There is life outside the bubble

Recent graduates reflect on their post-university lives and finding a career in today’s competitive job market

According to career services, 95 per cent of Queen’s graduates find work within six months after graduation.
According to career services, 95 per cent of Queen’s graduates find work within six months after graduation.

University life is sometimes portrayed as an idyllic, cocoon-like atmosphere of drinking and sleeping late with little connection to the real world. This is particularly true at Queen’s University, where the oft-derided “Queen’s bubble” shelters students from their reality of their futures.

Of course, even the Van Wilder devotees have to graduate eventually. What, then, can one expect to encounter as a plucky, young job-seeker, freshly-printed degree in hand?

Dallas Blake, Sci ’08, chose to pursue further education before entering the job market. He was accepted to the 22-person racing engine design program at Oxford Brookes University in Oxford, U.K.

Despite his two degrees, Blake said he worked as a snowmobile technician for four months before he was hired as a calibration engineer at Polaris Industries in Roseau, Minnesota. He said his duties include engineering snowmobile engines to work efficiently in a wide variety of temperatures and conditions.

In an e-mail to the Journal, Blake said he thinks his Queen’s degree was an asset in his job search.

“Queen’s is a well known school, even in the United States. It is known as being strong in engineering and thus, shows employers you are serious in engineering.”

Blake said his time spent working on the Queen’s formula racing team, in which teams of students build a racing car, proved to be a valuable experience for his future undertakings.

“It ... teaches students important skills in manufacturing, design, test execution, data management and project management.”

Blake said he thinks engineering graduates have a good chance of getting a job, adding that he thinks some sectors are hiring more cautiously than others.

“There are opportunities out there if you just want to get your foot in the door, establish experience. For specific fields such as mine, the opportunities are limited without specialized education or experience,” he said. “In a tough economic climate, employers are looking for experience to mitigate initial costs and time involved in training someone.”

Blake said full-time work has affected every aspect of his lifestyle, especially his sleep schedule.

“The weekday partying disappears–there is just as much work, even at night. There is less stress involved in learning new things, but additional stress involved in pressure to deliver results,” he said. “The late nights disappear as you are no longer able to nap throughout the day and you must be focused and alert at work.”

Graduates are polled every spring on their future plans. In 2009, 51 per cent reported that they would be seeking employment, while 37 per cent expected to continue their schooling. In 2008, 55 per cent of graduates anticipated looking for work, while 32 per cent reported they planned to go to school.

Career Services Director Paul Smith said no data has been collected on how many Queen’s graduates actually go on to further study, but 95 per cent of graduates find work within six month of graduation. Smith noted, however, that the 95 per cent includes graduate students among the number of the employed.

“Ninety five per cent

employment for Queen’s grads is an impressive number, unless you are one of the five per cent unemployed, in which case you are experiencing 100 per cent unemployment,” he said.

“Developing a career is a unique personal experience that can be affected by a tremendous number of variables. The most anyone can do is to manage their own career to the best of their ability,” he said in an e-mail to the Journal.

Smith said economic uncertainty means the current job market is more competitive than usual.

“On-campus recruiting is off considerably,” he said. “There’s been a very substantial correction in the market. … 2006 was very hot for on-campus recruiting,” Smith said, adding that he thinks recruiters will remain cautious for the next few years.

Regardless of the state of the economy, Smith said, students have an enormous advantage over those lacking post-secondary education when it comes to getting hired.

“It’s not even comparable.”

Smith said on-campus recruiters tend to target students enrolled in “professionally-applied” programs, specifically commerce and applied science.

“Interestingly, that’s kind of a Canadian phenomenon. … I don’t know why.”

Smith said he thinks success in the job market depends more on the individual than their program, adding that being approached by a recruiter isn’t necessarily the most effective way to find work.

“In 2006, the following degree program graduates experienced 100 per cent employment six months after graduation: business and commerce, fine arts, humanities, kinesiology, recreation and phys ed., math, medicine and related, nursing, physical sciences, therapy and rehab. Most of the others experience employment rate well into the 90s with no program falling below 87 per cent employment.”

Smith said despite these statistics, students shouldn’t choose their program according to likelihood of employment.

“With this said, I have seen employment rates for programs rise and fall quite quickly—consider the IT sector in 1999 versus 2001. Choosing a program of study should be a multifaceted decision-making process, including important considerations such as interest, talent, and personal values, as well as employment prospects.”

A Queen’s degree is an advantage in the job market, Smith said, because of the University’s good reputation and strong alumni network.

“There’s a lot of Queen’s grads out there who are working and more than happy to extend a hand and hire Queen’s grads. … Queen’s has an exceptional reputation, ranking among the best-considered universities in the country, making its graduates highly sought-after.”

Smith said although the transition to working full-time can be a reality check for some recent graduates, this isn’t a new development.

“Every new grad has their own struggles adapting to the work world, and that has always been so. At a macro level, it is going to be a little harder to advance in a career for the next couple of years, because things are tighter.”

Smith said he doesn’t feel as though incoming professionals are at a disadvantage in today’s generationally diverse career climate.

“A fair bit of research has been done on the inter-generational work force, and if there is a tension in the workforce now it may come from the fact that there are three generations working together–Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y (Millenials). I’m not completely sold on the notion that today’s graduates are all that different from their parents—I believe that the difference lies within the generation and the arc of their career. A late-career Boomer is very different from the early-career Boomer she was when she started working thirty years ago, and that young Boomer was likely very similar in outlook to the Gen Y Millenial she just hired.”

Chantal Valkenborg, ArtSci ’08, ventured into the working world before deciding to go back to school. After she graduated, Valkenborg spent a year working at the Bader International Study Centre as a student life coordinator, where she lived in residence with students from Queen’s and elsewhere, going on field studies and organizing events.

“When I came home in August, I’d been trying to decide what to do next,” she said. “I had a bit of a padding period being in the UK still being in the university environment but not having to go to class.”

In Europe, Valkenborg rediscovered her love of art history, her major at Queen’s, and decided to pursue a Master’s degree in the subject. She settled in Montreal when her term at the castle was finished and decided to try to find for a temporary job as she applied to graduate programs.

Valkenborg said Montreal was hit hard by the economic downturn, and few employers were hiring. After looking for two months, she found a job as a sales representative for the Body Shop, but recently quit.

“I needed something more full-time.”

Valkenborg said she’s been accepted to Queen’s art history Master’s program and plans to begin studies in the fall. She said doing a graduate degree will give her more credibility in the job market.

“It’s more the fact that you’re willing to go into it and do the research.”

She said she’s unsure of her future career plans, but considering becoming a professor or going into museum event planning.

“This is something I’m into now, but we’ll see how my Master’s develops.”

Valkenborg said she thinks her Queen’s degrees will be an advantage.

“It has a good reputation. … It’s definitely a set-up point.”

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.