More than 350 Faculty of Arts & Science students and alumni braved a snowstorm to attend the University of Toronto’s 12th annual Next Steps Conference on Saturday, January 18. Created through a partnership between the Faculty of Arts & Science, Career Exploration & Education and the Division of University Advancement (DUA), Next Steps is a one-day career fair extravaganza. The popular event allows students to meet and hear from alumni, build their professional networks and consider potential career avenues after graduation.
Students selected from a number of industry and topic panels where alumni speakers addressed subjects that are top of mind for many students, including transitioning to the workplace and the pros and cons of internships. After lunch, community leader and social justice champion Ausma Malik gave an inspiring keynote address. Malik, a member of St. Michael’s College, graduated from U of T with a bachelor of arts degree in 2013.
“When I graduated, there was a lot of uncertainty about who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do,” said Naomi Hazlett, a member of University College who holds an undergraduate degree in cognitive science and psychology, as well as a master’s degree in occupational therapy. She’s now an occupational therapist and managing editor of Occupational Therapy Now magazine. “This is a nice opportunity to give back.”
She participated in the conference for the first time this year as a panelist for the Medicine, Healthcare and Wellness industry panel. “Not a lot of people know about occupational therapy, but it’s more than that,” said Hazlett. “It’s telling a story so that maybe I can help even one person feel better about navigating their own way.”
A key component of the conference is the reception at the end of the day, which gives students an opportunity to practice networking — an invaluable skill, said Chris Davies, a philosophy graduate and member of University College. “It’s important to know people and talk to people. It’s amazing what a network can lead to.”
Davies is the founder and creative director of Dog and Pony Studios, a marketing agency for financial institutions. His advice for students? “Don’t try to predict your career. A career is a journey, not a destination.”
Mark Goh, a member of St. Michael’s College who holds a bachelor of commerce degree, echoed that sentiment. “Regardless of how well you plan your career, it will take unexpected turns. Be open to the opportunities that come to you and explore what’s out there.”
Next Steps was an opportunity to pay it forward for 2018 graduate Tali Voron, a member of Victoria College who studied education and society, English literature and psychology. “When I was in my undergrad at U of T, I met my mentor through this program and that truly changed my life. I would love to be able to do that for somebody else.”
The student attendees at the conference said the advice they received from alumni resonated and inspired. Thaisa Sant’Ana, a first-year life science student at the University of Toronto Mississauga, enjoyed the panel Internships: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly. “One of the panelists said he applied to over 100 internships,” she said. “He persevered and only heard back from two of them, so that inspired me not to be disappointed by a ‘no.’”
Roshni Thawani, a member of Trinity College who studied criminology and sociolegal studies, graduated last year and will be starting her new job in two weeks. “I’m so intimidated by the workforce and the transition to get out there,” she said. “I wanted to learn from others who have made that transition. I met so many people who were so friendly and open. They gave me a lot of practical advice.”
Lucy Faria, a member of Victoria College and third-year student studying international relations and political science, volunteered at Next Steps. She attended Success Isn’t a Straight Line, a panel which she said encapsulated the main idea of the conference: offering alternatives to the concept of a linear transition from university into a “proper job.”
“I think one of the purposes of the conference is to validate nonlinear career success stories that show how transferable skills can lead from one road to a completely different area that you might become interested in,” she said. “Professional interests change as you’re moulded as a person. There's a lot of value in trying things out, even if you don't have a clear idea of what you want to do yet. Often those can be the most valuable experiences — even your mistakes can lead to something fruitful.”