No hiding in grad school here, we have a plan

Students hunt for jobs at the Career Services Fair last Monday. Debbie Mundell, career information co-ordinator, says students should get involved in their field of interest and have faith.
Students hunt for jobs at the Career Services Fair last Monday. Debbie Mundell, career information co-ordinator, says students should get involved in their field of interest and have faith.

Planning what comes next after graduation has always been tough, but stepping out into the real world in the midst of a recession poses a new group of challenges.

With companies downsizing all over the country, fewer jobs are available to recent graduates with little work experience in their chosen fields. However, there are signs of improvement in Canada’s economy. The Globe and Mail reported that GDP grew by 0.1 per cent from May to June of this year, the first rise in 11 months. Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey reports part-time employment increased by 27,000 in August across most provinces in a number of industries, including retail, finance, insurance and leasing.

Debbie Mundell, career information co-ordinator at Queen’s Career Services, advises students not to be anxious about gaining entrance to the work force.

“Some people believe you can’t get a job with just an undergrad degree, but here we’re certainly believers you can,” she said.

Mundell said she encourages students to volunteer in their field of interest or search for related summer jobs to make themselves competitive candidates, but also to get a sense of the daily grind in the type of workplace they find interesting.

“If you volunteer in that field or get a summer job, you’re going to see exactly what this field is like,” she said.

Mundell said students should start looking into potential career paths early during their time at Queen’s and should take advantage of the many resources offered by Career Services.

“Early is always better,” she said. “I love it when students come in first and second year to see what’s required, whether it’s courses or volunteering. A career is something that takes a long time to figure out.”

Mundell was quick to dispel the myth that students in degree programs preparing them for specific careers, like engineering and nursing, will find easier employment this year than their liberal arts-degree counterparts.

“If you looked at job postings you might think that, but there are a lot of hidden jobs out there. Some programs see more direct routes, but if you know where to look and how to network, any degree program can be a path to a great job.” she said. “I’m a firm believer there are jobs out there in every field.”

Matt Urquhart, Sci ’10, said he recognizes job searches are more about transferable skills than a specific university concentration.

“One thing I’m realizing is it doesn’t really matter what your degree is. When companies hire an engineer, they’re looking for a problem-solving skill set or how to make decisions. Someone with transferable skills like presentation or written communication, those things span so many kinds of disciplines it almost doesn’t matter what you study,” he said.

Urquhart, who will graduate this spring with a degree in mechanical and materials engineering, plans to apply to research jobs as well as graduate schools.

“The economy is a bit of a deciding factor,” he said. “I talk to a lot of professors, I talk to people at career fairs, and I understand that the pickings are slim. I’m keeping both options open.”

Mundell said pursuing post-graduate education is a viable option for students concerned about finding a job in a competitive economy.

“Employers really like the research background from universities, but combined with the practical skills of college—for some people, the combination is a real asset,” she said. “College is a good way for a lot of people to go after their degree, in terms of something practical that gets you into the workforce.”

Mundell said she’s also seen more students pursue graduate studies recently.

“There are more and more people interested, based on how many students come to see me,” she said.

Julia Dean, MPH ’10, chose to attend graduate school at Queen’s after completing her bachelor’s degree in biomedical science at the University of Guelph.

Dean said her choice to apply to Queen’s Master of Public Health program wasn’t motivated by a desire to hide out from the economic downturn by staying in school.

“I was planning to go to grad school anyway. I wanted to further my education and eventually work in the field of public health,” she said. “But if the job market is tough when I graduate, I might feel obligated to go back to school after my Masters.”

Like most, Dean doesn’t know where her career path will take her yet but said she’s ready for a challenge.

“Ideally, it’ll be somewhere I can get my foot in the door and work my way up.”

By the numbers

Projected unemployment rate in Canada in 2010

Number of Canadians who have lost their jobs since October 2008

Percentage of Ontario’s exports from the auto industry this year, down from 50

Projected annualized growth rate for Ontario’s economy this year

Amount of EI payments in May 2009, increased from 65,600 in April

Number of EI recipients in Toronto in May, increased from 46,200 a year earlier

—Sources: OECD, Scotia Economics, Statistics Canada, Conference Board of Canada

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