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What are your Next Steps? Undergrads and alumni discuss career moves

The Unapologetic Guide to Being Your Own Boss, delivers the keynote address (photo by Johnny Guatto)

“800 students registered for #NextStepsUofT but I guess most are going to be fashionably late! Hah,” tweeted a student eager for the conference to begin.

“Excited for #NextStepsUofT Career Conference. Convocation Hall doesn’t seem as scary as it did in first year,” tweeted another.

Excitement was in the air and online as students packed Convocation Hall recently for the University of Toronto's Next Steps conference to discuss a vital question: what comes after graduation?

“I have been having anxieties about my next step as I am graduating next year,” said Neo Tapologo, enrolled in a double major in Women & Gender and African studies. After graduation, Tapologo would like to work in the non-profit sector, empowering women in developing countries. She is also an aspiring fashion designer, hoping to become her own boss one day.

Hank Ko will be graduating soon with a degree in Psychology. He is hoping to work in the health care industry, contributing to the field of mental health. With graduation approaching, Ko was starting to get nervous about the future. “I needed to start thinking urgently about the next move in my life,” he said.

Held annually over two intensive days, the aptly named conference helps transitioning students in the Faculty of Arts & Science and recent graduates explore careers and prepare for life after graduation, said Heather Kelly, director, student career exploration and education.

“Through workshops and networking with alumni, students have the opportunity to explore the essential competencies of entrepreneurship, creativity and leadership that are required for future success," she said. 

This year the conference brought more than 140 alumni back to campus to share their knowledge and expertise through a series of sessions, panels and networking events.

In his welcome address, Professor David Cameron, dean, Faculty of Arts & Science, evoked the words of eminent U of T scholar Northrop Frye, who described a university education as a vision of society derived from the best that humanity has done in philosophy, arts and sciences.

“This vision is a practical wisdom, which you take with you into society, which you apply as a criterion to society, and which is the source of your own expertise and special abilities," quoted Cameron.

This versatility of expertise and abilities was on full display as alumni speakers and panellists took to the floor. Making their mark in a wide range of industries, including education, health care, arts & culture and small business, they were eager to answer questions about their beginnings, flops, epiphanies and tips for career success.

“All the things that make you different work to your advantage,” said keynote speaker, best-selling author and alumna Gloria Roheim McRae, referring to her immigrant background and fluency in four languages.

"Don’t have an ego about it,” advised English alumna Sarah Ker-Hornell, who started out working as a truck driver for a commercial production company. 

She is now chief executive officer and executive director for FilmOntario.

“The extra-curriculars were a big play,” reflected Brian Baker, who graduated from U of T with a degree in Archeology, but plugged into his extra-curricular experience of writing for student newspapers to eventually land a job as Sports, Arts and Life Editor in the Town Crier.

Participants were also told that no education is lost and that they won’t know what jobs are out there until they get in the river. Relationships are important. Nothing is done in a vacuum. Don’t stop at the first barrier.

Each new tip seemed to inject new energy into the increasingly enthusiastic crowd.

“It was a brilliant idea to invite U of T alumni to discuss their career paths with us,” said Ko. “Our U of T experience gives us a shared identity, so the conference felt very personal and relevant.

“It helped me put my emotions in perspective. I understand now that life after graduation may be stressful, but it’s not the end of the world. I just have to keep calm and be open to trying various things in order to fulfill my career objectives”.

Tapologo was also grateful for the encouragement and advice, saying the conference was a great opportunity to hear from people who have been in the same situation.

“I gained hope and comfort and now I am confident that I am on the right path,” she said.

Barbara Dick, assistant vice-president, alumni relations, reminded students that they have an instant network of more than 500,000 fellow graduates around the world in more than 180 countries.

"While your relationship with the University of Toronto might start off as a place of education and research,” said Dick, “it really is a lifetime resource of ideas, networks, connections and support.”

Next Steps is run in partnership with The Faculty of Arts and Science, Alumni Relations and the UTSG Career Centre.