Science Career Development Coordinator: Kristen’s Story

By Mariana Hernández-Hernández, WorkStory Ambassador at Memorial University

Kristen’s work story, like many others, teaches us that “careers are not linear.” She, who pursued a Bachelor’s degree in Education thinking that she would be a K-6 teacher, is now a Science Career Development Coordinator.

As a Science Career Development Coordinator, Kristen helps university students, especially science students, with their job search, resumes and mock interviews. She also connects science students with alumni and employers working in the industry by creating and hosting networking events on campus.

On a normal day, she holds one-on-one career consultations, she plans, organizes and facilitates career networking events for science students, Science Career Talks (science alumni present to science students about how they navigated their job search and landed their careers), weekly career development workshops for science students, and she also helps her co-workers with other on-campus events, such as the Career Fair.

What she loves about her job is that it’s the perfect balance between counselling (helping/ guiding) and teaching, and she enjoys very much meeting with students in a one-on-one setting.

How did she get to this position?

After gaining her Education degree, she had difficulty in finding a permanent position as a teacher. So, for four years she had to hold various part-time positions such as substitute teacher for K-6, various tutoring/teaching positions, ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) Therapist and housekeeper.

Still uncertain about what to choose as a career path and aware of the job hunting skills that she had lacked as a new graduate, Kristen decided to go back to school. She knew now that teaching in a classroom setting wasn’t her passion after all and that perhaps she preferred working more one- on- one with individuals. She knew she loved helping others and working with students, so she thought that pursuing a Master of Education (Counselling Psychology) would take her to the right professional path, which still remained unknown to her.

Kristen started her master’s program without still having a clear idea of what she was going to do with her degree when she finished. During her master’s degree, Kristen completed a Career Counselling course. Since she had struggled with finding a job after her Education degree and also with deciding what to choose as a career path, the idea of helping people as a career counsellor seemed very attractive. Wanting to know more about this career path and hoping to be selected, she applied to a four-month internship position at the university Career Centre (Career Development and Experiential Learning).

Upon a successful application, for four months, she had the opportunity to experience what it would be like to be a Career Coach. During her internship, she provided career advice to students and she assisted them with the preparation of resumes and cover letters as well as with mock interviews. She also helped at career and experiential learning events organized by the Career Development and Experiential Learning Centre.

After this four-month experience, which she really enjoyed, she knew that it was her calling. In the meantime, Kristen had to look for other options. She was able to find an alternative job on campus in Human Resources, and although Kristen liked many aspects of this other positon, her heart had stayed at the Career Centre… Luckily, after five months of working in Human Resources, one day, she noticed a job opening for a Science Career Development Coordinator at the Career Centre and applied for it. She ended up gaining an interview and landed the job. Kristen couldn’t be happier.

Now, after one year working at the Career Centre, Kristen still loves what she does and hopes to continue working there.

Finally, Kristen leaves us with some career advice:

Research reveals that the average person changes their career SEVEN times in their lifetime! Therefore, people shouldn’t become discouraged just because they change their mind about what to do in life. It is “normal” to have many interests and have various jobs in our lifetime. Besides, we live in a contractual society, so it’s becoming more and more common for people not to work “permanently” in the same job. What is ‘essential’ in our society is to know how to ‘transfer’ the skills that you gain in one job to lead you to the next one.

Be proactive in finding your career (finding a job can be a full-time job!) Learn how to best articulate your skills to employers. If you are at Memorial University, come visit the Career Development and Experiential Learning Centre to gain knowledge of your own career interests and what career opportunities there are for you.  Not at Memorial?  Take advantage of similar services – while you are a student – at your college or university! It will help you in the long run. 

A Mindful Revelation: Sarah Hea’s Road to Wisdom

By Veerta Singh, WorkStory Ambassador at Western University

Sarah Hea can’t remember a time when Transcendental Meditation wasn’t a part of her life.  Transcendental Meditation (TM) is a technique that is practiced to promote a relaxed state of awareness. Sarah was introduced to TM at a young age, as she was born into a family of meditators and grew up in a small meditating community in Ottawa. Having meditated since childhood, Sarah has seen the value of meditating as a student first-hand. It provided her with energy for her academics and was a great way to cope with stress or anxiety.

The opportunity to learn about TM is offered through Global Country of World Peace, an education not-for-profit organization.  And in Toronto, an organization called Transcendental Meditation Canada has a branch located in downtown Toronto. They teach and host many information sessions on what TM is and how it can be practiced. The organization has approximately 11 teachers who run these sessions and teach students how to meditate. Sarah, a certified teacher of TM, is one of these teachers.

What path did Sarah follow to pursue her passion? She attended Maharishi University of Management (MUM) in Fairfield, Iowa. MUM is a school that incorporates meditation and the study of consciousness into the curriculum. She graduated in 2006 with a Bachelor of Arts in Literature, with an emphasis in creative writing. After completing her undergraduate education, Sarah began her Master’s degree in Maharishi Vedic Science in 2008. As part of her degree, she took a Transcendental Meditation teacher training course to become a certified teacher. Immediately after her training, Sarah became a teacher and therefore did not complete her Master’s degree.

After completing her B.A., Sarah travelled and taught English as a Second Language in Japan, which she says was her “first foray into the teaching world”. Afterwards, she moved back to Iowa and worked at her Alma Mater as an academic advisor and a teaching assistant for courses like College Composition. Sarah says that these experiences helped her become a successful meditation teacher.

A typical day for Sarah begins with administrative work. It involves calling and emailing current and prospective students and organizing introduction talks. She continues her day by arranging special events, guest speakers, workshops and updating the website. Then of course, she runs group meditations and teaches the TM course.

To be successful in this field, Sarah stresses the importance of being personable and empathetic. “Often students are coming because they have stress they want to deal with and get rid of. It’s important to be sensitive to that. A big part of the job is teaching and communicating. Making sure that you are talking in a way that is clear, interesting, and understandable is essential. It’s also important to be organized and self-motivated. For the most part, I’m doing a lot of the work on my own, so motivation and time-management are very important”.

What inspired Sarah to become a Transcendental Meditation teacher? “I love helping people. It’s an amazing blessing to see people transform right before my eyes. People come to me with stress and trauma and every time I see them, they look lighter and happier. I wanted to do something meaningful with my life and this has given me that opportunity”. Sarah explains that she has many passions she would like to pursue further, but teaching TM will always be a major part of her life. “It’s hard for me to imagine something more rewarding”. When Sarah isn’t teaching, she enjoys writing, attending theatre and film productions, practicing yoga and travelling.

When asked if she had any career advice, Sarah responded with some great guidance that we should all try to keep in mind when pursuing a passion. “An important thing to remember when you’re first starting out in your career is that you won’t be instantly great at your job and every day won’t be amazing. There’s always a learning curve and barriers, internally and externally, to work through, so doing work that is meaningful to you is important. It’s important to find the strength to keep working and getting better every single day”.

For more information on Sarah Hea or Transcendental Meditation in Toronto, visit this website:

Paisley’s Story: Helping People Feel their Best

By Emma Kushnir, WorkStory Ambassador at Western University

Paisley Mattes loves helping people and making them feel beautiful is the best way for her to do it. She graduated from St Lawrence College, in Kingston, Ontario, and has been working as an Esthetician at Cher Mere Day Spa for about a year and a half.  Paisley focuses on manicures, pedicures, makeup, massage, facials and waxing. “I try to always make the client feel better-  whether it be making someone feel beautiful by doing their makeup or helping them de-stress by giving them a massage.”  The skills needed to become an esthetician can be learned at college, but Paisley explains that “you really have to have a passion for the industry because it is always changing, new brands or new techniques are developed and you [have to] keep up to date, so that when your clients ask you about something you can be a source of knowledge.”

When asked how she first got interested in this career, Paisley explains she’s always loved doing makeup on herself, and then some friends asked her to do their makeup for special events. “It made me realize that I could do it as a career and not just a hobby. At the time I was nearing the end of second year at university studying history and didn’t love it. So I applied to college and decided to go for it!” They didn’t specifically have a program for makeup, so esthetics was the best course because it still involved makeup.

Making the decision to enter this program was her biggest challenge. Was this something she wanted to spend time and money on – especially after two years, and two years of tuition bills, at university?  In the end, after talking to friends who went to the program right after high school, weighing the pros and cons, and with the support of parents and friends, Paisley found the transition was very easy.

Her inspiration was that esthetics combined her love for beauty and for making people feel better. She loves that every day she can be involved in “making people feel beautiful, helping them get ready for an event so they feel their best, or helping get rid of some of their pain or stress.”

Paisley’s advice for others?  “I went through about 10 different ideas about what I wanted to do before I decided on esthetics. And the truth is I could still change my mind if I wanted to, but I will always have the knowledge that I acquired about esthetics. If you feel that changing careers is the right decision for you, then do it!  Esthetics is not a glamorous job. You don’t get free manicures or waxing all the time. You probably won’t have had a massage since school even though your body hurts from helping other people feel better, but the reward is helping your clients feel good, feel happy and feel refreshed.” 

Coordinating Christmas: Craig McRae’s Story

By Annette Dawm, WorkStory Ambassador

Craig McRae plays many roles in life. He is a husband, father, musician, and a Master of Ceremonies for many of the Canadian Cancer Society’s Relay for Life events. He is also the owner and operator of an ATM company. On top of this, he runs Canada’s largest vocal competition and perhaps most notably, Craig describes himself as Santa and Mrs. Claus’s “tallest elf”.

Craig became one of Santa’s many helpers by following in his father’s footsteps as the Band Coordinator for “the world’s largest and longest running children's parade”— the Toronto Santa Claus Parade.  This year is the 111th anniversary of the magical event and Craig is very proud to have been a part of it for most of his life:

“I have worked the parade since I was about 10 years old.  I used to help my Dad, George McRae, with his bands. He is a retired High School Music Teacher from Malvern Collegiate Institute. He always had his band in the parade, and I was a band helper! My father was involved with the parade for 60 years, and when he retired from teaching, he became the parade's band coordinator, a position that had not existed before, but the [organizers] realized that music was a very important part of the parade! I was always his right hand man, and when he retired after 60 years, I took over that position! (One funny note -- I've never actually seen the parade as a spectator --I've always worked it, and enjoyed doing so.)”

“I look after all aspects of music within the parade. This involves scouting and hiring all the bands (usually between 20-28 bands) and organizing them within the parade, with months of planning on a huge, well-scripted parade lineup. I try to set certain bands up within certain sections of the parade, to try to match up colour, style, and size with whatever else might be contained within that certain section. It is a ton of work, and it does take all year, but in the last 2 months [prior to the parade] things really heat up!”

In total, Craig is in charge of approximately 2500-3000 musicians, with some coming as far away as Ohio! In the past, bands have also travelled from Kentucky, Georgia, Texas and California to participate with many Canadian bands along the parade route.

Something that people might be surprised to learn about the spectacle according to Craig is that they “literally start prepping for the following year's parade the moment the parade ends.” So everyone involved has to think about Christmas year round. They also collect data from every aspect of the procession in order to continue its successful run.

“We track all bands/times/people/weather/events that happened during the parade, and start to see what worked, what didn't work … and what we should do to improve next year! Then we start to look at what bands to re-hire for next year, and then spend the next year fielding calls from bands all across North America. Usually anywhere from 40-70 bands contact me to see who should be in the next year's parade!”

The Toronto Santa Claus Parade is well known for its hugely creative floats: “All the floats are re-created and recycled each year,” says Craig, “but the one that is the oldest and my favourite, is the Mother Goose float; many years it's been a Canadian goose – but it's just elegant and beautiful.”

And what’s a Santa Claus Parade without Santa? Over the years, Craig has become good friends with Santa and his wife, but admits that he probably didn’t make “the nice list” this year, even though he has a special connection…

“The fact that I get to visit the North Pole on a regular basis and meet with Santa and Mrs. Claus is the most exciting thing of all - I've known them for a long time, and they trust me, which I appreciate…. The two of them are really so nice, and it's a pleasure to be able to know them so closely.” In addition to working with the famous couple, Craig’s favourite part about working at the Santa Claus Parade is seeing all of the hard work come to fruition each year:

 “Once the parade starts moving, [it’s an] absolutely beautiful sight, seeing hundreds of thousands of kids and families enjoy such a beautiful thing. It is beyond words, and beyond magical!”

If you’d like to join in on the magic next year, Craig explains how you can help. “The parade is a non-profit, volunteer organization, and we LOVE volunteers! It's been running for well over 100 years and is the world’s largest and longest running children's parade. Anyone that wants to help can contact us here!”

If you are planning to attend the event but haven’t done so before, here is Craig McRae’s advice for watching The Toronto Santa Claus Parade in person:

“Be prepared for a long day! Bring chalk for kids to draw on the road, Santa reads all the signs the kids make and dress warmly even if it's warm out; Bring food and mostly, bring smiles and happiness and something to sit on!” Click here to visit the parade’s official website for more information.

You can also watch the parade from home on your TV, computer or mobile device on Sunday, Nov. 15 at 4:30 ET/PT on CTV, and 5:30 p.m. AT on CTV Atlantic, and on CTV GO. The parade will also be available to watch online after its initial broadcast in case you miss it! You can even tweet to Santa if you’d like, @TOSanta

Biology Meets Business: The Best of Both Worlds

By Veerta Singh, WorkStory Ambassador at Western University

Who says biology graduates are limited to working in the science field? Not Zach Armstrong, that’s for sure!

Zach is currently the Director of Business Development for Mitacs, a national not-for-profit organization based at Western University that designs and delivers research and training programs in Canada. Zach completed his undergrad in biology at Western University and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in 2008. His fourth year research project involved looking at a family of proteins within a species of flowering plants known as Arabidopsis thaliana (a weed). Zack then continued to pursue doctoral work at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry and completed his PhD in 2014.

Prior to procuring his position at Mitacs, throughout his undergraduate years, Zach worked a series of summer jobs in his hometown in Northern Ontario --  jobs at a lumber mill or a convenience store. During undergrad, Zach was involved in many volunteer and extra-curricular activities. He was the president of the Science Student Council in his 3rd year and a member of the University Student Council for a number of years until he was ultimately on the university Senate in his 4th year. He really enjoyed being involved with the school and the community and still enjoys it.

A typical day in the life of Zach Armstrong at Mitacs is variable!  Much of the work involves meeting people and discussing the challenges they may have. Often he is involved in promoting Mitacs programs.  Some of the work is administrative.  For example, he does a lot of reviews of applications, and makes sure the research proposals are hitting the right notes. He says that the skills he gained during grad school really helped him in that particular part of his job.

The main part of Zach’s job, though, entails talking to professors and students.  As Zach describes it, these conversations involve “explaining how the programs work, providing tips on how to build partnerships with non-academic organizations (i.e. businesses and non-profits) and then talking to those businesses and non-profits and explaining how the program works. Digging into the challenges they face on a day-to-day basis and showing them how research can help them solve those challenges is just one of the many facets involved in this job. It’s a very dynamic job”.

Although Zach graduated with degrees in biology, he was able to use the skills and knowledge he obtained and apply them to his current job as a Director for Business Development. “It’s a big field with a lot of different organizations. In terms of qualities that would help one become successful in this field, a lot of them are gained as you go through graduate school, such as understanding how grant and research proposals are supposed to be well written. But it’s difficult to find someone with ‘the complete package’  for these types of jobs, specifically the ones at Mitacs, because there is such a business development side to it and those aren’t necessarily skills gained as a graduate student. Skills such as being able to explain complex concepts in simple forms, networking skills and presentation skills are skills that are hard to find in someone with a PhD “

So the burning question is how did Zach, a biology graduate, discover that he wanted to become a Director of Business Development at Mitacs? When Zach was in grad school for 5.5 years completing his PhD, he wasn’t aware of Mitacs (which in retrospect he says is disappointing because they had many programs that would’ve been helpful for him).  He actually learned of the position by a happy chance.  Prior to his PhD defense, his supervisor sent him a job posting based at Western University.  This was perfect because Zach wanted to stay in London!  It was also convenient because the position was outside of research,  but still associated with the things he had been doing so it seemed like a perfect fit. “I was a little hesitant at first, but I applied and was lucky enough to get an interview and then a position in the organization. The position was actually for a business development specialist which was the entry-level position and then eventually I was promoted to Director”.

Clearly, Zach didn’t ‘always know’  he wanted to work at Mitacs. When he started his PhD, he was still exploring his options and wanted to be a faculty member at a University.  Although this was his initial interest, he realized halfway through his PhD that instead of dedicating an immense amount of time to one single goal, he wanted to be involved in things outside of school. So academia seemed like a less viable long-termgoal. However, all is well that ends well because the Mitacs position was the best of both worlds and a perfect fit for Zach!

When prompted to provide some advice for people who are in the early stages of their career,  or just about to enter the workforce, Zach stressed keeping an open mind. It’s something he would say to grad students as well. “Not everyone will be a professor at a University and there are plenty of other jobs out there. Do your best to keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to take risks. Do something you love. There shouldn’t be anything to stand in your way between doing something you love because ultimately you will be more successful at that than doing something you’re not passionate about. Find an organization you really believe in because it won’t feel like work and that’s really something everyone should strive for!”