Sad news for readers of Grad Launch

(NOTE: This post was written by colleagues of Grad Launch blogger Marilyn Rose.)

We are sad to tell you that we’ve lost a true champion for graduate students.

In late July, Marilyn Rose, the vision and voice of Grad Launch, passed away after a brief illness.

For more than 30 years, Marilyn played a major role in helping guide Brock University through an era of major expansion. She was a much beloved professor and graduate student supervisor, a first-class academic, and a selfless leader whose biggest legacy to Brock was overseeing the creation of the Faculty of Graduate Studies. She served as its first Dean from 2004-2011 and led the growth of its academic portfolio to 41 graduate programs.

Readers of the blog are well acquainted with the care, thoughtfulness and intelligence that Marilyn conveyed through her weekly writing.

One of her great passions was to mentor, coach and support graduate students as they fashioned — in her words — their “life-long career trajectory” for a meaningful professional and personal life.

Grad Launch was dear to Marilyn’s heart. In early May, Marilyn and colleagues at Brock University discussed pursuing partnerships that would help to extend the reach of Grad Launch to graduate students who are looking for career advice and job search strategies and tactics.

At that time, Marilyn had decided to put the blog on a temporary hiatus to take time away to reflect and recharge after a year of Grad Launch posting. She was looking forward to time spent networking with career professionals and collecting their valuable input and feedback about the blog content. She had full intentions of renewing the schedule of Grad Launch postings to coincide with the new academic year and, possibly, with a wider circle of contributors.

As a tribute to Marilyn, colleagues are continuing the efforts to re-establish Grad Launch.

In the next few weeks, we hope to resume postings either on this site or perhaps moving to another blog site. We’ll keep the Grad Launch followers informed of changes. So, for now, continue to visit the site and please bear with us as we discover a new “trajectory” for Grad Launch that will honour Marilyn’s special legacy.


— Marilyn’s colleagues


Picturing yourself

On Talent Egg, which takes a focus on “hatching students & grad careers,” Celine Tarrant, a Queen’s University Commerce grad, offers some neat advice about “Putting Your Best Face Forward” when choosing your LinkedIn photo.

She says that you should think of your LinkedIn photo as the headline of a news article – “it’s the first thing people will see, and it might be the only thing that they remember later.” Your profile picture needs to signal that you are professional, trustworthy, competent and likeable.She then offers six hints for success in choosing your best shot:Talent Egg - LinkedIn photo

  1. You need to be the only person in the picture and it should include “everything from the shoulders up, with 50 to 60% of the picture being occupied by your face.” So full body shots, extreme close-ups, and cropped group shots are not OK and “it goes without saying that a selfie is never okay.”
  2. You need to crop your picture to fit the needs of the social network you are using: for LinkedIn, it should be square, but check the requirements in each case via an Internet search before sending it in.
  3. You need a quality shot because your photo is “the face of your online professional brand.” Celine suggests that you invest in a professional headshot. Failing that you need a friend with a good camera, and need to make sure that you have many photos to choose from after your photo session. High resolution also matters.
  4. You need to dress appropriately. Wear what suits the job or industry you are approaching. Imagine attending an industry event when choosing your clothing for the picture. Pay attention to your neckline, since this is a head and shoulders shot, and avoid overly dramatic or sparkly jewelry, which may not translate well in the photo and may divert attention from your face and expression. Choose a neutral background that contrasts to your clothing.
  5. Your picture needs to look like you. This is not the time for dramatic make-up or heavy-handed use of Photoshop. You need to be recognizable when you walk in! Update the picture every 2 to 3 years: it needs to reflect who you are now.
  6. You should get a second opinion. Show the photo to people you trust and ask for their opinion about what message your picture conveys and what they think about your expression, clothing, and the quality of the picture. There are even online tools that can be used to rate your photo based on metrics. Check the article for leads on the assessment of your photo in terms of likeability, influence, and trustworthiness.

See and while you are there, check out Celine’s own image, which practices what she preaches.

Soft skills, innovation and leadership

In a recent Huffington Post blog, Dr. Idit Harel, an Israeli-American Entrepreneur; CEO and Founder of GLOBALORIA, looks into the question of “soft skills.” She is responding to a New York Times column on “How to Get a Job at Google” (February 23).

She doesn’t lose sight of the fact that special expertise is required in most hirings today – expertise that reflects one’s degree or program of studies. As well, “for any job, that is even vaguely technical, in all fields — business, health, government, education, entertainment” — what will also be needed are skills related to “inventive thinking, digital literacy, fluency in digital participation, digital communication, coding” and so on.

Huffington PostBut beyond technical abilities, there is “the ability to ask big questions, see connections, draw parallels and distinctions, think originally and follow leads, and do it objectively, creatively and collaboratively.” For all organizations that are shaping the new economy, she says, innovation and “learning to learn new-stuff-on-the-fly” are key to their success. Innovation demands perceiving what was not there before and doing whatever you can to learn it.

She also identifies soft skills related to leadership, which involve humility, teamwork, and “ownership” (by which I think she means self-responsibility) since innovation “rarely happens in instantaneous individual breakthroughs but rather evolves through collaborative group endeavors in which personal adaptability is a necessity.”

I found Dr. Harel’s thoughts on leadership, which are based on her experience in working in R&D and tech organizations in academia and industry, to be particularly interesting. She notes that “the difficult part is learning how to work in teams in which you may find yourself playing a contributor role one day, a leadership role the next day, and find you have no role at all on yet another day. Knowing when and how to step forward, when to question, when and how to step back, and when and how to exercise influence and teach or direct” reflect the concept of “emergent leadership as opposed to traditional leadership.”

Much of the post focuses on teaching such leadership and innovation skills early in the educational process – even in elementary schools. But for those of us considering what matters in terms of our own self-development, in order for us to put our degrees to work, there are lessons to be learned at our own level when it comes to the soft or parallel skills that complement our degree studies in and of themselves.

Jobs in the not-for-profit sector – Kara’s story

Students often ask what kinds of work are available in the not-for-profit sector. They connect the term “not for profit” to volunteering and wonder what is out there in the way of paid work for those holding graduate degrees — who want to use their academic and parallel skills at a high and productive level.

Last month, University Affairs featured a question-and-answer session with Kara Santokie, as interviewed by Toronto career coach Jennifer Polk (March 3, 2015). Kara holds a PhD in political science from the University of Toronto. A former professor, she now directs the Toronto Women’s City Alliance, (TWCA) where her work focuses on the inclusion of women’s voices in municipal politics.

In this line of work, which is new to her, Kara has already been featured in the Toronto Star and NOW Magazine, and on CTV News, CP24, and the CBC, among others.

As to what kind of tasks she does on a daily and weekly basis, Kara says:

On a daily basis, I deal with the organization’s correspondence and ongoing projects. I also keep a close eye on local and provincial politics so that I can do any relevant policy analysis for TWCA. Over the course of a week, I will most likely have at least a couple of meetings, either with other organizations, city of Toronto staff and occasionally provincial staff. I am the public face of TWCA and I represent the organization at city hall and all other legislative arenas. I speak at many events about gender and municipal policy and I also organize outreach events for diverse women.

In terms of other core responsibilities, it is her job to ensure that her organization is moving forward with its work plan, that the budget allocation is appropriate, and that funding reports are completed.

And how exciting and stimulating is this kind of work? Kara says that she finds the world of municipal politics to be lively and engaging. Initiative is called for when it comes to community outreach. She quickly realized that her communication skills would be invaluable: a great deal of her work involves public commentary in the form of speeches and presentations.

Writing, too, is a big part of her working life. She says she finds this kind of public engagement rewarding. She finds it rewarding to be published in newspapers and in fact says that she believes that more people have read her work in a single year “than at least 10 years of academic life would have produced.”

As for pathways to the future, Kara says that she hopes to move into creating policy in the near future. This is where you can make a huge difference in public life and she looks forward to it.

You can read Jennifer’s interview with Kara at

Transition QandA with Nicholas Dion: advice about imagining a career path

In a new “Transition QandA” column published In University Affairs (March 25/15), Jennifer Polk ( interviews Nicholas Dion, who holds a PhD in religious studies from the University of Toronto and is currently senior coordinator, research and programs at the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO).

Like other “transition” conversations with individuals who have made a successful start in the alt-academic world following completion of a doctoral degree, Nicholas’ story is both interesting and helpful to those trying to imagine a career path for themselves as they complete their PhDs.

One of the things I like about what he has to say is that he had done some focused thinking prior to the completion of the degree. By the time his PhD was coming to a close, he had identified four potential areas of employment: public policy, university administration, management consulting, and editing/publishing. He eliminated management consulting pretty quickly, realizing that he wouldn’t be happy in the business world. Of the remaining three options, public policy began to come into focus as the most promising. In working within his discipline, he had gained exposure to policy issues such as immigration, multiculturalism and religious pluralism. While a grad student he had also taken advantage of opportunities to sit on a number of administrative committees, which provided him with insight into education and the policies connected to this sector.

And so after graduating, he took a first job as a research intern at HEQCO (a paid internship), followed by a period of contract work in the same organization — which gave him relevant experience that he could then parlay into a more permanent work in relatively short order.

Much of the interview describes the kind of work that trained academics can undertake in an organization like HECQO, and conveys Nicholas’ enthusiasm for the wide variety of tasks that his job entails. I always enjoy these behind-the-scenes glimpses of what people actually do in their jobs: it is often a much richer and more far-ranging world than I would have imagined, and that is the case here.

However, it is Nicholas’ advice to graduate students that strikes me as most compelling and stands as the greatest takeaway from what has to say. His advice:

  1. Take the time to actually think about what you want to do. What do you like to do? What do you see yourself doing as a job? Too often we graduate feeling like we’ve just wasted a decade of our lives and need to move quickly to whatever comes next.
  1. Think in terms of skills. While academics think in terms of subject matter and knowledge, employers think in terms of skills [and] want to know what you can do for them and that you have already demonstrated the skills they are looking for in other contexts.
  1. Network [a lot!]…. to learn more about an area in which you think you might want to work … it’s also a great way to make [lots of] contacts [of people] who might be able to tip you off about new opportunities. Many jobs are never advertised but are filled through recommendations and word of mouth instead, so you want your name and resume to be circulating.

  2. Finally, when you do find a job, pay it forward. Remember where you once were and help others out in any way that you can. Respond to informational interview requests. Find out how you can get involved with your alma mater’s alumni association or career centre to help out recent graduates. Help others in their job search however you can.

You can find Nicholas Dion’s story at:

What is higher education for, really?

I run across this question all the time, from grad students who aren’t sure their degrees will translate easily into careers, and from the public which is continually walloped these days by the idea that practical training should be the focus of advanced degrees.

In The Chronical of Higher Education (March 9/15), Lisa M. Dolling writes about helping students succeed professionally and personally by teaching “the Art of Being Human.” It is an article worth reading and thinking about.Being human

Lisa notes what she sees as a “false dichotomy” in higher education debates that “pits the professional against the personal.” Her question is “When did these become mutually exclusive?”

She says that assuming that intellectual curiosity, the search for truth or the desire to improve the human condition are at odds with “practical” goals of meeting “the state’s work-force needs” amounts to “sloppy” thinking. For her, “Education is first and foremost about learning; about developing the intellectual capacities needed to succeed as professionals and human beings.” How can we expect our society to flourish, she asks, without valuing ongoing learning as “among the highest virtues” of its citizens.

The search for meaning or concern for the common good, she says is not an “intellectual luxury” but a barebones necessity. She knows that higher education is extremely costly and that good careers are, of course, the goal of any long course of study. However, the goal of education is not just finding work or entering into professional life. For her, “in the end it is not only a matter of what you do, it’s how and why you do it; and the knowledge that this requires above all is knowledge of oneself.”

As faithful readers of this blog will know, I couldn’t agree more. As Lisa says, self-reflection and quest for meaning are fundamental to success, and at least some of our time in graduate school needs to be spent in finding one’s passion, thinking about the kind of work that will bring personal fulfilment. Her anecdote about a resistant math student (she teaches Philosophy, including Aesthetics, at a school known for engineering and science) is intriguing – follow the link to read it:

Lisa’s aesthetics course treats Aristotle’s work Nicomachean Ethics as a treatise on the “art of being human,” a craft she thinks we need to hone no less than any other in our own time. As one of her students pointed out “That’s an art we seem to have lost sight of these days.”

No wonder, I would say in concert with Lisa: we are buried under a rhetoric of practicality that tends to forget that the most practical skill we can develop is the art of thinking, thinking hard, about who we are and how we can contribute to the larger good when we graduate.

Time management — get out the sticky notes and masking tape

Who can’t use some fresh ideas about how to manage a killer workload and competing life demands? (Especially in March!) Not me – I still struggle with this every day. Although I have my “system,” which consists of a to-do list that I rework every morning, this post struck me as a goldmine.

What I often fail to do is to prioritize well. My good energy probably goes into seemingly urgent tasks much of the time, with the truly important to-dos being relegated to “later.” The result is the “just in time late-night delivery” for which I am all too well known.time management

In this post on Lifehacker (January 20/15), Alan Henry describes Chris Penn’s adaptation of the Eisenhower Decision Matrix for easy use by anyone who wants to know how to prioritize quickly – and with a built-in mechanism for easy adaptability.

In his piece, which links to Chris’s work, Alan shows how Chris blew the ED matrix up “into a simple grid he has on the wall behind him while he works, laid out with sticky notes for his to-dos and masking tape to keep everything in place.”

The grid assumes that everything is not equally important and creates quadrants. Here’s how it works:

  • upper left corner — important tasks that are urgent
  • upper right corner — important tasks that aren’t urgent — as in they don’t need to be done immediately
  • lower left corner — less important tasks that are urgent — as in they’re not critical but do have a time limit
  • lower right corner — tasks that are neither important nor urgent (but still need to be done eventually)

Then use sticky notes for each to-do, so that they can be moved around quickly as priorities change, as priorities have a habit of doing.

The grid may sound familiar to you. I know that I have encountered this matrix before.

But, as Alan says,

The beauty of Chris’s particular setup …is that the masking tape is easy to put up (and take down if you need to), and the sticky notes adhere to the wall without damage and can be moved around easily. It’s analog, but it works like a charm, and you don’t need to spend a ton of time entering to-dos into a system or copy/pasting to move things around. It’s a simple system to put in place, and all you need is a spare bit of wall to make it work.

You can follow this link to learn more —