It’s okay to change career paths: Advice from McMaster alumni

“There is no one path that guarantees success or failure,” wise words shared by Liz Koblyk, associate director of the Wilson Leadership Scholar Award, at a panel event hosted by the Student Success Centre’s leadership development unit.

May 4, 2023

By: Jessica Vinluan

What happens when your intended career path and the activities you enjoy no longer align? 

Switching careers is difficult, especially when you are seeking culturally sensitive career advice. For myself, as a child of immigrants, switching careers was not easy. With the fear of family and financial pressures, I felt guilty that I may have disappointed my family and myself. I also felt like I wasted time and money, which was not the case. The time of uncertainty can feel isolating and overwhelming, but you are not alone. With the right support system, time and self-reflection, there are ways to feel a sense of relief and joy while exploring your career. 

At the event, three McMaster alumni shared their experiences as children of immigrants or international students and how they navigated switching careers. 

Three panelists talking to the audience sitting in chairs.
Abdo, Zeinab and Katherine waving.

Abdo Habbani was born in Sudan and grew up in Saudi Arabia. He graduated as a McMaster’s Master of Mechanical Engineering program in 2019. Two years later, he quit his corporate job to pursue his passion for community and culture through filmmaking and digital storytelling. He has recently returned to McMaster as a multimedia communications assistant with the Student Success Centre.

Zeinab Khawaja graduated from the McMaster Bachelor of Health Sciences program in 2017 and made the difficult decision of quitting the MCAT, an M.Ed. Program, a full-time job at CMHA National and an MSW program. She is now working as a health promoter at McMaster’s Student Wellness Centre and focusing more on self-awareness, vulnerability, connection and rest. 

Katherine Tang graduated from McMaster’s Bachelor of Health Sciences Honours program in 2020 to pursue Occupational Therapy. She then discovered her interest in holistic health care and redirected her studies toward rehabilitation science. Katherine is currently completing her master’s at McMaster.  

6 key pieces of advice 

Know that you are not alone.  

Each panelist shared how they felt, like they disappointed their family and themselves when they made the decision to change their path. This is very common. It is important to normalize these feelings and take inventory of your emotions. Pay attention to your feelings. They are valid and part of experiencing life.  

Seek a support system.  

When news is difficult to share with your family, it is important to find a support system that is willing to make space and support you as you process your feelings.  

Value culturally sensitive advice.  

Take time to seek culturally sensitive advice that respects your perspective, experiences, values, intersectionality and more. You care deeply about your future, so find resources that have the same level of care in the support they offer. 

Here are some on-campus options to explore, in addition to the Student Success Centre:

Identify your transferable skills.  

When thinking about switching careers, you may feel like you are starting all over again. This is not the case. Transferable skills demonstrate your ability to be adaptable and versatile. Our career staff can help you identify your transferable skills, realistic career options based on your current resume, and opportunities for professional development based on your goals. 

Try low-commitment opportunities related to your career passions and interests. 

Attending free events, volunteering or asking questions can help you experiment and try roles you are curious about or interested in. One tool that might help get you started is networking and informational interviews resource.

Allow yourself to grieve the “dream” career path you once had. 

At the event, Zeinab shared the importance of taking time to reflect and grieve your dreams. This really resonated with me. Finding time to grieve (what you thought was) your dream job is valuable. 

Where to go from here? 

McMaster University is here to support you. You don’t need to know where you want to go before seeking career advice and booking an appointment.   

How to book a career counselling, further education or job search appointment: OSCARplus > Student Success Centre > Appointments > Career Counselling and Job Search Coaching. Learn more about our career services. 

If you need support navigating barriers in your career, email

Learn about our leadership development programming and awards to help you become the leader you want to be.