A Daily Dose of Happily Better Afters

By Veerta Singh, WorkStory Ambassador at Western University

Monica Soos has known from an early age that science was her passion. She began her undergraduate career in 2006 studying Life Sciences at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.  She later graduated with an Honours Bachelor of Science in Chemistry with a minor in Biology. Currently, Monica works in Toronto as the Manager of Strategic Pricing at Janssen Inc., the pharmaceutical division of the well established healthcare company Johnson & Johnson.

Immediately after Monica completed her undergrad, she was accepted into the Master of Biotechnology (MBiotech) program at the University of Toronto. This is a two year Master’s program which “bridges science students into the business world. It is specifically geared towards students who wish to work in the field of biotechnology and the pharmaceutical industry”.

The Masters of Biotechnology program opened up another door for Monica when it provided her with a co-op opportunity in 2012. She was selected for a placement at AstraZeneca, a biopharmaceutical company, as the Pricing and Reimbursement Co-op student. It was in this role where Monica “learned about how the biopharmaceutical industry works and was able to take what she learned in the classroom and apply it to the real world”. This placement enabled her to strengthen and develop the skills that help her succeed in the current field she is working in. In 2013, Monica became the access associate at Janssen and eventually the Manager of Strategic Pricing in 2015.

When prompted to describe what a regular day at work entails, Monica provides a detailed picture of how she begins and ends her day. “The day-to-day work involves checking emails, taking care of ad-hoc requests and working cross-functionally with business partners to ensure that projects are being implemented”. Within the specific role, Monica stresses the importance of having analytical skills, problem-solving skills and the ability to work well with others because these are major qualities that are required to be successful in this field. She adds that “pricing requires alignment and execution with several stakeholders, so it’s important that you have a good rapport with them to move things along”. 

Monica explains that what she loves most about her job is that the field of pharmaceutical pricing is very strategic in nature. She is inspired by the challenges that are presented to her and believes that this job is the perfect fit for her. “I am constantly learning and growing within my role, which is what keeps it fun and challenging. I have always wanted to work within pharmaceuticals, and working for a company that makes a difference in people’s lives is definitely a dream come true.

When asked if Monica had any advice to share for those who are still in the early stages of their career, she says to “make the most out of all the opportunities presented to you, but make sure you actively seek out opportunities as well as this will differentiate you from others”. 

Francesca Di Roma’s Love of Education

By Emma Kushnir, WorkStory Ambassador at Western University

Francesca Di Roma’s career began about a year and a half ago, when she started working as an Office Administrator for the Joint Apprenticeship Council (JAC) based in Bolton, Ontario. After finishing a Bachelor of Applied Science in Psychology at the University of Guelph-Humber, and a Bachelor of Education at York University, she found a career that she loves. She began working with apprentices as a Work Study student at Humber College’s Centre for Trades and Technology. Initially, she worked as a Front Desk Assistant and handled the majority of the general inquiries about their apprenticeship programs. After graduating from Guelph-Humber, the Joint Apprenticeship Council approached her and offered her a position working with them since - as she puts it – “I was so familiar with the steps of an apprenticeship”.

How best to explain Francesca’s work at the Joint Apprenticeship Council?  She works with apprentices in the electrical trade – individuals who working in their field and on the path to becoming licensed electricians.  Francesca is available to answer any questions regarding their apprenticeships. She explains that “a big part of the trade is safety, which is why I am also responsible for scheduling apprentices for several mandatory safety classes throughout their apprenticeship.”  

When asked what she loves most about her job, Francesca notes that it combines her administrative work experience and skills with her passion for education.  “The purpose of the JAC is to recruit, select, assess, counsel, and educate electrical apprentices in the Greater Toronto Area. Through an annual intake, we find candidates best suitable for an electrical apprenticeship. The basic breakdown of an intake includes an application process, aptitude test, and final interviews.”   The JAC’s most recent intake was in June of 2015 and consisted of 950 applicants – of whom only 150 were selected!  Francesca shares, “I really enjoy being a part of this unique process and continue to learn from it every single day I go to work.”

Francesca has wanted to be a teacher for as long as she could remember and was determined to get her Bachelor of Education. She explains that, upon graduating from university “I knew that I had to be patient as I wait to be on a [teaching] supply list. Until then, I told myself that if I couldn’t have my dream job right away, I would at least want a career in something I enjoy. That’s exactly how I feel about working at the JAC.” Her biggest decision in the process of getting to where she is today involved committing to a full-time job rather than taking time to continue to volunteer in schools. “The way I see it, I am still dealing with students, which is relevant experience and I love every second!”

Francesca’s advice to anyone trying to find a job is straightforward and upbeat.

 “Never give up on your dream career.  Rather than sitting at home waiting for your big break, spend time doing something that you enjoy to keep your spirits up and your attitude always positive!” 

Vincent Gauthier Granted a Second Chance to Help Others

By Annette Dawm, WorkStory Ambassador

Vincent Gauthier works as a Residential Counselor for Sudbury Developmental Services. During the school year, he is also a Child and Youth Worker as well as an Educational Assistant. In his own childhood, Vincent had many struggles which he overcame with the guidance of others, and now he strives to offer the same assistance to those who need it:

“I understand what it means to be challenged by the environment you grow up in and how [difficult] it can be;” says Gauthier. For him, there were certain people who saw past “the darker parts” of who he was, and they helped him to see who he could be. Without their support, Vincent believes that he never would have “made it this far” and he feels as though he was given this opportunity to help others in return: “Because I was granted a second chance, I chose to dedicate my career to those who need others to believe they can succeed and achieve their goals as well.”

Vincent began his post-secondary education at Fanshawe College in London which he thoroughly enjoyed: “I had a fantastic experience in learning from some of the best and most passionate professors....”

“I am currently going into my third year of a Bachelor's in social work (in French) at Laurentian University in Sudbury. This was done because I learned that in the field of Human Services, the more pieces of paper you have from post-secondary institutions, the better it will be to further your career.” Gauthier also feels that a post-secondary education can help lead to a bigger impact that one can have “on a macro scale” in terms of helping those in need.

Whether he is working at Sudbury Developmental Services or within the educational system, Vincent is most excited about the people he works with and that he is able to make a difference in their lives: “I love many aspects of my job. I love the people I support and get to meet. I love the fact that I get to positively impact the lives of those who are often faced with struggle. The best part of my job, however, is knowing that I get to contribute [to] making a difference in my community... and the world.”

Although Vincent Gauthier was driven to work in the field of Human Services, it has not been a simple task. He advises others that it will be a challenge for them as well, should they choose a career path similar to his:

“It's a hard job, don't think for a second that it will be easy—and for that reason—make sure you find a healthy way to deal with the stressors of the job.”

Gauthier also advises that working in this field requires the ability to adapt to change, even if the changes happen at a slower pace: “Don't forget that change does not occur over night, either in behavioral intervention or advocating, or any aspects of the field you decide to go in. Change takes time, and for that be patient. Never give up, because at the end of the day there's a lot more at stake than your own sense of pride. Lastly, never hold a grudge against those you are working with or supporting.”  All great advice! 

Twists and Turns to a Dream Job: Sabrina’s Story

By Michelle Doyle, WorkStory Ambassador at Western University

If I told you that Sabrina Silveira is the Alumni Coordinator in the Advancement & Alumni Relations office at Humber College would you have the faintest idea what that means?   

As Sabrina told me “I know many people don’t know what alumni means, nor would they know what the role of an Alumni Coordinator would entail. It’s not an insult…it’s one of the many reasons I have a job!  For those who are unfamiliar with what ‘alumni’ is, it’s just a fancy Latin word for graduate.  In short, I act as the middleman that connects Humber back to our grads.” 

Sabrina’s role varies from day-to-day.  She describes her daily tasks as a set of on-going projects “from graphic design, social media management, copy writing and editing, to event planning and relationship building”.  Sabrina is always “kept on her toes and is able to tap into her creativity” with such a varying, multifaceted job. This is also the reason she cannot pinpoint a favourite part of her job.

Sabrina can, however, identify an essential part of her job - her manager, whose continual support has gotten her to where she is today.  She emphasizes the importance of having a superior “who truly cares for you, looks out for you and appreciates all that you do”.  She adds that most of us are working for the majority of our lives and would all have mental breakdowns without a strong support system around us. Sabrina feels that without this healthy, supportive relationship that she has with her manager, she wouldn’t be able to do all the things that she loves working on today. So, however “strange” it may seem to have a manager be one of the primary individuals you lean on for support, those relationships may be the most important ones, not only for your career, but for your happiness.

So how did Sabrina get here – to the job of her dreams?  Well, her journey started at the University of Guelph-Humber, where she studied media and communications.  In her final year of the program, she landed a position with a student travel agency in Toronto as her internship requirement for her program. Sabrina   isn’t exaggerating when she says “this is where I really began my career” as after only a month into the internship, she was offered a full-time position as a Production Designer!  “In this role I focused largely on designing collateral for the company, as well as writing blogs, monitoring social media, and - one of my favourite projects - designing our destination staff uniforms!”  Needless to say, Sabrina really enjoyed working at this agency and felt that she was really excelling at her career.

However, a year and a half into the new job, she was “faced with one of life’s upsets”. This influenced her decision to get a new job. She wanted to work close to home which made job hunting even more of a challenge than it already was. Sabrina describes the job search process as “possibly the worst thing a new graduate can go through”.  She explains that she felt worthless and felt that everything she had worked for was all for nothing in the eyes of potential employers.  She wasn’t even getting callbacks for jobs for which she was sure she was over-qualified.  After over a hundred job applications, Sabrina finally heard back from one.  It was nothing fancy, but it was a paid position related to her field.

“Whether you believe it or not, there will always be one specific experience in your life (if not more!)  that will change your perspective completely. This job was it for me. To say accepting this position was the worst thing I could have done is an understatement. I will tell this story again and again until I lose my voice, because I know there are others out there that may be in the same situation I was in, and I only wish I can provide some hope and encouragement to them.”  Her first week on the job consisted of coffee runs and cleaning up the lunchroom after people ate - all without the presence of her mysterious manager. To make matters worse, she caught a cold after the first few days but - although feeling horrible- she forced herself to come to work.  But that’s not all. Her HR manager actually phoned her explaining how she was disrupting her colleagues by coughing and sneezing. They feared she was contagious, making her feel alienated and as if she “should have been quarantined”.  This dreadful first week was followed by months of crying alone in the car during lunch breaks and feeling “completely disregarded as a human being”.  So why did she go through this? Well, she didn’t want to quit. She felt that she owed it to herself to push through it. In fact, it wasn’t until her parents begged her to quit that she really took a step back and analyzed her life.

On a Tuesday morning last year, Sabrina received an email from her past manager, blaming her for something she had nothing to do with. His words made her choke up until she couldn’t even breathe. She scheduled an emergency meeting with her HR manager who said there was nothing she could do for Sabrina and that the way she was being treated was her own problem.  Sabrina quit right then and there.  I know, I know. Good for her!!

After that experience, Sabrina started seeing life very differently. “I started to realize that there are two types of people in this world – the type of person who will respect you and the type of person who never will. We’re only on this earth for a finite period of time – why sacrifice your life and mental health working for people who – no matter what – only look down on you? I value my life too much to ever let that happen again.”

This time around on the job search, Sabrina was smart about where she applied. She nailed down the positions that she knew she would be happy in, rather than applying everywhere. Of course, still no replies.   So, she reached out to her professors, deans, old managers, her mentors (“which is probably the best piece of advice I can give anyone”, she says). She explains that she finally didn’t feel alone and had a lot of support from these individuals.  Luckily, a position had opened up in her old department -  a position that mimicked exactly what she wanted in a career.  “It was fate! My previous manager called me in for an interview and here I am today.  I’ve never been happier” 

If you’re gong to take anything away from Sabrina’s story, it’s that you should listen to yourself and make sure you are doing what makes you happy.

Also, keep in contact with your mentors!

On the water front

Tina Pittaway 

A lifelong love of the natural world has led Alex Mifflin (BA’08, Dalhousie) around the world as he explores the world of water in the award-winning television series Water Brothers, now in its third season. The series looks at the paramount role of water in people’s lives, from the slums of Nairobi to the fishing villages along the Mekong River in South East Asia to salmon farms on Canada’s West Coast. And it takes a hard look at the role humans have played in the destruction and manipulation of water over the years.

“At school I studied international development and environmental studies. With the marine sciences courses, the more I took, the more I wanted to take,” Mifflin explains during a break from editing at the family-owned SK Films in Toronto, which his parents founded. Those fields of study were the perfect companions to his brother Tyler’s degree in film studies from UBC. The two co-host and co-direct the series.

Their first foray into filmmaking was a documentary about monarch butterflies and when they completed that, they realized they were great partners and wanted to take a run at a series. They traveled to Cambodia and Belize and shot the pilot to Water Brothers. It was picked up first by TVO and is now carried in more than 40 countries.

“For me this is the dream job. Everything I do is related to international development issues,” Alex explains, sounding like he still can’t believe he gets to do this for a living. “How we use water is directly related to development and often it is the most marginalized that are lacking in clean water and sanitation and most exposed to water pollution.”
Tapping expertise

The kinds of development stories the duo cover focus on sustainability and are a lot more involved than just digging wells. “No Woman, No Water” looks at the impact that not having access to clean water has on women, who are often tasked with gathering water. In Nairobi, the duo profiled a community group who manage a local water station and toilet system funded primarily by Canadian donors.

“We spoke with women who had never had stable employment before and now they did,” says Alex. “They managed the project, which was not a charity, fees are charged. For them it is sustainable employment. And that’s one thing I learned in school: the world doesn’t need charity, the world needs sustainable economies.”

For Alex, seeing the theories that he learned about at Dalhousie play out in real-world projects is something he feels privileged to be able to share with a wide audience. As well, he’s tapped into Dal experts, including Boris Worm (right, Biology professor) and Chris Harvey-Clark (marine biologist and university veterinarian) for an episode about tracking shark and sea turtle migration near Costa Rica. As well, Sue Malloy (researcher, adjunct professor and consulting engineer in ocean engineering) advised on an episode about tidal energy.

To see for yourself, visit thewaterbrothers.ca.

This article first appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Dalhousie Magazine.  Reprinted with permission.