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Alumna Profile: Melissa Dalgleish

Posted by Melissa Dalgleish on February 11, 2015 in News
Faculty of Graduate Studies, York University. Photo by Christopher Douris.
Faculty of Graduate Studies, York University. Photo by Christopher Douris.

I’m Melissa Dalgleish, Dalhousie English MA, Class of 2007. After graduating from Dal, I began my PhD at York University in 2008. Despite the assumption within my program, and across the university, that all doctoral candidates would be pursuing tenure-track jobs, I realized about midway through my degree that I really wasn’t sure that I wanted to be a professor -- I wanted to stay in Toronto, where there were almost never jobs in my field, and I realized that there were many aspects of the professorial life that just didn’t suit me.

In trying to figure out how to market myself as something other than an academic, I gathered as much information as I could get my hands on about graduate reform, career development for PhDs, professionalization, and transferable skills. In the process, I figured out that those issues-- which are fundamentally about the failure to best support graduate students during and after their degrees -- were what I was really passionate about. I then started looking for opportunities that would let me tackle the challenges facing graduate education, and graduate students, in real and meaningful ways.

I soon found a research assistantship in the Faculty of Graduate Studies at York; I was hired to research professional development programs and graduate reform initiatives being implemented at York, across Canada, and elsewhere in the world. It was a phenomenal opportunity -- I got to find out just what York was doing to address the reality of the academic job market and help its graduates negotiate a variety of post-degree pathways, and I got to make recommendations  about what we should be doing to better serve graduate students that had a good chance of being implemented. What power! During this process, I also learned how to identify and talk about the valuable skills I had honed as a graduate student, skills that we all develop -- project management, research, analysis, synthesis, community engagement, teamwork, critical thinking, writing, public speaking, time management.

When a permanent job came open in the Faculty of Graduate Studies, one that would let me keep working on graduate professional development, and also represent the needs of graduate students at the administrative level, I jumped at it. I’m now a Research Officer, one of about a dozen at York, and I support graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in research-related activities. I manage all of the university’s graduate scholarship and fellowship competitions, develop applications for major grants and awards, oversee graduate research that requires ethics approval or intellectual property agreements, and coordinate graduate research and professional development events and programs, including the Three Minute Thesis competition and our Graduate Professional Skills (GPS) program. I just launched GPS -- the same program I advocated for when I was working as a research assistant -- this past September.

This job is a perfect fit for me. I work with an extraordinarily awesome team (that’s them in the goofy photo), I support outstanding graduate students, I have a voice, from the local level to the international, in how graduate education is being reshaped, and I live exactly where I want to. I’m grateful that the education I got at Dalhousie and at York put me in precisely the right position to figure out what I wanted to do and let me start doing it, and taught me to value, and fight for the value of, graduate education.