What are your main responsibilities or activities in your current position?
My role has three main components:
- 1-to-1 career / professional development advising with UBC graduate students and graduate alumni
- Supporting UBC Graduate programs / departments / cohorts in career development events and programming (e.g. collaboration on workshops, speakers, career nights)
- Developing, organizing, running, and evaluating larger, campus-wide career events for UBC graduate students, with a focus on providing opportunities for graduate students to interact with local employers and professionals.
How does your current work relate to your graduate degree?
My current work is actually very different from my MSc in topic and area of expertise. Directly transferable skills from my graduate work to my current role include the ability to work with large, complex datasets; proceduralized problem-solving techniques; and using an evaluative mindset to continuously assess and improve our supports and services. More useful in a day-to-day context, however, were my experiences outside of my formal academic program. As a graduate teaching assistant, I gained valued skills interacting with students – mentoring, advising, coaching, and so on. Participating in the departmental community was also hugely important. I served on committees, helped run events, and generally tried to interact with faculty, staff, and students as much as possible. This collaborative approach has proved invaluable in my current role, for two reasons. First, we often partner with other campus units, so the ability to liaise, persuade, and cooperate is crucial, Second, by immersing myself in the culture and activities of my department, I gained an understanding of how such a community functions, grows, and thrives. This knowledge makes it easier for me to relate to colleagues, students, and faculty from a wide range of disciplines.
As a student affairs professional, two additional factors of my graduate education have been surprisingly useful. First, the fact that I have two science degrees (BSc, MSc) has provided me with an unusual (and valuable) background and skillset. Many advisors / student affairs staff have humanities, social sciences, or education backgrounds. So the science training gives me a different kind of flexibility. Second, I am very grateful that I chose a research-based masters, rather than a course-based program. I inadvertently developed proficiencies in multi-tasking, prioritizing, and project management as I balanced my thesis, courses, and working as a TA and RA.
What do you like and what do you find challenging about your current position?
I love that I get to work with graduate students from a wide range of backgrounds: science, applied science, arts, engineering, medicine, education, and so on. Also, the office I work in, the Centre for Student Involvement & Careers, is engaged many programs across UBC, with all kinds of students. So the wealth of knowledge amongst our staff is immense. It creates a very stimulating, collaborative, positive environment, which I find both refreshing and productive.
Is your current career path as you originally intended?
Not at all. But I'm thrilled with where I've ended up. Serendipity (or as we say in the office, "Planned Happenstance") played a large role in my career shifts – from pure science, to geoscience, to cartography and GIS, to TA / RA work, to academic advising, to career advising. It's been a fantastic journey.
What motivated you to pursue graduate work at UBC?
Having completed my BSc here, UBC was a natural choice for an MSc. At the time (2010), I considered three options: a technical program at BCIT, finding work in the geosciences, or pursuing a research-based MSc. Ultimately, the chance to work with two fantastic graduate supervisors helped seal the deal: UBC was the place for me.
What did you enjoy the most about your time as a graduate student at UBC?
I was able to engage in such a wide range of academic (and non-academic) activities. My program was flexible to allow me to work part-time during my studies (something I value – and encourage! – as part of a healthy work-life balance). The multi-disciplinary, collaborative community of the Department of Geography here at UBC was also a phenomenal place to work and study. The relationships with students, staff, and faculty that originated there continue to be a source of inspiration and collegiality.
What key things did you do, or what attitudes or approaches did you have, that contributed to your success?
Be flexible. Collaborate often. Actively engage yourself in learning, as much as much as you can, from those around you.
What is your best piece of advice for current graduate students preparing for their future careers?
Get involved as much as you can during your graduate program, especially with activities spearheaded by other graduate students: informal research talks, Three Minute Thesis, student-led conferences, social events, the works. These are your future colleagues or mentors (or perhaps even future bosses). And remember – graduate school is not a race. Far better, in my opinion, to take a little longer (a term or two) to publish papers, go to conferences, work as a TA / RA, and engage in professional or academic service. These are the experiences that will get you a good job.
Did you have any breaks in your education?
In a way, I did have a break. I first enrolled as a BSc student in Physics at UBC in 2002. I was not very successful in first year, so I took a break and studied at Capilano College (now Capilano University) for two years. In hindsight, I should have started at Capilano and gradually transitioned to UBC later. The abrupt change from high school to first year sciences at UBC was overwhelming. My time at Capilano was engaging and transformative. I took a diverse range of subjects – Japanese, Linguistics, Psychology, Creative Writing. Surprisingly, many of these studies have continued to be useful later in life, in unexpected ways. After this period of exploration, I returned to UBC, dedicated to complete a BSc in Geography.
How did you find out about/obtain your current position?
I simply saw the posting on the UBC staff careers website. I was aware of the work happening in this office, and had met and collaborated with a few staff members previously.
What challenges did you face in your graduate degree, or in launching your career?
Working at a university is rewarding, exciting, and engaging. The job search process for university work can be intimidating, however – budget cycles are tight and do not always move as quickly as you might like. So have a back-up plan, or a part-time job that can keep you going during breaks in your program, or after your program, but before you begin full-time work. In my case, this part-time job has been lifeguarding. Consider part-time job options that are
- flexible in scheduling
- expand your skillset
- let you interact with a wide variety of colleagues / clients.
Employers value a diverse work history.
How are jobs normally posted and filled in your organization or industry?
Our core staff is around 30 FTE (full-time equivalents), with another 10-15 individuals who have part-time roles (or dual-report to other units). We typically have a least one or two job postings up at any given time, though that can vary significantly throughout the year.