Wednesday, 30 October 2013

What does your Halloween costume say about your career aspirations?

I’ve often wondered if there is a connection between the costumes people wear at Halloween and their career aspirations. Does the kid standing at your door in the Spiderman costume hope to one day fight crime, become a newspaper report or do a PhD in entomology?

I did a quick search of the internet to see if I could come up with anything on the relationship between Halloween costumes and career aspirations but found nothing. (Most of the sites I got were for companies selling Halloween costumes.) So I decided to do some research of my own. First, I made a list of classic Halloween costumes. It included witch, ghost, vampire, pirate, princess, zombie, angel, superhero, dog and grim reaper. I then ask a few of my co-workers the first career that came to their mind for each costume on my list. I found some interesting results.

The two costumes that yielded the most common responses were angel and superhero. Four people said ‘nurse’ for angel and four said ‘firefighter’ for superhero. Other responses for angel included guide, paramedic and non-profit worker. Other responses for superhero included athlete, aid worker, police officer, construction worker and librarian. Most of these responses are not surprising given the traits often associated with these two careers. This was true for some of the other costumes too. For example, included among the responses for grim reaper were mortician, funeral home director and medical examiner; these were also responses for ghost, along with magician, paranormal expert and undertaker.

The careers that jumped to mind for some costumes seemed to be related to the work environment or things people work with. For example, for vampire two people responded with ‘dentist’ (I’m assuming a teeth connection) and two with ‘the person who takes your blood when you go to donate.’ A couple of people thought of ‘police officer’ when I said dog (I assumed their first thought was of a police dog), while other obvious responses for dog were dog walker and animal rescue worker.

The career that came up most often for different costumes was librarian. As noted above, it was among the responses for superhero, which I totally get. (As a student, a librarian came to my rescue more than once). Librarian was also one of the responses for ghost and for witch. (Hmmm, perhaps someone’s experience was not as positive as mine?) Other careers that came up for different careers were politician for princess and for grim reaper, and computer technician for pirate and for zombie.

Some of the responses I found most curious were science sales rep and snowboard instructor for dog, bed and breakfast owner for ghost, and book store owner for vampire. The funniest? Hot dog vendor for dog. And my favourite? Mom for nurse!

As I think back about what I dressed up as at Halloween when I was a kid, I’m not sure I see any connection with my career aspirations. By far, one of my most memorable Halloweens was the time I dressed up as two people, but that was just a ploy to get double the treats - and it worked!

Monday, 21 October 2013

Getting it from the horse’s mouth…or the lawyer’s mouth…or the policy analyst’s mouth..or the entrepreneur’s mouth…

Are you at a point in your life where you’re considering one or more careers but need more information about what working in those careers would be like? Perhaps you’ve read some stuff on-line or picked up a book or two about the career fields you’re considering. (Note: We have lots of such material available at our centres in SUB, HUB and CCIS. As a matter of fact, you can search our on-line catalogue to see what career resources we have.)

The information you can get on-line or from books about particular careers can be useful (given that it’s not out-of-date, of course) and is something I recommend to students, particularly for a broad overview. Talking to people who are actually working in the careers you’re considering is also something I highly recommend. Whether it’s done formally through career information interviews, job shadows and the like or informally at social gatherings, talking to people about what they do day-to-day on the job, what they like and dislike about their work, what lead them to the current job, etc. can give you a much richer and more vibrant picture of a career than you can get from simply reading about it. And certainly a much more realistic picture that what gets portrayed in television shows and movies!

If you’re interested in self-employment and want to talk to people who have started their own venture (small business, social enterprise, etc.), check out StartUp U, which runs from November 4th to 8th. In addition to hosting a number of panels featuring local entrepreneurs, CAPS is running a Human Library on Wednesday and Thursday. We have several ‘living books’ that you can check out for up to 20 minutes. A small sample of our current titles include Dee’s dirty thoughts: Writing for the real world, From farmlands of Alberta to hills of Uganda: A life’s journey and From the non-profit sector to the world of tech startups: Proof that anyone can be an entrepreneur. Additional titles will be added up to the week of November 4th so check back regularly.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Undergraduate research: myth-busters edition

This week’s guest post is from Crystal Snyder, Coordinator of the Undergraduate Research Initiative (URI).

October…’tis the season for midterms, falling leaves, and turkey leftovers. At URI, it is also the time of year when we’re gearing up for our fall awareness campaign. In just a couple of weeks, the URI will be launching the University of Alberta’s first ever Festival of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (FURCA), a month-long showcase of undergraduate research from across all disciplines. FURCA will feature more than 30 different events throughout the month of November – still just a small sampling of the incredible impact that undergraduate students have on research at our institution.

FURCA is, first and foremost, a celebration of the accomplishments of undergraduate researchers and their mentors, but we also hope that the diverse array of events and projects will highlight the many opportunities that exist for students to get involved, regardless of their discipline or background. There are many myths and misconceptions that persist about what undergraduate research is and who can do it, and we hope that FURCA serves as a catalyst for breaking down some of those barriers.

With that in mind, I thought that it might be a good idea to start us off by challenging some of the most common misconceptions we hear about undergraduate research:

Myth #1 – It’s hard to start a conversation with a professor about research

Okay, so talking to strangers is hard. I get that. But as a former researcher, let me put to rest the idea that we’re scary, intimidating people. We love having the opportunity to talk to students who are interested in the same things we are. We get excited about our work, and it makes our day when we see someone else get just as excited about it. Sometimes, all it takes is one good question to break the ice. Or, as I like to tell students…we’re nerdy about something, you’re nerdy about something…if we’re nerdy about the same things, the conversation will practically start itself.

Myth #2 – You need to have a high GPA to succeed in research

Like many myths, this is one that probably persists because there’s a (tiny) hint of truth to it. That’s because many undergraduate research awards use GPA as a selection criterion, which can make it seem as though all the opportunities go to high-achieving students. This is unfortunate, because GPA is often not the best indicator of success in research. The research environment is very different from a traditional classroom setting, and some students who struggle in the classroom find themselves much better suited to the freedom of a research project. Indeed, many well known researchers were once admonished by their teachers, only to thrive in their research careers (2012 Nobel Prize-winning biologist John Gurdon comes to mind as an example).

The added bonus? Research continually reinforces what you’re learning in the classroom, so it’s like studying without the textbook.

Eligibility for funding doesn’t necessarily need to be a barrier – the URI administers the Undergraduate Researcher Stipend, a $5000 award for students undertaking a mentored research project, regardless of GPA, year of study, or academic program. Our deadline for applications for Winter 2014 is October 28 – visit our website for more information.

Myth #3 – You have to wait until your third or fourth year to do research

One of the most common inquiries we receive at the URI office is how first year students can get involved in research. This can be a challenge – after all, how do you get experience if you don’t have any experience? While it’s true that some professors prefer to take on students after they’ve completed more courses, it’s never too early to begin exploring your options. As a first year student, one of the best things you can do is get to know the people who are doing research in your area of interest – talk to your teaching assistants and professors, attend seminars and other events (like URI’s upcoming Discovery Panel on Sustainability Research), and talk to other students who’ve been involved in research (check out the Undergraduate Research Symposium on November 22 in CCIS). Once you’ve found a mentor, you can also apply for the URI Undergraduate Researcher Stipend – it’s worth noting that of the 78 students who have received Undergraduate Researcher Stipends to date, 27 have been in their first or second year of study. So don’t wait – get involved!

Watch for updates about FURCA events throughout November. You can also follow us on Facebook or Twitter @URIUofA (#FURCA2013)!

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Entrepreneurship – It’s not just about starting a business

I attended a conference last month in the UK, the theme of which was Beyond the rhetoric: Enterprise, engagement, employability. Each of the three days was dedicated to one of these E’s with the first being on enterprise.

Enterprise and entrepreneurship education is a growing area within the UK post-secondary system. I found the speakers and workshops I attended very timely because CAPS is planning a full week of programming the week of 4 November dedicated to this very topic. We’ve called the week StartUp U: Focus on entrepreneurship and self-employment.

In planning the programming for and talking to people about StartUp U, one of the challenges I’ve faced is ensuring that people – including me! - understand that it isn’t solely about how to start a business, although that’s part of it. A 2012 report by the UK’s Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education distinguishes between enterprise and entrepreneurship in a way that I find very helpful. It defines enterprise as ‘the application of creative ideas and innovations to practical situations.’ The purpose of enterprise education is to develop ‘the mindset and skills to come up with original ideas in response to identified needs and shortfalls, and the ability to act on them.’ These skills include ‘taking initiative, intuitive decision making, making things happen, networking, identifying opportunities, creative problem solving, innovating, strategic thinking, and personal effectiveness.’

Entrepreneurship is defined as ‘the application of enterprise skills specifically to creating and growing organizations in order to identify and build on opportunities.’ Entrepreneurship education ‘focuses on encouraging students to apply enterprising skills and attributes to a range of different contexts, including new or existing businesses, charities, non-governmental organizations, the public sector and social enterprises.’

As noted above, one of the key enterprising skills is networking. Within career development, networking is about building relationships, particularly among people who can mutually support each other in achieving their career goals. As part of StartUp U, we are planning a networking event, called Entrepreneur Connect, to bring together students and alumni who are, or who are interested in, starting a venture but need the skills and expertise of others. Think aspiring children’s story book writer who needs to connect with an illustrator and editor, or a web developer who needs the creativity and talents of a graphic designer. Entrepreneur Connect is intended to introduce budding entrepreneurs to each other, to facilitate initial connections. If you are interested in participating in this event, register on the CAPS website, where you can also see who else is planning to attend.