Graduate students organize career development symposium for science and engineering grad students

A two-day professional development symposium to give graduate students a competitive edge in a career context was held at York this week.

Zoe Davis photo

Symposium co-organizer Zoe Davis

Organized by Zoe Davis, a PhD student in Earth and Space Science, and David Cappadocia, a PhD student in Kinesiology and Health Science, and funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the symposium presented an opportunity for science and engineering graduate students to network with professionals in academia, industry and government. Students were able to learn and build critical skills necessary for success in their future career ambitions through panels of experts and engaging workshops.

The symposium opened with welcome remarks from Dr. Barbara Crow, Dean and Associate Vice-President Graduate, who praised the students for taking the initiative to put on the event to hone their professional skills.

Dean Barbara Crow

Dr. Barbara Crow, Dean and AVP Graduate welcomed the participants to the symposium

A series of panel discussions and workshops rounded out the balance of the two days. First was a panel discussion on oral communication in a career context with the aim of giving students the tools to: recognize the value of having effective oral communication skills for communicating with specialist scientific audiences to non-specialist audiences and everything in between; develop effective strategies and techniques that will help articulate a message and tailor it for a specific audience; and, develop (improve) the ability to translate key knowledge and skills in a career or business setting (e.g., elevator pitch, self-branding, etc.).

"I thought they did a great job bringing in experts from the academy and the wider public sector, including York graduates," commented Dr. Crow after the first day's events. The experts were able to provide students a micro view of every day as well as the macro big picture of what they want to do with their education. "They focused on skill development, communications and time management skills."

photo of the panelists

The panelists from the first panel included, from left, Dr. Nana Lee, from the University of Toronto, Peter Pekos, York alumnus and CEO of Dalton Pharma Services, Carolyn Steele, Career Development Coordinator in the Career Centre, Dr. Richard Cheung, a lawyer with Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP, Dr. Jeff Brook, Environment Canada and University of Toronto, and Kristina Delidjakova, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.

Following the panel discussion, students could participate in two workshops, on oral communication. The workshop addressed ways for researchers to turn academic research into clear language summaries, which can be valuable tools that enable wider communication to audiences who would benefit from the key knowledge contained in the original research.

Dr. Robert McLaren

Wednesday's panel discussion was moderated by Dr. Robert McLaren, Director of the Centre for Atmospheric Chemistry

The second centred on the theme of time management and life balance. Students were introduced to core principles from the fields of time management and project management and shown how they could be applied to foster productivity, effectiveness and efficiency as a science and engineering graduate student.

Thursday's sessions opened with a panel discussion on effective proposal writing for scientists and aimed to help students improve techniques for effective academic communications (e.g., grants, scholarships, papers); develop strategies to improve written job application skills; and enhance their ability to convey ideas in clear, concise and compelling language when writing reports or emails.

This panel discussion was also followed by two workshops the students could participate in. The first focused on effective proposal writing for scientists lead by Prof. Dawn Bazely. The workshop was designed to give students the tools to write a clear grant or scholarship application. The second examined time management strategies for teaching assistants and was designed as an interdisciplinary session to explore time management as an effective tool for designing highly effective labs and tutorials that promote student engagement, persistence and motivation.

Reached after the symposium wrapped up its first day's activities, co-organizer Zoe Davis said "We think it went incredibly well, we reached our goal. People really appreciated the first panel, appreciated the perspective of professionals."

"They liked being able to ask, 'what was it like'," she said.