Team members reflect on the purpose of this initiative and why it is vital to support career diversity. With special contributions from Susan Porter, Dean & Vice-Provost, Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies, UBC.
Mary Kostandy: The Diverse Career Paths of Educational Studies Alumni is a student-led initiative that aims to support graduate students in exploring diverse careers by drawing on alumni’s career experiences across sectors, degrees and program areas.
Dipo Ogunfeibo: We have done that through organizing events, creating resources and surveying EDST alumni from the1960s to 2020 about where they work and how their learning made a difference to their career.
The centrality of EDI to the initiative
Mary Kostandy: We recognize that the work field is not level. Not all career paths are readily available to all alumni. We are cognizant that one’s identity, in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, indigeneity, ability, class, citizenship, parenthood all play a role in shaping one’s career experiences. Therefore it was central for us to ensure that a diversity of backgrounds are represented and to create a space for reflecting on how one's identity can shape one's career choices.
The vitality of collaboration across UBC units
Mary Kostandy: The initiative is a multi-stakeholder project that collaborates with the FoE Alumni Engagement office, Career Center, and G+PS staff members. In addition, conversations happen at multiple levels within the department, with faculty, alumni, and students. The strength of the initiative lies in how it has been shaped and formed by team members across UBC units. Learn more about the initiative team.
Mary Kostandy: The term “alternative careers” has been critiqued as it often implied that tenure track positions are the norm and other careers are second place. "Diverse careers" is a more inclusive term that captures all careers within or beyond academia. To my mind, Career diversity is not about catering to labour market demands, although the latter undoubtedly influences career choices available to graduates. Career diversity is about embracing a broader definition of inclusion to include people who have differing career aspirations. I believe that we should not only be vested in supporting students across backgrounds but across career aspirations.
Alison Taylor: Our graduate programs in the Department of Educational Studies tend to attract diverse students with wide-ranging knowledge and experience in education. Given that, promoting career diversity means acknowledging what students bring, and directing our pedagogy toward their interests and aspirations. So, I see it as a form of inclusive teaching.
Our rationale: Why do we think it is important to support career diversity?
Dipo Ogunfeibo: During my MEd studies, I saw great desire expressed by graduate students in learning about career options outside of academia and K-12 sectors/ beyond K-12 or the professoriate. This fuelled my interest to join this initiative as I was curious about the kinds of career pathways that exist and how EDST alumni found these paths. As students' career interests are different, graduate programs should provide diverse learning experiences, including practicum/internships, mentorship, professional development, and networking events.
Dipo Ogunfeibo: Many alumni in our survey expressed the need for stronger mentorship for alternative career paths, and in connecting with professionals in the field. This, they explain can help students post-graduation make the transition into diverse careers, especially as it becomes more difficult to get tenure track positions.
Alison Taylor: Career diversity for PhD students is a reality. A 2021 report called ‘Degrees of Success,’ by the Council of Canadian Academies, confirms that over the last decade there have been more PhD graduates but fewer tenure-track jobs in Canadian institutions.
On a personal level, I’m aware that my pathway, and that of many professors, isn’t the experience of today’s doctoral students. When I graduated in the late 1990s, it was still possible to ‘fall into’ an academic career. Now, I think it takes years of preparation, and even then, there are no guarantees.
From my research on education-work transitions, I’m aware that the idea of a linear, direct pathway from studies to work is not the norm. Hearing from alumni about their processes of moving into careers, and their job changes, is likely to reassure our students that there’s not one ‘guidebook’ for graduate studies and definitely not one route into the labour market.
Mary Kostandy: Often graduate students are mentored directly or implicitly to prepare for the professoriate as the ideal career path, the promised land. Other careers can be viewed as second place.
Alison Taylor: Learning more about alumni careers can also help faculty to better mentor graduate students. Career opportunities keep changing, and it can be challenging for faculty members to mentor students toward diverse careers if they don't have enough information themselves. Learning about the range of work undertaken by graduates also helps us ensure that our course content and our programs are relevant and useful.
Mary Kostandy: Career diversity is about seeking meaningful contribution. What that looks like differs for each graduate student.
Susan Porter: I have always viewed the purpose of education as supporting individuals to be well-rounded, thoughtful humans and positive contributors to society. One’s work life is such an integral part of our lives and our contributions – of course we must support students to be the best they can be in their careers; and to be aware of the diversity of careers open to them. Grad school graduates have so much to offer our world, and from that perspective, we want to be sure they are finding (or creating) the diversity of means to do that
Mary Kostandy: Alumni's practical and tacit workplace knowledge can be a treasure trove for graduate students as they navigate their careers and a constantly evolving labour market.
Susan Porter: Our alumni are ‘out and about’ in today’s world, and thus have critical insights into the types of thinking and ways of working those with graduate degrees are engaged in and that are needed in our workplaces and world. Sharing those insights with students and faculty will hopefully help shape students’ thinking and preparation, and also how faculty shape the structure and culture of the program.
Mary Kostandy: Alumni can be considered an extended family to the department where they offer intergenerational learning. Alumni's participation in our initiative ranged from 30 years to recent graduates. From recent Alumni, students can learn about the current labour market and how to navigate immediate options available to them upon graduation. Senior alumni can inspire a vision of possibilities of what a graduate's career can look like down the road and how to plan for it.
Andre: This work pushes us to reflect on the purpose of graduate programs (professional, academic, and community engagement).
Mary Kostandy: There is a need to rethink the purpose of graduate programs, what counts as viable knowledge and who can be considered a knowledge holder—a need to dismantle the conception of graduate programs as geared primarily towards academe.
We talk about multiple knowledges, multiple ways of being in the world, decolonization. To decolonize the academy, to my mind, is to open up the ivory tower to the marginalized voices of which alumni’s stories and career journeys’ experiences are part. One way of decolonizing the university is to prioritize and value the practitioner knowledge that alumni can bring and make it work for graduate students and programs.
Mary Kostandy: We've discovered that often, alumni are quite interested in connecting with the department (not just the wider faculty) and in giving back. They appreciate being invited as guest speakers in class or to ongoing events (social or otherwise) as speakers or attendees. They appreciate meeting with former professors and engaging with current graduate students.
I also think the learning exchange is somewhat mutual. Alumni too value being part of the fabric of their department's community, and there are some limitless ways to make that happen. It is not just about tapping on alumni as a "knowledge resource" but engaging alumni in ongoing events by their department to strengthen alumni's ties with the graduate students. We have been moved by the extent to which alumni, recent and senior, are interested engaging with graduate students and meeting with former professors. An opportunity exists to create a wider community that embraces alumni as part of the extended family of the department.
Alison Taylor: Alumni help us understand our community and the university’s role in addressing some of the ‘wicked problems’ we face as a society. From climate crisis to homelessness, it’s obvious that collective and collaborative efforts are needed. Engaging with alumni encourages students and faculty members to listen, to learn, and to work together in ways that can make a difference.
Susan Porter: This work is about enhancing the relevancy of graduate education in today’s world. That includes expanding the notions of what graduate research and scholarship can be, and of how and to whom scholarly findings are shared.
I would be excited if alumni could ultimately influence program culture, programming, curriculum, and faculty themselves as needed and appropriate to continuously improve graduate education and ensure its relevance in an ever-changing, complex world.