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Career Discovery Tours connect graduate students with real‑world experience

Posted by Erin Elaine Casey on February 14, 2018 in News

L-R: Benji Spagat, Emilie English, Christine Cousins, Alison McLaughlin

The transition from school to career is big. No matter how you slice it, making the leap from studying to working can feel overwhelming. The good news is that hands-on, real-world experience can increase your confidence, bolster your skills and get you connected to an invaluable network of alumni and friends.

In December, Faculty of Management students in the Master of Library Information Studies (MLIS) and Master of Resource and Environmental Management (MREM) programs took part in Career Discovery Tours. These two-day experiential learning opportunities allow students to connect in person and network with program alumni and professionals in related careers and organizations. Students also visit a range of workplaces, participate in practice interviews with industry professionals, and learn about career choices available after graduation.

The MLIS tour to Toronto was organized by Management Career Services (MCS). Robert Wooden, Acting Director of MCS, led nine students through two jam-packed days of activities designed to prepare them to take full advantage of their education and training. “They don’t necessarily know all the different directions their degree could take them or understand how their competencies could apply in many different industries,” he explains. On this tour alone, students visited the Toronto Public Library, the University Health Network and Michener Institute, Ryerson University Library and Deloitte Consulting. They also attended panel discussions, networked with alumni and gained invaluable feedback through practice interviews.

Second-year MLIS student Christine Cousins, from Guelph, was struck by the “openness among my future colleagues and their willingness to talk and answer questions. If you’re undecided or uncertain about where you want to go, this tour is excellent because it gives you lots of options. Information management is not just libraries anymore—our professors tell us this, but it’s good to see how it plays out in real life.” Cousins is leaning toward public librarianship.

Christine Cousins at a practice interview at the Ryerson University Library

When first-year MLIS student Alison McLaughlin signed up for the tour, she wasn’t sure what to expect. She’s interested in academic librarianship, but she’s also considering special libraries and other non-library information management careers. For her, the tour demystified the process of choosing a career path. “I’ve been a student my whole life,” she explains. “It made the whole starting to work thing a little less daunting. We had panels and got to ask people questions about how they got where they are and how they made that decision.”

Another bonus was discovering that a city like Toronto might be a fun place to live. Coming from tiny Grand Falls, New Brunswick, McLaughlin had never experienced a city bigger than Halifax. The verdict? “I could live in a big city and actually like it!” McLaughlin even scored an unscheduled tour of the Toronto Public Library with the head librarian.

The MREM tour to Ottawa was organized by Brenda Smart, Administrative Secretary to the Director and Internship Coordinator for the School for Resource and Environmental Studies. It included nine MREM students and two Master of Marine Management (MMM) students. “The tour was strictly federal government departments,” she says. “They started with practice interviews with actual managers from Environment and Climate Change Canada, and they each experienced two interviews.”

Students met with representatives from Environment and Climate Change Canada, Natural Resources Canada, Parks Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. “They learn what each department does and works on and how their day goes. We also held an alumni reception and invited employers, many of whom are also alumni,” explains Smart.

Emilie English, from Vancouver, is in her first year of the MREM program and interested in the renewable resource sector, climate change adaptation and the social aspects of resource management. “I’m personally pretty excited to get to real life!” she laughs. “Being able to talk to the alumni who work there in Ottawa, hearing what their paths have been since the program—that was encouraging. I think the MREM program is very practical, so to tie it in right away with what might be open to you when you’re done is really valuable.”

First-year MREM student Benji Spagat is from Toronto and has his eye on environmental policy analysis, pollution prevention, clean energy technology and sustainable infrastructure development. He was surprised and pleased to learn about the variety of work available at the federal level. “Even within each smaller section, they have project teams, and they look for generalists. It’s more about subject matter interest than your specific training in one area. For example, I don’t need to be a technology specialist to work on a clean tech team.”

Career Discovery Tours highlight the range of options available to students and the many different paths to get there. They also give students a chance to actually experience and learn about what it’s like to work in their chosen field. They come back to school with a robust network of friends and supporters, and the confidence to take advantage of it.

“The networking and interview skills, how to introduce yourself, asking questions of a panel—they’re all so important,” explains Wooden. “Students are practicing in a safe way. It’s a concrete application of skills you’ll use in your entire professional career.”

Smart agrees. “It’s not about us getting them internships, for example. It’s about them using their networks to get internships. The world is not a big scary place—not when we have a big network of alumni to connect to.”

There’s a lot to be said for getting out of your comfort zone. Meeting employers, doing practice interviews, touring workplaces and networking with alumni—it can all be a little nerve-wracking. But it’s worth it, according to Christine Cousins. “I think an important part of this trip was that confidence boost. Just the affirmation that I was doing a good job, and, yes, I have these skills,” she says. “Try new things, try everything—you might possibly love it!”

MREM/MMM group at the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency in Ottawa with MES alumna Julie Mailloux (left)