I held a faculty position at the Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine, which at the time, ranked in the top-5 medical schools for research in the U.S.. Our research group focused on disentangling the genetic and environmental influences on alcohol and nicotine addiction. We were also interested in understanding genetic influences on specific regions and pathways in the brain and how, in turn, functional differences in these regions and pathways related to high-risk decision-making.
What kind of role do you have now?
Currently, I’m the Director of the Artificial Intelligence Lab at GuildOne. We design and build intelligent, enterprise software to find information in data that enables business leaders to make better decisions and to gain competitive advantage.
What surprised you about your move back?
I actually love winter! I was also amazed by the number of people with high-level technical expertise and entrepreneurial talent. It’s a great community, and I’ve been lucky to be part of it.
What challenges did you face in moving back to Canada?
I certainly missed my friends and colleagues in the U.S.. The transition from academics to industry was also a bit of a challenge. Luckily, though, I met some like-minded people who’ve been willing to team up and take some risks. They helped mentor and guide me through that transition. I’ve learned a lot from them, and I owe them a debt of gratitude.
What has made you happy about your move back?
I love the open spaces and access to the outdoors. I try to get into the mountains as often as possible. I especially love back-country skiing. The Canadian Rockies truly are world-class.
What advice would you have for someone considering coming home?
Just come home!