Career CentreReports Worth Reading

Finding the Piece that Fits: Career Consulting in the Faculty of Science

A university faculty is like an intricately designed puzzle. All of the pieces—the department programs, administrative staff, faculty, and students—are shaped uniquely. Yet when the pieces connect, and connect well, therein lies the whole picture: an academic community that works together to provide exceptional educational experiences for its students.

But does this picture stay static, or does it continue to evolve?
How are new pieces added?
Where do they go? How do they fit?

These were the thoughts that flowed through my mind when I began as a career consultant for the Faculty of Science in September 2014. I wasn’t the missing piece to their puzzle, but I nonetheless had to figure out where and how my piece fit.

Having been a devoted and admiring student of the arts, I also had a huge curiosity for the field of science. The logic of calculous, the magic of chemistry, the theory and application of medical physics. It all seemed so intriguing. Although I am a qualified career educator, with the tools to assist undergraduates in their career development, I was faced with a fascinating challenge: to understand this faculty’s culture. What made Ryerson’s Faculty of Science tick? Why were students drawn to it? How were employers benefiting from hiring its graduates? Finding these answers was at the core of being the career consultant for this faculty, with the knowledge, understanding, and tools to give science undergraduates the edge they needed to create ambitious and rewarding career pathways.

As I geared up to craft my own puzzle piece that would link and connect career education with students’ learning and faculty members’ teaching, I had two initial goals in mind:

  1. To build lasting relationships with faculty, staff, and students.
  2. To make my presence and value known as both a representative of Ryerson’s career centre and of the #RyersonSA community.

Goal #1 – Build lasting relationships with faculty, staff, and students

Build connections to Faculty of Science students, staff, and faculty by chatting at events.

The Plan

There are 9 undergraduate programs in this faculty. Since September, I wanted to establish myself as a face to both Ryerson’s Career Centre and #RyersonSA. I planned to contact and engage with staff and faculty through 1:1 meetings, listening to what they perceived as the most pertinent career needs of their students. I also planned to get students into my office so I could assess their needs as I provided career consultations, and figure out how best I could help. These goals were in part accomplished by organizing 1:1 meetings with professors, student leaders, faculty staff, and speaking at staff meetings. I’ve met all 9 Undergraduate Program Directors, and presented at a Dean’s Council Meeting and a Working Group Meeting. I also have monthly meetings with Dean, Dr. Imogen Coe.

Success!

My major success here can be attributed to referrals: faculty members are beginning to send their students with career counselling queries to me for 1:1 appointments. Students are finding out from faculty members that I exist, and that I’m available to talk. Faculty are taking my role seriously, and respect my presence and the work I do with their students.

From October 2014 to March 2015 (excluding the month of December), I met with 41 science undergraduates. Almost all of these consultations were of the same appointment type: career advising. Every single one of these appointments was a first visit; all 41 students had never visited Ryerson’s Career Centre, and had never received career advising during their undergraduate experience. This was their first interaction with a career advisor, and it was my goal to make that experience as welcoming and as valuable as possible so they would continue to use our services.

It has been my relationship building with these students that has really enhanced awareness of the Career Centre and the #RyersonSA community in this faculty. Students that have come to see me have recommended me to their peers. Although the majority of my appointments have been with biology majors, I am now beginning to see representation from other programs as well.

Career Consultation Meetings by Program

Challenges

The challenge with 1:1 appointments is always the rate of attrition. In total, 11 students were “no shows.” In these cases, I resort to sending reminder emails to encourage students to keep their appointments. Yet I realize it’s not enough. This is a challenge we face centrally, too. One solution is to continue to build my presence in the faculty so that students stick with their appointments because they realize the experience will be of utmost value to them. This could include facilitating workshops in the classroom, and hosting 2–3 alumni/employer/recruiter events throughout the year.

It’s only been 6 months, but I continue to think of ways to make my value and presence known.

Goal #2 – Making my Value Known

Faculty of Science alumni speak to graduating students about careers in Science.

How do we get students to buy into what I have to offer? One way is to put on an event that will attract students and circulate a buzz. This was my goal in planning and hosting Science Graduates at Work: Navigating a Career After Graduation in late January 2015. I co-organized with Sandra Solomon, Director of Development in this faculty. Our collaboration resulted in a panel presentation and networking event with 5 recent alumni who spoke about their experiences transitioning from university to work.

The Buzz

The event definitely got a buzz going. There was excitement from the student body, with 79 registering. The best approach in advertising was getting the word out to students through classroom talks and course unions. Our Faculty of Science Campus Engagement Ambassador (CEA) got the ball rolling by making inroads with course union representatives, and speaking to large bodies of students during class lectures. In total, our CEA reached 695 undergraduate students in 12 classroom talks.

Campus Engagement Ambassadors

The Campus Engagement Ambassadors are a dynamic group of student leaders who run activities and events that connect students to the Career Centre’s programs, services, and opportunities. Each one is assigned to a Faculty and collaborate with student groups in that Faculty to run engaging and relevant career development events for their students. They also visit classrooms to talk with students about the Career Centre and can regularly be found in the major public gathering spaces across campus, ready to chat with any students who have questions about what we can do to help them on their career journey.

Students were also invited to a networking workshop I facilitated prior to the event. This was a great way to promote and demonstrate the value of one of our many workshops in the Career Centre. 27 students participated, and were more confidently prepared to network at the event because they had received some coaching beforehand. It also created a space for student bonding, so that the event itself became a safe space where they could practice their networking with each other and guest speakers.

The Feedback

After sending out a follow-up survey to those who attended, I found out that students got a lot out of the Networking Skills Workshop. They:

  • Learned tips on how to network at an event
  • Got a chance to practice their networking skills
  • Felt more confident about their networking skills after participating

In addition, students offered suggestions for the future. One in particular stands out: “more/longer warming-up activities to get everyone in the networking mood, or just get everyone talking.” This tells me that students appreciated the workshop, but would like even more time to practice and build their confidence. It’s always promising to hear that a student wants “more” rather than “less”!

On-Going Efforts

These types of events can continue to enhance the profile of our career centre. Yet, this won’t be an overnight success. It takes time, perseverance, and commitment. When I compare the number of Faculty of Science students who registered for a counselling or advising appointment in our central career centre between 2013/2014 (117) and 2014/2015 (124), I notice there isn’t much increase. One of the ways we are getting these numbers up is through my own offering of 1:1 appointments within the faculty itself. We want more students to use our central services, including attending our workshops and career chats.

Final thoughts

Science encompasses many different parts of our lives, from DNA to robotics.

It’s been an exciting 6 months. I’ve had success; I’ve not only moved towards my goals, I’ve hit them. My work in this faculty will continue to be recognized by students and staff alike, and our services will continue to attract more participants as I continue to expand my offerings. One of my next goals is to be part of the orientation process for incoming Faculty of Science majors; attending the Ontario Universities Fair to speak with prospective students and parents about career education in science is one example of how this will shape up. Another goal is to plan career programming for students from years 1–4+, so that they can receive a solid career education throughout their experience at Ryerson.

I look forward to putting these plans and others into action as my piece of the puzzle shapes up nicely; I’m beginning to find its fit. It’s not yet perfectly in sync with the whole picture, but that’s the nice thing about these kinds of puzzles…eventually, it will come together.


Interested in writing your own Reports Worth Reading, but don’t know where to start?
Give me a shout and I’d be happy to help! LGobert@ryerson.ca

  • Caroline Konrad

    A great insight into our work and the power of building a reputation organically, through word of mouth and thoughtful, empathetic relationship building. And great to see the work of our Student Ambassador team and their impact also profiled! Thank you Rebecca!

    • Rebecca Dirnfeld

      Thanks so much Caroline for your thoughts! I’ve am lucky to have this opportunity to be in FOS and build these relationships. Excited to see what the future will bring!

  • John Austin

    I love a good metaphor, and I love good story telling. This is both of those things. Thanks for providing this meaningful narrative in a very readable way. I’m impressed with this journey the Ryerson Career Centre is taking, and I stand by with plenty of encouragement and celebration for your successes!

    • Rebecca Dirnfeld

      Thanks very much John for your reflection on this piece. I also enjoy a good metaphor, and it was great to find a creative way to tell my story, thus far. Looking forward to continuing successes in FOS!