By: Elizabeth DiEmanuele
For many new graduates, the desire to know “what’s next” is an exciting, fulfilling, and challenging life moment. What lies ahead is not always as clear as the academic pathways often associated with programs and their requirements.
Finding a flow after graduation is more uncertain. Many new graduates must navigate the transition of once being united with their peers and sharing a common academic goal (to graduate), to venturing out on their own and determining their own career pathway, at their own pace. As Kerri Latham, career counsellor at the Student Success Centre, shares:
“Most students I meet with feel a bit apprehensive of their next steps. They are proud of finishing their degree (and rightly so!) but that pride tends to also be mixed with worry about their next steps. Transitions usually have a mixed bag of emotions and I encourage students to draw on their strengths and their supports, and to develop a strategy.”
As students ready themselves for graduation, the Student Success Centre encourages them to celebrate their accomplishment and be open to the change that comes with starting a new chapter in life. To help, the Centre opened up this conversation to students from this year’s graduating class and a recent alumna who secured employment after using alumni career services.
Exploring the World
“Reach as far as the road takes you in life and don’t turn around” are words Henok Yeshanew shares as he reflects on the advice of his mentors. “I have always stuck to these words because I want to live my life with no regrets. Cliché, but true,” he says.
Henok Yeshanew immigrated to Canada from Ethiopia when he was 8-years-old and began his post-secondary education at Mohawk College, where he gained a Certificate in Business Administration. He will be graduating from the McMaster Faculty of Social Sciences this year with combined honours in Political Science.
Now, taking a step back from college and university life, Henok plans to travel through South America.
“The most exciting thing about where I am now is the uncertainty of not knowing what’s next. Yes, you can plan your life exactly to the dot, but it doesn’t always work out.”
Travelling is one way to push limits and step outside of a comfort zone. For Henok, travelling is about exploring what the world has to offer.
“I made the decision to travel because I have always wanted to see what’s beyond these borders. My final year allowed me to plan by creating a budget for my trip and asking my peers for their recommendations.”
When asked about the experience that helped shape his decision, Henok’s answer is clear:
“There are many experiences that affected me in the past, but one stands out: university. Attending university was one of the most challenging and self-achieving moments in my life; it has taught me how to be independent and confident in myself, pushed me beyond my limits, and taught me patience. For that, I cannot be more grateful.”
Finding a Job
Securing employment after graduation is one of the most common goals for many final-year students. There can be a lot of pressure for students to pay off school and live a financially secure lifestyle, while also finding opportunities that relate to their degree and passions.
“These decisions have an impact on your future,” says Daryl Gonsalves. “I was born in Kuwait, but moved to Canada in 2002. I was the first in my family to navigate the post-secondary area, which was challenging. I did make a lot of mistakes, but I am glad of the path that I took.”
Daryl Gonsalves graduates this year with a degree in Political Science and minor in Commerce. He is one of the fortunate people in his graduating class to have a full-time position through the Ontario Legislative Internship Programme. As he readies for the program, he will spend the summer working in Queen’s Park at the Ministry of Government and Consumer Affairs. For Daryl, this summer internship is an opportunity to gain professional experience related to his degree and interests.
“In my final year, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in the public sector. I did a lot of networking and tapping into people around me for career advice, which was invaluable in terms of preparing for interviews and knowing where to apply.”
Daryl encourages his McMaster peers who are still in school to think about their search now. “Tap into your networks: family, friends, the Student Success Centre, your Faculty office, professors, etc. You lose nothing by engaging others.”
Not all graduates secure employment that is local and related to their interests; often, graduates must make the decision to cast a wider net by applying for a range of opportunities in new cities or places. Zahra Karimi, a Faculty of Sciences graduate from the Class of 2014, pursued a career far outside of her field of study and comfort zone.
“In my third year at Mac, I got job as a Fundraising Representative for the McMaster alumni phone program. That’s when I fell in love with fundraising and the impact it had on the lives of students facing financial hardship.”
Zahra Karimi made the decision to explore fundraising more fully during her undergraduate years. Upon graduation, Zahra secured a role as a Program Centre Manager with Ruffalo Noel Levitz.
“In this role, I spent two years living in different cities across Australia and New Zealand, where I managed alumni campaigns for seven different universities. I didn’t know a single person in the city, it was a new culture, and I was learning the job. The experience not only shaped me as a young professional; it allowed me to develop as an individual.”
Zahra recently returned to Canada to work at the Canadian Cancer Society. As a Corporate Development Officer, Zahra brings together her original goal to work in the health sector with her passion and strengths as a fundraiser.
“If I could go back in time and meet my first or second year self, I would tell myself to stop worrying so much about planning life,” she says. “It’s important to have goals and aspirations, but often having a very specific goal can hold you back from exploring other opportunities. There are so many different careers and jobs in the world; you are bound to find one that is the perfect match for you.”
Pursuing Further Education
Many graduates decide to continue their education post-graduation. For recent Faculty of Sciences graduate, Chelsea Bodoe, graduate studies are an opportunity to further explore her professional interests.
“When I first came to Mac, I was set on going to medical school. As my degree went on, I soon began to find I was most engaged when I was involved in leadership roles and public speaking. In my third year, I enrolled in a health and aging course, and really became engrossed in the topic of health inequalities and health promotion. A few informational interviews and a lot of research later, I learned about health administration. It just clicked.”
Conversations about foregoing medical school are not always easy. Chelsea shares some advice for students who are trying to open up that conversation, “To find your voice, you have to be confident in your decision. I did not really approach my parents about my change in plans until I had done all the research about the career and schooling. Speaking confidently to my parents gave them the confidence that their daughter knew what she was doing.”
Chelsea is currently working as a medical claims adjudicator, but will begin her Masters of Public Health at the University of Saskatchewan in August. “I am confident in my decision because I’ve chosen a career in which my values are not compromised,” Chelsea shares. “I’ve always wanted to have a career that I’m excited about and that’s what Health Administration is to me.”
Taking a Time-out
Whether it is making the decision to find a job, go to graduate school, or pursue personal development, taking the time to figure out what’s next is as important as all the other pathways. Sometimes plans don’t work out, or an unexpected event leads us in a different direction; but, as Shiraz Anwar and Sherri Murray share, these experiences can help you find your flow amidst the uncertainty.
“In my final year, I failed to get into the graduate programs of my choice,” says Shiraz Anwar, graduating this year from the Faculty of Science. “I decided to take a year off to research various labs and projects across Canada and internationally to maximize my chances of getting into a Master’s program.”
Shiraz Anwar moved to Canada from Pakistan when he was 14-years-old and discovered his passion for science in high school; however, it was not until his upper year thesis that he decided to pursue graduate studies. “The experience was a major eye-opener. I realized how much I enjoyed conducting scientific experiments and accumulating evidence to formulate a strong argument. I can see myself enjoying this whole process the rest of my life.”
Despite missing out on the programs of his choice, Shiraz is optimistic about his decision to take a year off to work, travel, and explore a wider range of Master’s programs. “I’ve been told by my mentor to take life as it is because life can’t be planned in advance. She says there are multiple ‘good’ paths to take in life, and not to let perfection get in the way of good enough. Her advice helps me feel confident about my decision because it takes away the pressure of making the ‘right’ choice.”
Like Shiraz, Sherri Murray did not expect to be graduating without a set plan in motion. Sherri is graduating from the Faculty of Humanities with a Combined Honours in Communication and Multimedia Studies and minor in Theatre and Film.
“My decisions on where I wanted my path to lead after graduating kind of snuck up on me at once. I had a general sense that I wanted to continue my academic experience and head into a Master’s after graduation, but I wasn’t so sure about heading into such an extensive program after five years here at McMaster.”
As part of a final year thesis project, Sherri documented local protests and marches in Toronto, creating a photobook of over 1,500 images. “Throwing yourself with just a camera bag and your camera in front of over 4,000 people walking towards you screaming, shouting, and making noise on Young Street is no easy task; but, it completely changed how I viewed where I wanted to take my photography and what I wanted to take for my Master’s.”
Sherri is using the year to save up for a Master’s program in the United Kingdom, where she plans to specialize in documentary media; but, this decision was not easy. “As a First Generation student, I had come to a large roadblock with my family in particular. Sharing why I wanted to pursue higher education with a Master’s was confusing for them. There were a lot of ‘whats, whys, whens, and wheres.’”
Even though the conversations were difficult, Sherri is confident about her next steps:
“I was able to manage my own voice by pulling from my experiences: ‘If I came this far supporting myself with two – sometimes three – jobs, then why can’t I achieve more of my dreams and what I want in life?’”