Panel: Talks emphasize an open mind to unexpected career paths.
Choosing the next step in life can be an intimidating process, one which university students are all too familiar. Last Friday, four Mount Allison alumni told current students about their experiences after graduating with a science degree at a panel entitled “Career Paths with your Science Degree.” The event was held in the Wu Auditorium and put on by Career Services and the Faculty of Science. Students heard about the alumni’s respective experiences in becoming a wildlife biologist, technology lawyer, policy analyst and pharmacist.
The event organizers invited speakers who could talk about how finding the right career is often unclear after graduation. “Where a lot of people start versus where they end is totally different, so you should always have an open mind,” said Weihong Lu, Administrative Coordinator for Sciences and one of the event’s organizers. “There’s no path necessarily from here to there,” added Jeff Ollerhead, Dean of Science and another organizer. Rebecca Leaman from Career Services also organized the event.
Aneri Garg, an EnvironmentalScience Honours student in her third year, was one of the few dozen students who attended the talks. “One thing that resonated was that even though you may not be using the specific material you learned, the skills that you acquire will be of use,” she said. “I find that quite encouraging.”
The presenters had a diverse and sometimes unrelated combination of educational backgrounds and employment experience. Nic McLellan graduated from Mount Allison in 2002 with an honours degree in Biology and has been working for Ducks Unlimited Canada as a conservation programs specialist since 2007. Ron Dauphinee graduated from Mount Allison in 2007 with a Bachelor of Science in Physics and Math, and now works as a senior policy analyst in Nova Scotia’s Department of Municipal Affairs.
Vera Ranieri graduated from Mount Allison with a Bachelor of Science in Math and Computer Science in 2006, and now works as an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Jeni Horsfall graduated from Mount Allison in 2006 with a Bachelor of Science in Biology, and now works at the Sackville Jean Coutu as a pharmacist.
These Mount Allison alumni were invited to speak based on the diversity of their employment areas, and had different advice for students in the audience about potential careers.
“Your ideal job might not come first but you can build experience that’s a step in the right direction,” said McLellan. He said that it took time and effort to finally secure a job with Ducks Unlimited Canada, and before that he was sometimes unemployed.
McLellan had broad plans of becoming an ornithologist during his undergraduate years. After completing his bachelor’s degree at Mount Allison, he pursued a master’s degree at Acadia University. He then held a series of short-term jobs.
Ranieri used her background in computer science at Mount Allison to aid her as a technology attorney.
“Having the ability to understand the technology [I work with] is a great thing, and the education that I got was fantastic in giving me confidence to speak about it,” she said.
Ranieri had plans of becoming a doctor in her first year but then she took an interest in computer science and math. While working on her final project for an upper-year cryptography class, she learned about the firm for which she currently works.
“I found their work fascinating, the intersection between the real world and what I was learning about in school, which was oftentimes a very theoretical experience,” Ranieri said. She studied law at Harvard after graduating from Mount Allison.
Dauphinee said he was drawn to government work unrelated to his educational background while completing his master’s degree in physics at the University of Western Ontario.
Dauphinee also received a master’s degree in public administration at Dalhousie University. He said he realized that he didn’t have the patience to do science. “I didn’t have a strong individual passion. I never wanted to be one particular thing, but I recognized that [the] government has a very strong and positive role to play in our society, and that I’d like to work for government,” he said.
Dauphinee enjoys his job for its diversity. “I get a broad exposure to a lot of interesting things, and the nature of the work changes constantly,” he said. His work ranges from academic research to collaborating with civil policy makers.
Horsfall said she pursued pharmacy because it aligned with her interests during her undergraduate degree at Mount Allison.
“I didn’t want to be a doctor, but I wanted to be involved in healthcare,” she said, “I was really into physiology while I was at Mount A. I love the way how medication works in the body.” She completed her degree in pharmacy at Memorial University and is currently a doctoral candidate in pharmacy. Horsfall also said that although pharmacy program applicants don’t need an undergraduate degree, her experiences at Mount Allison strengthened her application.
“Your marks get your interview, but then you have to show why you’re a well-rounded person and a benefit to the program,” she said. “At Mount A, I did all kinds of stuff which helped round out my application.”
The event’s presenters also had advice to give to the audience, which ranged from general to specific.
McLellan emphasized the importance of personal attitude and reputation in finding work.
“In hiring, we want someone who can work well with a team and can communicate well,” he said. “Be in tune with your reputation. It’s a small world and if your application is at risk, it can stick to you.” McLellan also encouraged listeners not be discouraged by unemployment.
“It’s always disheartening to be without work for a little while, but things tend to fall into place after a few months and you build on your career,” he said. “Your ideal job might not come first but you can build experience that is a step in the right direction.”
Dauphinee said that the skills he gained while doing a science degree made him a competitive applicant to policy analyst work.
“There aren’t enough quantitative analysis experts in government, and I think science students in particular have skills useful in this respect,” he said.
Ranieri emphasized the importance of passion in finding the right job.
“If you feel passionate about something, try and find a job that meets that passion. It will shine through in what you do,” she said. She also said that graduates looking for a job in a given field should apply for positions even when they don’t meet its qualifications. “You might get rejected,” she said. “So what? Move on.”
This year’s event organizers said they were pleased with the turnout, but wished that more science students had attended.
“We had about 40 students come, which is fine,” said Dean Ollerhead, “but there are roughly 800 Bachelor of Science students at this university.”
Each participant was asked several questions following their speech about the nature of their work and their career path. McLellan and Horsfall in particular answered many inquiries about their respective jobs as a wildlife biologist and a pharmacist.
McLellan and Horsfall gave their speeches in person. Ranieri spoke to the audience over an internet phone from San Francisco, where she currently lives and works. Dauphinee meant to come to Mount Allison from Halifax for his presentation, but was forced to join the event over internet phone due to Friday’s snowy weather.