A&S students hear from industry leaders in the sciences, humanities and social sciences at Backpack to Briefcase nights

November 29, 2023 by Coby Zucker - A&S News

At the recent Backpack to Briefcase (b2B) industry nights, Arts & Science students and new graduates networked with alumni mentors, gaining valuable career advice about non-linear routes to success and the importance of being open to new experiences.

Held at Hart House, the Careers in Science and Careers in Humanities and Social Sciences events had students and grads mingling with alumni leaders and asking all the questions top-of-mind as they considered life after their degrees. Besides seeking career-specific guidance, many came to find out generally what career paths exist after graduation and how they could use their degrees.

“We have this expectation of a linear trajectory,” says Noor Pannu, a third year student and member of Trinity College. “It brings me peace knowing that, if one thing does not go right, it's not a make-or-break situation.”

The students standing in a group.
The b2B Careers in Humanities and Social Sciences keynote speaker was Jana Chu (right).

The best piece of advice Yash Kumar Singhal, a third year student and member of Innis College, received during the night was that searching for a career is confusing for everyone. He says it was comforting to hear he’s not the only one who doesn’t know what he wants to do yet.

“I'm just trying to find out what kind of careers are out there. Right now, my knowledge is very limited,” Singhal says. “I want to see what else is possible with my degree in the future.”

At the Careers in Science night, students and recent grads heard from guest speaker Vivian Lo, the labour relations analyst at the Treasury Board Secretariat. Her message to students is there’s no right or wrong, and by taking the shortest path, you may even lose out on valuable experience.

“Graduation is not the end,” says Lo, who earned her honours bachelor of science in 1995 as a member of University College. “It's the beginning of many chapters to come.”

At the Careers in Humanities and Social Sciences event the following night, Jana Chu, an executive officer of the Office of the Chief Coroner at the Ministry of the Solicitor General, spoke to students about the value of networking and building relationships while at U of T.

“Connections can be the stepping stone to your future success,” says Chu, who earned an honours bachelor of arts in 2008 as a member of Victoria College and a master of arts in 2010.

Vivian Lo speaking at a podium.
Careers in Science keynote speaker Vivian Lo is a labour relations analyst at the Treasury Board Secretariat.

Chu also stressed the importance of being a lifelong learner.

“I embarked on a career path that was both challenging and rewarding, I found that keeping an open mind, focusing on continuous learning and being adaptable were essential for staying ahead,” she says.

While Chu and Lo have been volunteering at b2B events for years, other alumni mentors like Ricardo Gomez-Insausti, vice-president of research at Numeris, were attending their first b2B night.

Gomez-Insausti, who began his career in academia, never expected to end up working in industry. His advice is to be open to different experiences.

“Start with what you like and have passion for it,” says Gomez-Insausti, who earned a PhD in geography in 1996. “You have to have passion for what you are doing.”

Gomez-Insausti also says that while technical knowledge is important, he’s also looking at the “soft skills” when he’s hiring young graduates.

“Hard skills are good but the soft skills, those capabilities you develop by interacting with people, are very important as well.”

Marcus Lomboy, a senior policy advisor in the Ontario provincial government's Ministry of Children, Community, and Social Services, volunteers as an alumni mentor so he can help students learn to navigate some of the spaces in the industry with barriers to access.

“I did terribly in high school. I did terribly in my first stint as an undergrad. It took a lot of failures to figure out my direction,” says Lomboy, who earned a master of public policy in 2022. “I think it's so important to understand yourself, whatever shape that path may take.”