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From PhD to Life

Transition Q & A: Kara Santokie


Kara Santokie earned her PhD in political science from the University of Toronto. Formerly a professor, she is now director of Toronto Women’s City Alliance, where she works towards the inclusion of women’s voices in municipal politics. Her work has led her to be featured in the Toronto Star, NOW Magazine, CTV News, CP24, and the CBC, among others. Kara is also working on a book about sex trafficking and she is the director of Shout Sister, a community choir for women in Toronto.

What did you hope for in terms of employment as you completed your PhD?

I felt open to both academic and non-academic options. However, I was fortunate enough to receive a job offer from the Asian University for Women in Bangladesh, so I completed my PhD knowing what the next step would be.

What was your first post-PhD job?

I was an assistant professor of political science at the Asian University for Women. I also branched out a bit as the piano teacher, and I started a university choir!

What do you do now?

I decided to return to Toronto, Canada. So it was like starting my life all over again because I had either sold or packed up everything to move to Bangladesh. I immediately started job hunting when I came back. Now I’m the director of Toronto Women’s City Alliance (TWCA), an organization that works towards the inclusion of women’s voices in municipal politics. This was my first job upon my return, and I started off as the project director.

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

On a daily basis, I deal with the organization’s correspondence and ongoing projects. I also keep a close eye on local and provincial politics so that I can do any relevant policy analysis for TWCA. Over the course of a week, I will most likely have at least a couple of meetings, either with other organizations, city of Toronto staff and occasionally provincial staff. I am the public face of TWCA and I represent the organization at city hall and all other legislative arenas. I speak at many events about gender and municipal policy and I also organize outreach events for diverse women. To some extent, these can mirror the legislative calendar. For example, during the municipal election, I did many speaking engagements and I conducted elections literacy workshops for diverse women. During the budget period, I published policy analysis. My focus now is the city’s Poverty Reduction Strategy, working on an equity lens for use across Canada, and developing a municipal literacy toolkit for women.

Over the months, I have to ensure that we are completing our work plan, our budget is properly allocated, and any necessary funding reports are completed.

What most surprises you about your job?

There aren’t so many surprises anymore, but when I first started, I mistakenly thought that not much happened in municipal politics. However, I was immediately thrust into giving public commentary and it has never been dull since!

What are your favourite parts of your job?

My favourite audiences are high school students, although I hardly speak at high schools. When I do get the opportunity, their ideas are always really interesting! I also really like getting stuff published in the newspaper! I think that more people have read my work in one year than at least 10 years of academic life would have produced.

What would you change about it if you could?

Most jobs in the non-profit sector are tenuous, and they are overwhelmingly occupied by women. I would wish for secure benefits, maternity leave and pensions for all these women.

What’s next for you, career-wise?

Hopefully something to do with creating policy. I do like that very much!

What advice or thoughts do you have for post-PhDs in transition now?

Feel the fear and leap anyway! Job hunting is stressful and can really affect your soul, so I completely understand how hard that journey can be. I feel a lot of gratitude for what I have achieved. There can also be many surprises. In my own life, I got the opportunity to start a community choir for women here in Toronto last February, something that I would have never imagined when I made the decision to move back. Now, it’s also a side-career that I love, and it’s amazing to watch my choir grow. Fill your life with meaning to help salve the rough patches in the transition.

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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