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From PhD to Life

Transition Q & A: Bruce Harpham


Bruce Harpham earned his MA in history from Western University, as well as a master’s of information studies from the University of Toronto. He’s currently a senior financial analyst at the Bank of Montreal. Find him online at Project Management Hacks and follow him on Twitter @PMPhacks.

When you finished your MA, what did you plan to do next?

I immediately started my second Master’s degree in information studies at the University of Toronto. While there, I had a very ambitious study program. I completed the Book History and Print Culture program and wrote a Master’s thesis on net neutrality. I love books and the Internet and simply couldn’t choose between the two of them.

What did you want to do after earning your library degree?

I was interested in finding a role where I could do research and publishing such as a librarian role at a university. To that end, I had a job interview at the University of Saskatchewan in 2009. In the end I did not receive an offer, and that worked out for the best. I love living in Toronto and I have no plans to move at this point.

What was your first job after your library degree?

I landed a contract consultant role at University of Toronto Asset Management (UTAM) in the fall of 2009. That role was my first introduction to the financial industry. Lehman Brothers had collapsed a year earlier and the financial world was in serious turmoil.

I found the entire industry fascinating. Ironically, it was never an industry I considered during my university studies. Since then, I’ve taken the Canadian Securities Course and several other financial courses to advance my knowledge of the industry.

What do you do now?

My current role is senior financial analyst at the Bank of Montreal in downtown Toronto. I am based in a department called Supplier Relationship Management that manages suppliers that provide service to the bank.

What kind of tasks do you do on a daily and weekly basis?

Do you know Microsoft Excel? Every day, I spend hours in Excel organizing and analyzing financial data. Other tasks include identifying and correcting errors in invoices, financial reports and related materials. I also have responsibilities to manage invoice processing for some of the department’s largest suppliers such as Canada Post. My role – like everyone else at the bank – also includes risk management. In fact, the constant focus on risk management is one of the reasons that no Canadian banks failed during the 2008-2009 financial crisis.

About half of my responsibilities occur on a repeating schedule. For example, there are weekly and monthly invoices to be paid. The invoices are often quite complex (one monthly invoice is 75 pages long) so close reading is necessary to ensure they are in good order. In addition, there are some project meetings from time to time where I work with vendors or other departments of the bank on various initiatives.

What most surprises you about your job?

I’m constantly impressed by my colleagues’ depth of knowledge and expertise. Some of them have direct experience in managing statements, overseeing cheque processing and supervising mail operations. They have built excellent processes to manage risk and keep everything working smoothly.

What are your favourite parts of your job?

I enjoy implementing projects that have a clear, measurable result. For example, I implemented several cost reduction plans that have saved over $300,000 in 2013. It feels great to make a contribution to the organization’s bottom line. I also enjoy the creativity of identifying a problem and designing a project to improve the situation.

What would you change about it if you could?

I would increase the number of projects and innovation – that’s what excites me. There are certain routine tasks in finance work – e.g. preparing monthly accounts – that are necessary but not quite exciting. It would be great to attend one or two professional conferences a year.

What’s next for you, career-wise?

I started the Project Management Hacks website recently. On the website, I provide productivity and project management articles based on my corporate experience and study. In the long term, I plan to offer digital courses for sale on the site.

What advice or thoughts do you have for MAs (or PhDs) in transition now?

I have plenty of suggestions but I’ll limit myself to three for now. These are based on my own study and experience.

  • Suggestion 1. Set aside time and $10-$20 each month to meet new people for coffee and expand your network. Harvey McKay has a great quote about networking – “Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty.” Specifically, I recommend looking at and joining at least one professional association (many have great membership rates for students).
  • Suggestion 2. Read these two books to develop your skills further. First read Getting Things Done by David Allen for the best productivity system I’ve ever encountered. Next, read Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time by Keith Ferrazzi and Tahl Raz for excellent guidance and tips on the art of networking.
  • Suggestion 3. Meet with alumni from your program and ask them about their careers. Most universities publish alumni magazines (here is the great University of Toronto magazine, for example) – these publications are a great resource for finding interesting alumni to meet.
Jennifer Polk
Jennifer Polk is a career coach and entrepreneur. She earned her PhD in history from the University of Toronto in 2012. For more information and resources, check out her website:
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