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Careers Café

Finding hidden career treasures at your university

Your university may already have a number of offerings that you assume it doesn’t.


It’s an obvious point, but universities are made up of a large number of intelligent, creative people spread across offices and departments that often work in isolation. So, it’s no wonder that those people come up with great projects and programs, and are then met with the challenge of getting the word out to the rest of the university community.

All of this is a backdrop for my less obvious point: your university may already have a number of offerings that you assume it doesn’t – offerings that can help you explore career options. And they won’t all come from your career office or your department’s professionalization seminars (though both are great starting points).

I’ll start with awards, which are on my mind because McMaster University is launching a new award for current and incoming McMaster grad students that is dear to my heart. It is the kind of award I wish had existed when I was a grad student and, in the interests of full disclosure, it is an award I’ll oversee. (So, I can promise that it will be responsive to the needs of its winners.) While it still provides a nice bit of funding, it also aims to help launch grad students’ future careers through mentorship and experiential learning.

This kind of award might be a rarity – for now – but expect to see more like it in the future, for both internal and external award programs. In terms of external awards, I’m thinking of funding like the Trudeau Foundation and intensive programs like Action Canada. As with any opportunity that looks exclusive and valuable, many potential applicants talk themselves out of applying. If you’re really not sure whether an award or program is for you, don’t just assume it’s not – use whatever contact information you find to get your questions answered.

Look, too, to offices that pique your curiosity or just strike you as mysterious. At Mac, that might include offices like the MacPherson Institute, which offers even more opportunities than its “Get Involved” webpage suggests (like research funding, conferences, and training). The Office of Community Engagement also comes to mind, with its grad student-powered Research Shop and broad community networks.  Your institution will have its own unique opportunities.  If you wonder, “What does that office actually do?” the answer is probably “More than you think.”

Alumni offices often support career development directly through networking events and mentor networks, or less directly, just by giving you opportunities to hear from people in different fields and get a taste for the sorts of problems they get to solve. Their offerings may be open to people who aren’t alumni.

The main themes this month are: expect to have to do some digging and, if you find something that interests you, don’t worry about whether or not it targets you. Ask questions, find out more, and see if it seems worthwhile to participate.

Liz Koblyk
Liz Koblyk is the associate director of the Wilson Leadership Scholar Award at McMaster University.
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  1. misbah hassan / October 15, 2018 at 10:37

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