Sam Bradd

If I was a new grad, don't stress about where you'll work. Put the effort into how you'll work, instead.
Self employed
Graphic Facilitator
Burnaby, Canada

What are your main responsibilities or activities in your current position?

I’m a graphic facilitator. I use visuals to help groups increase engagement, solve problems, and lead. During a session, I listen deeply and then draw out – on giant paper – what's happening. It's a real-time visual summary. It's a powerful tool for reflection and engagement because visual language helps us communicate better. People care when they see their ideas matter, and information makes more sense. Together, it's Drawing Change. I've worked with the World Health Organization, Google, RBC, UBC, the David Suzuki Foundation, the First Nations Health Authority, many researchers, and progressive organizations.

Graphic facilitation is a unique calling – and combines two of my favourite things: facilitation and visual thinking. The drawings can look effortless while it's happening, but it's the result of great communication with my clients ahead of time. First, we establish their objectives for the session or project, plan agendas, and then collaborate on how visuals can meet their goals. During the session, I'm there to serve the group, draw and create visuals, stay flexible, and collaborate with the facilitation team. Afterwards, I transform the giant posters into digital images so there's an easy to share record of what happened. I also work with clients to design knowledge translation projects such as infographics.

How does your current work relate to your graduate degree?

When people find out I draw professionally, people are always surprised I didn't go to art school. Instead, doing a graduate degree in Educational Studies helped me engage in the inner work that makes me a better educator and facilitator. It was an opportunity to examine my role in reconciliation, social justice, and cultural safety, for example, which is crucial to my cross-cultural work.

I also took extra classes in research methods, including participatory and community-based research methods. One of the things I've noticed in my consulting career is that no matter what the sector – it could be global public health or improving a food bank service – is that every group knows that listening is fundamental to success. No matter what work you do, we have to listen to communities, and good research is part of that.

My work primarily is about communication and knowledge translation. For example, in the same month I might work with scientists, urban planners, or clinicians. I am not an expert in their field, but my foundation in research methods helps me understand what they are trying to communicate. If I didn't have a strong research background, I might over-simplify their ideas or methods in a way that doesn't serve the bigger purpose.

What do you like and what do you find challenging about your current position?

Every session is a new challenge – I listen and draw for some of the world's leading thinkers. It could be a TED speaker, a neuroethicist, or a team trying to improve social belonging at their school. I love meeting people from so many amazing walks of life and finding ways to bring their stories to the page!

Is your current career path as you originally intended?

I never would have imagined this as a career path, and I've never been happier. What I love about this career is that I'm learning something new every day – it's an amazing way to continue my lifelong education. Graphic facilitation brings together two important parts of my life: working with groups and visual thinking, and it's led to a creative, rewarding career. But if I look back, there were clues to my interest in this field all along. While working for non-profits, I ran peer support groups, did labour relations, and did outreach work which honed my listening skills – and at the same time, I was the person asking, "is there an organizational chart for this? Can we make a booklet that explains this grant-making process?" which usually resulted in developing new visual tools. When I discovered there was a career that focused on this, I made the switch.

What motivated you to pursue graduate work at UBC?

I chose UBC because I wanted an educational degree with a focus on social justice, and the Educational Studies program had the right amount of focus and flexibility. What makes UBC special to me is that it's a world-class research institution and is a "living lab": amazing natural surroundings (on Musqueam territories), a unique farm, and a commitment to social and environmental sustainability.

What did you enjoy the most about your time as a graduate student at UBC?

The joy of a big campus is that there's always something to do and see: museums, music, interesting talks, or sitting under the Ponderosa pine and reading articles with a study group. I also remember the Educational Studies classes in the old portables fondly. They were plain on the outside, but inside my colleagues and I had challenging, thought-provoking conversations that transcended those boxes.

What key things did you do, or what attitudes or approaches did you have, that contributed to your success?

Successful facilitators and consultants put the needs of the group before their own egos. Be humble, and always be learning.

Be open to new opportunities. When someone offered me the chance to write a comic book with a team of historians, even though I had never made one before, I was willing to take a chance. This was 9 years ago, and led to the Graphic History Collective publishing two books, which was something none of us expected.

If I was a new grad, don't stress about where you'll work. Put the effort into how you'll work, instead. This is about understanding your personal strengths: do you prefer team-based projects, or more autonomy, for example? Understanding what are the factors that help you be authentic at work will help you find a rewarding career in perhaps an unlikely setting, and might help you say yes to something you hadn't considered.

What is your best piece of advice for current graduate students preparing for their future careers?

Be useful, do good work, and stay true to your values – this will help you find career happiness.

Did you have any breaks in your education?

I am a big advocate of setting an educational schedule that works for you – and mine was unusual. I worked full time and went to school for my undergrad and my masters and took a large break in between degrees. When I enrolled at UBC, I initially planned to finish my degree quickly, but then my consulting/facilitation career expanded quickly. I saw unique work opportunities emerging – and that meant taking classes more slowly. This turned out to be a huge benefit because I could take the educational theory I was studying and immediately try it in my work.


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