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From PhD to Life

Transition Q & A: Lisa Bélanger, innovator and CEO


Dr. Lisa Bélanger is an award-winning researcher, innovator, and she is CEO of ConsciousWorks, a consulting firm that teaches people how insights from behavioural science can improve their personal and professional lives. Dr. Belanger holds a PhD in behavioural medicine from the University of Alberta, is a certified exercise physiologist, a published author of Inspire Me Well: Finding Motivation to Take Control of Your Health, a successful entrepreneur and an entertaining keynote speaker.

She is also founder of a national charity, Knight’s Cabin, which offers no cost, research-based wellness programming to cancer survivors. Her goal is to show individuals, corporate groups and other audiences how seemingly small habit changes can have a profound impact on one’s wellbeing, productivity, and happiness. You can find her online at, or follow her @consciousworks.

What did you hope for in terms of employment as you completed your PhD?

I knew I wanted to create impact for the work I had done in my PhD. I had become incredibly passionate about how seemingly small behaviours could have such a large impact on people’s health. While I worked specifically with cancer survivors, I was keen to also work with people before they got sick. I had always had entrepreneurship in my blood. I even started a small mobile personal training company during grad school. I loved the challenge, flexible work schedule, and working for myself.

What was your first post-PhD job?

I worked for a research funding agency. It was not the right fit for me, but the experience offered valuable connections and skill development.

What do you do now? 

I have founded a national registered charity called Knight’s Cabin, which acts as a research-to-practice organization for what I studied. The organization offers no cost, research-based retreats focused on physical activity, nutrition, stress, and sleep for cancer survivors and their supporters across Canada. I currently serve on the board of directors as founder and scientific director. We are still an operational board so I am also involved in some fundraising, strategy and day-to-day operations.

I am also founder and CEO of a boutique consulting firm, ConsciousWorks, where we are dedicated to teaching individuals and companies how to consciously invest time to increase your energy to be healthier, more resilient, happier, and get more done. ConsciousWorks uses behavioural science to close the gap between what you intend to do and what you actually do. We help build the habits that bring you toward your definition of success through consulting, workshops, and speaking.

What kind of tasks do you do on a daily and weekly basis?

The one thing that remains true with everything I do with Knight’s Cabin and ConsicousWorks is that every day is different. While the products and services I am offering through both businesses are based on my research and expertise, I have had a very steep learning curve to learn marketing, social media, strategic planning, managing people, sales, networking, accounting etc. I am slowly learning what to outsource, but still making sure I can at least know enough information to understand what is being done for my company.

What most surprises you about your job?

How much it is about networks! You hear often in business it is not about what you know; it’s about who you know. For both Knight’s Cabin and ConsciousWorks this could not be more true. I am fortunate enough to have a network of people that have helped with mentorship, business and marketing skills, donations, and served on our board of directors. Your network is your first, and most valuable, asset. People you already know are your first customers and your support system.

What are your favourite parts of your job?

My favourite part of my job is developing services and products that have a profound effect on people’s quality of life and watching my research into practice. From a logistics perspective I like the mix of independent computer work, collaborating with companies, and being on stage. I also don’t mind working from my home in the Canadian Rockies, with some travel.

What’s next for you, career-wise?

My plan is to continuously grow both Knight’s Cabin and ConsciousWorks. The opportunities are endless and I am excited to see what the next few years will bring. I hope to continue to strive to create innovative opportunities for people to invest and improve health.

What advice or thoughts do you have for post-PhDs in transition now?

Talk to as many people as possible to learn about their career paths. Finding a mentor(s) can help make the transition a bit easier and connect you to resources, job prospects, and people you may not even know exist to propel your career forward.

Jennifer Polk
Jennifer Polk is a career coach and entrepreneur. She earned her PhD in history from the University of Toronto in 2012. For more information and resources, check out her website:
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