"I believe in ‘planned serendipity'. I regularly go for coffee with people I don't actually know, just to make a new connection..."
"I began my career after leaving my parents’ home. I went to university and got an undergraduate degree in international relations, with a concentration on Soviet and post-Soviet political economy. That was 1994 and it seemed like a good idea at the time. Of course the economy was poor when I graduated and I had no idea how to translate my training into a career. I went travelling and got a job through an old pen pal at a few magazines in Kyiv, Ukraine. I was there a few months and realised I really enjoyed writing but needed more training. I returned to Canada, worked as a temp, and a year later went to journalism school on the East Coast at Halifax’s University of King’s College. I got a post-baccalaureate Bachelor’s degree in online journalism. That was 1997.
"I went to Toronto and began work in online media. I worked at several news organisations but was dissatisfied with the sophistication of the stories I wrote. I was simply more curious than I found the daily deadline allowed me to be. I also saw the writing on the wall – journalism was about to change, and no-one was ready for it. I returned to graduate school. That move proved prescient – my journalism friends are all either leaving or have left the field.
"I received an MA in communication from Simon Fraser University, with the intent of eventually doing a PhD. I returned to Toronto and worked at a think tank doing innovation research. A year later, I began my PhD in sociology at York University.
"By this time, I realised that what I really wanted to do was scholarly work, but with approachable writing. In my third year, I began full-time work at an interactive design agency doing research. This was both a blessing and a curse. I worked myself extremely hard but I managed to get both marketable skills and pay off my student loans. I graduated in 2008. I was sure I could land a tenure-track job. I decided I would try the sessional/adjunct teaching path for a year. The pay is horrible and it’s not terribly fulfilling. I applied for five tenure-track jobs and was shortlisted for none. When I was sessional teaching one year after graduating, I had to get minor surgery. This meant I could not teach for one semester. I accepted that, but then I managed to land a research contract, which started me on this path of self-employment. It was a happy accident. I wanted a flexible lifestyle and felt (mostly) confident that I could make my way without a full-time job. I tried very hard to ‘roll with the punches’. Some days were harder than others, but I found there was always opportunity in what appeared to be failure. For example, I failed to land a tenure track job, yet I made many many connections in the private sector. That’s an opportunity.
"It’s extremely difficult to work in the private sector and be a graduate student or lecturer. Sociologists in my departments typically don’t do consulting work, so don’t really understand how it relates to their work. You do feel a bit schizoid when you wear two hats. However, I was able to translate my academic training into practical consulting and research skills. For example, teaching lends itself well to client facilitation sessions. Literature review skills are invaluable in synthesizing vast amounts of information.
"My career is not what I do to make money – it's simply what I do. My career has been all over the map, and has included volunteer work and advanced graduate study. The two things that had the biggest impact on my career were money and curiosity. I owed so much money at the end of my first two degrees. I could only take jobs that paid enough to both support me and pay my loan payments. I was too afraid to take ‘career-making’ jobs because I was sure I could not afford it. Trying to get through graduate school with no funding is terribly hard. I simply returned to work, again and again, to make sure I could afford my studies. I have many friends who chose not to, and are graduating with tens of thousands of debt. I am debt free. I have only applied for two overseas tenure track jobs, even though I wanted to apply for more. This is partly because I am married and my husband is located here in Toronto. If I had been more flexible about space, I am sure I would have had a tenure-track job – but I may not have had a husband. My marriage is my greatest success.
"I always have a rough plan for the next five years. I had networking activities, speaking engagement plans, and publishing plans. My plan needs continual updating and changing, but it’s an approach that has served me well. However, I haven’t always foreseen the career path that I have taken. I fell into my current path during graduate school. Social connections in my private-sector work led me to understand what options I could fashion for myself. My supervisors at the university weren’t familiar with ‘real jobs’, and probably couldn’t have helped.
"I believe in ‘planned serendipity’. I regularly go for coffee with people I don’t actually know, just to make a new connection. I find this much easier to do in the private sector than academia. I don’t know many academics that share my interests, and those that do are scattered around the world. I plant many seeds and hope a few sprout. I’ve had many people I’ve known in the past call me up and ask me to collaborate or offer me a research contract. I have no difficulty getting work, it appears, because I am open to meeting people and working with them."