Recently, I attended the Annual Conference of the Senior Women Academic Administrators of Canada (SWAAC). Since I’m not an academic administrator, you may wonder why I attended.  I applied for, and was awarded one of their merit scholarships, so they invited me to come to the conference.  What a new and different conference experience this was for me! The major topics of the conference surrounded challenges universities are facing in the grand scheme of enrollment, organization, funding, internationalization and how administrators can address these challenges.  This was something that I had not spent any time thinking about previously, so it was stimulating to see universities from a completely different perspective (the administrative side). Furthermore, right from the first moment, all the women were incredibly friendly and open.  If, during a coffee break, I found myself not talking to anyone for even just a minute or two, a new, friendly woman would come up and introduce herself.  This put me at ease immediately, and I was delighted to talk to such a wide diversity of women, from so many varied departments, faculties and backgrounds.  What struck me was that if these are the women who are leading our universities into the future, then the future looks bright!  (On a side note, we did hear some statistics about the need to improve the gender balance at the assistant professor and above levels in Canadian universities, but that’s a topic for another time.)

The theme of this year’s conference was mentorship, and here is where I was really inspired. Built into the conference was a session called “Speed Mentoring”.   In this session, any conference attendee was welcome to sign up either as a mentor or “mentee”. Each pair of mentor and mentee spent 15 minutes talking.  During our session, my mentor inspired me to start this blog.  I told her about my career aspirations in science outreach and teaching, and she gave me a list of things to do. I think they apply for a broad range of careers, so I thought I’d share the list here:

  1. Create a well written and flashy CV.  If you need help, universities have career centres that can provide councelling.  The CV should be focused toward the career you want. Again, career councellors can help with this. 
  2. Write a business plan. I’ve never done this, but I’m sure that again, the career centre would help. As a start, I’m going to surf the internet – there has got to be examples out there.  And, I’m going to ask everyone I know who may have done something like this and see who can help me. Which brings me to point 3.
  3. Ask for help.  Join networks of people doing the same thing you want to do. Join networks of people that do related things, that are not exactly the same. Ask anyone and everyone you know for advice, for contacts, for any help they can give – and they will help!  
  4. Cast a wide net as you make contacts and network.  When I mentioned that I wanted to work for a university or college, my mentor said that I could do the same type of job, but for government, or high-end industry. This had not occurred to me – but she was right. 
  5. Create a web presence. Publish your CV and profile on the internet and maintain an active web presence.  My mentor told me a story of someone she knew who wasn’t looking for work, but employers found his website and contacted him offering a job. Wow.
  6. Write, write, write.  My mentor said that by writing things down, you will make them happen.  That makes sense to me. Write a business plan. Write a CV. Write a blog.  I also think that writing is a critical skill in all teaching, learning and academic jobs and I, for one, need practice, need to improve. 
Reflection on experience is one of the keys to becoming an effective learner and teacher.  In the coming months, I’ll write about my experiences in grad school, mentoring a summer undergraduate student in the lab, preparations for teaching a course, and coordinating a science outreach program (see About).  My hopes are that I can use this blog as a forum for connecting with people and as a way to develop and improve my writing and reflection skills.