Networking in the City: It’s About Who You Are, Not Who You Know

Every post-secondary program is served with a side of advice to network aggressively.

“It’s about who you know, not what you know,” we’re told, “so you’d better start marathon shaking hands”.

Well, not so fast. Sure, people with an extensive network boast a unique advantage when it comes to landing jobs. They can save time by sending resumes to people they know will look at them. But for the most part, if a hiring manager or executive doesn’t believe you’ll vibe with their company, chances are you’re not getting the job.

Don’t believe me? Consider this: according to 67 percent of consultants surveyed by Workopolis, the top reason people don’t get the jobs they want is because they fail to set themselves apart from the competition. 

Let that sink in for a moment. The top reason isn’t lack of experience or a company insider’s referral: it’s a compatibility problem.

The Importance of Values in the Startup Scene

But what exactly does this mean? Differentiating yourself isn’t about standing out by any means necessary. If this were the case, we’d all be showing up to interviews drunk, toting a karaoke machine with every intention of using it in the name of making an impression. Clearly, companies are looking for something specific. And that something specific is:

Whether your values are aligned with theirs.

Nowhere is the urgency about values stronger than in the startup scene, particularly in Toronto’s flourishing tech ecosystem. Ninety percent of startups are expected to fail. With a fun statistic like that, startup founders are more interested in working towards their vision than convincing new recruits that their vision is great. Teaching you company policy takes the work of a week. Teaching you to share a company’s convictions, while not impossible, can take forever and even after that investment there’s no guarantee you’ll care. Consequently, who you are and what you value is very important to companies.

Companies Are On the Lookout for People Who “Get It”

The recent TechToronto Meetup powerfully drove this point home. The beauty of this monthly meetup hosted by TechToronto is the mini-presentations given by members of the tech community – just enough variety to leave you satisfied, but short enough to keep you engaged. The most recent event was a veritable smorgasbord of speakers ranging from a marketing manager in a biotech company to the married co-founders of a beauty review site to the hilariously straight-talking, potty mouthed CEO of a healthcare tech startup. While on the surface they could not be more different, what they all shared in common was a strong belief in the importance of people with shared values for the success of an organization. In each presentation, the speakers emphasized the importance of company culture and building solid teams.

Of course, a shared passion for eating is not going to overcome the fact that you don’t know how to code if you are applying for a developer position at a food delivery startup. On the other hand, if you have the necessary hard skills and demonstrate a commitment to creativity, user experience, and healthy eating, it’s clear to the person doing the hiring that you get what the organization is trying to accomplish.

At the end of the day, everyone’s just looking for people who “get it”. It’s why couples with seemingly opposite interests can work so well: they likely share core values about communication and personal growth. And it’s why an organization with teammates who fill different roles – technical, public relations, sales – can come together to make something greater than the sum of its parts.

The TechToronto Meetup and afterparty takes place every month for those looking for a job, those looking to hire, and those who just love learning about tech. The next event takes place December 5. Early bird tickets are $12, regular tickets are $20, and you can buy them at the door for $25.

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Featured image via Pexels

5 Ways to Prepare for the Job Market While Getting Your Degree

An undergraduate degree is great, and contrary to what people may tell you, it does open doors. The problem is that there are a lot more people trying to rush through those doors than there were before. The trick then is to make sure you know what employers are looking for – and contrary to popular belief, they are looking.

Stop Accumulating Positions, Start Accumulating Projects

Employers are not interested in hearing where you’ve been. Rather, they want to know what you’ve done. Stuffing your resume with jobs and volunteer positions is pretty, but to someone quickly scanning your resume it just looks busy.

You were student council president? Great! What did you do as president? What problems did you solve? What new initiatives did you spearhead?

We’ve been told since Grade 5 to join everything under the sun so that we can slap it on our resume, but if you can’t point to a project or an app or an event and say, “I helped make that happen” then you’re forgettable.

Show Me The Money…And How You Got It Here

If I had a nickel for the number of times someone told me they volunteered for an organization for x amount of time only to not be taken on in a paid capacity, I’d be rich enough to pay off my student loans and stop editing my resume.

I’ve learned this the hard way myself: you need to show that you’re of value to a company whether that means showing them how you’ve increased engagement on social media, how you’ve made them more money, or how you do something tangible that would be noticeably missed were you to leave. Unless you’re working directly under someone who controls the budget and has the power to say, “Hell, why not? You always come in on time and we could use an extra assistant” the supervisor that you interact with every day probably has limited power.

As disenchanting as this may sound, unless you have a terrific relationship with the head of a company, these decisions usually come down to money, not loyalty, and understanding this will allow you to gear everything from how you approach your existing position to how you apply to other jobs, much better.

You need to learn how to quantify your accomplishments.

Put It In Numbers

We live in a data-driven world, and people – especially hiring managers – like to see numbers. It’s a frustrating feature, especially if you’re someone who thinks better in words, but even if you’re applying for a job that has nothing to do with numbers you need to learn how to quantify your accomplishments. This does not apply exclusively to previous sales jobs. It can be applied to a wide range of work experiences.

You ran the social media for a non-profit? Cute. But by how much? How many followers did you gain? How much engagement was there on each of these platforms?

You ran the blog and e-newsletter for your school paper? Lovely. How many views did the blog get a month? What were the open and click through rates? Did those numbers increase under your management?

Put it in numbers. They are quick and blunt, but flipping through resumes is long and dull, so include information that will jump out.

Study Your Dream Job

Don’t wait until your final year to look at postings for your dream position. Chances are that in addition to “undergraduate degree in related field” the description will be chockfull of buzzwords and the expectation that you’re proficient in half a dozen pieces of software and you will feel overwhelmed by how few you recognize.

Helpful tip: most of these tools are user-friendly and easy to learn – they just take time. And those obscure terms are just complicated ways to refer to common sense techniques. If you’re an English major trying to get a job at a magazine or a marketing firm, you should already be familiarizing yourself with search engine optimization techniques and different online content management systems.

Nowhere, outside of elementary school, do people remember the person that quietly waited for their turn.

Be Persistent and Stop Being So Nice

Nothing makes you want to punch your screen like receiving another automated message informing you that a company has decided to move on with other applicants, but remember: it doesn’t matter how many nos you get, all it takes is one yes.

Be persistent, and stop being so damn nice and amiable. It’s futile responding to an automated email, but if a human informs you that you didn’t get a job, sending them a simple thank you is the same as hitting reply and writing, “You may now forget about me. Insignificantly yours…” Say thank you and then ask for feedback. Or add them on LinkedIn. Or if you’re going to just say thank you, make sure it’s handwritten and mailed. Do something to cement yourself in their memory.

On that note, if you interviewed for a position and you haven’t heard back, follow up, follow up, follow up. Nowhere, outside of elementary school, do people remember the person that quietly waited for their turn.

At Your Man’s House Monday: Darryl Gentil

This week on At Your Man’s House Monday we’re speaking with budding entrepreneur Darryl Gentil. With his mind focused on market trends and his heart set on helping others, Darryl is presently engaged in shaping the future of e-commerce. He talks to us about the pursuit of success, the productive power of fear, and the importance of surrounding yourself with driven people.

You started your post secondary studies in International Studies and Political Science at York before transferring to Ryerson’s Ted Rogers School of Management to study Business Administration. What prompted this transition?

Well I realized that social sciences would limit me in terms of what I wanted to accomplish. I realized at an early age that business was the way to go if I wanted change to happen quickly. Ryerson and Ted Rogers offered that opportunity to me, and it was a simple decision.

You have a very enterprising spirit, and that’s evident from talking to you or simply observing your posts on Facebook. What jobs are you currently working, or projects are you pursuing on the side?

This is a great question. I’d like to admit I’m only working on one or two things, but the truth is, I’m working on various projects, simply because my circle of friends are constantly inspiring me and themselves to achieve what they’ve always wanted – from fashion bloggers such as 53 marcel to small to medium size business owners. I realized that I couldn’t limit myself to what I wanted. Being an entrepreneur in this day and age seems like a logical thing to do. We are not living in our parents’ age where a typical life would be working for 45 years, to repeating the same routine day after day, year after year. My goal is to live my life to the fullest while I’m young, and to stay young. Over the next three years, I will create something that no one has ever done, and that’s creating my own economy on an e-commerce platform. It will take time, there will be challenges, but I can assure you of one thing, with the help of my friends and family, this goal is certainly achievable.

Aside from profit – we’re all trying to make money – what draws you in to a project or a job? Is there a certain passion or interest you have that you try to incorporate into your paid work?

First of all, money has never been a priority for me. I know what I want and I know that it has never revolved around money. I will invest my time in an idea or project if it means it will help the greater good. If there’s one thing I realized, as long as you do the right thing, by helping the right people and serving a purpose, money will always follow.

One peek at your Instagram suggests you’re definitely on the path towards getting what you want. That said, there is a very glamorous perception of entrepreneurship and hustling where people think all there is to it is inspirational quotes, and they launch into it with their sights set on the rewards, but no real conception of the work involved. What have been some of the toughest skills to pick up, or lessons to learn, so far?

This is a very interesting yet crucial question. I say this because we’ve all experienced different situations, we all come from different walks of life. Mine was like no other; it wasn’t easy, and it’ll not be easy. Three lessons I’ve learned since I’ve decided to jump into the unknown are as follows. One: keep your ideas secret and work on them secretly, and focus on them. Ask yourselves: who will benefit from it? What are the challenges you’re going to face? Who can you trust with this idea? If you’re willing to trust people with the idea, you have to make sure that they are worthy, and they agree with the vision that you have for this idea. Two: fear. A lot of people would look at fear as a bad thing, as an obstacle. The truth of the matter is, fear is a friend. Fear for me is fuel. Fear of failure is what keeps me going, and what’s kept the negativity and haters away because I realize that at no point do I want to fail. Because if I fail, the people who doubted me won’t be affected. The person that will be affected is myself. Therefore, I have no choice but to keep going. I’m working on bettering myself. Three: consistency. For something to become a habit, it needs to be done repeatedly, and I truly believe that. Consistency is to do a little bit of something everyday, and eventually those little things will add up to a greater thing – whatever it is. Regardless of fear, the naysayers, challenges, if you consistently challenge yourself to be the best that you can be, then you’ll achieve what you want.

On LinkedIn you say that you want to “learn as much as I can while helping others along the way”. Have there been important people who have guided you along the way, and what is one significant thing you learned from a formal or informal mentor?

Wow. To be great, you have to follow greatness. At different stages of my life, I had different people impact my decisions ­– from my girlfriend, Sophie, challenging me everyday to my first girlfriend’s parents encouraging me to get a job, from my high school teachers and coaches to my dear friends such as Benson Li and Andrew Chee, and my mom. Mentorship is crucial to someone’s personal development. You cannot achieve something without knowing the challenges that it takes. I find that mentorship is what guided me to the success that I’ve had so far, and there’s no doubt that mentorship will guide me to where I want to be. You have to understand that mentorship is given through many experiences. For example, I was on a plane to Miami for an e-commerce and technology conference, and the person that I happened to sit beside on the plane taught me the importance of family and balancing my life through business, friends, and loved ones. Truth is, you’ll have those people that will be physically near you, but what I value ultimately are lessons from strangers.

What advice would you give to people who are hesitant to reach out and seek mentors?

A simple lesson with a simple word: jump. Steve Harvey explains what “jump” means. It simply means, that to get where you want to be and to achieve what you want to achieve, you simply need to jump; take that leap of faith. Envision your goal and work at it, because if there’s one thing I can tell you, the right person, the right mentor will come. When they come, you’ll have something to present to them.

Is there a specific issue or cause you’d like to dedicate your energy to working on throughout your life and career?

I have to say that over the course of my adventures, I realized in order to get things done, I have to surround myself with strong and ambitious women. My mom has been working since she was 19 years old. She studied and worked her way up the corporate ladder, took care of me everyday and motivated me to be more than average. For success to occur in my life, I need to empower women to be at their best because if you can empower women to realize their vision for this world, I truly believe that we’ll be in a better place.

What’s the ultimate goal? Is there a particular industry you’d eventually like to wind up in, or large-scale idea you’d like to develop?

The one thing I can tell you is that I won’t invest my time in something that’s already been done. To be a successful entrepreneur you need to evaluate where the market is going, and the current trends. Clearly the trends now are strictly online. Through our innovative platform, we’re able to build something that will last a lifetime. With partnerships with Wal-Mart, Nike, Under Armour, Victoria Secret, and so on, e-commerce is the thing, and will be the thing, and I don’t anticipate that changing. Ultimately, I can tell you that I have one vision and one goal, and that’s to retire with my team. And by team, I mean my girlfriend, my brothers, and my family.

What are your favourite spots for getting things done in the city? 

  • Le Gourmand (Queen/Spadina)
  • Kensington Market (in general)
  • Anywhere where I’m able to observe people and to have a conversation with them

With Your Woman Wednesday: Caroline Kamm

Photo credit: Riikc

This week on With Your Woman Wednesday we’re speaking with Caroline Kamm, a Human Geography student at the University of Toronto. She has made school an organic part of her life by combining academics with projects that allow her to gain more experience pursuing her personal interest in farming and food systems.  Her most recent project is the development of a cool new app meant to change how we think about our relationship with food.

Tell me a little about your time post high school in terms of school and work. 

I graduated high school in 2011, and I took a year off before going to university. At that time I was registered at a university in the States, but I had no idea what I was doing there and what my eventual purpose was. That year was good for figuring out what I was passionate about. For the first six months, I lived in India with my boyfriend at the time. His family lives there and were able to set me up with work at a school. I spent the rest of the year working in DC for the Foundation for National Archives, which is a non-profit that does educational programming based on civic education. Essentially institutions like the National Archives get public funding but that funding is not enough to run things like the museum and school projects. So they have a non-profit on the side to make sure all these cool things can happen. It was in the process of doing all of this that I figured out that the program that I was originally enrolled in didn’t make sense for me. I wanted something more internationally focused. I found Glendon. I did my first two years there in International Studies, which I liked, but I wanted something that was more focused. In my first year, I had taken the mandatory geography course, which struck a chord for me, and after my second year I transferred to the University of Toronto where I’m currently studying Human Geography.

What motivated you to make each of these transitions, and how do you generally go about making these decisions? Is there a lot of hand wringing involved, or do you just do a very sober assessment of what your needs are?

I tend to make decisions pretty fluidly. I’ve made a lot of transitions in life, so they don’t scare me. What scares me more is sitting in one place, knowing I need a change, and not acting. In terms of my year off, I graduated from high school young and felt like I’d be going from one insular bubble to another, and in terms of transferring universities, after I got that initial feeling in first year I just decided to act on it.

Let’s talk about this cool project you’re working on, Fresh Data Network. In a nutshell it’s an app that empowers users to make informed choices about their food. When you shop, you can see where your produce is coming from, if it’s organic or locally grown. And like any good app, there would be additional tools available to the user like the ability to calculate their carbon footprint based on their shopping choices, a map that displays nearby farmers markets or organic food options or retail stores that offer local produce. Could you tell me how this would work? Do people type in the store they’re shopping at or scan something?

Ideally, something like scanning the products would come later since that’s a difficult thing to do. The initial plan is to have three layers that work between each other. The first is a grocery list where you compile the things you’re looking for and can ask suggestions from the season guides. Once you have that list, you can go to the map layer which will map out in different colours the farmers that are producing those things near you and markets that are selling those products nearby. It’s a way to make an informed decision about where your produce is coming from. In the later stage, there would be a third layer that is an analytic component that allows you to chart your grocery basket week to week and shows you, in total, how far your food travelled and what kind of environmental impact your food choices are having. For instance, if one week you bought half the meat you bought the week before, your impact would be significantly smaller. And you would also have the ability to set goals for your carbon footprint and energy consumption.

What’s the scale of this project?

My initial research was in Toronto and Belgium, and the project is currently being conducted in Mexico. Ultimately, we’d like it to be an interactive network between producers and consumers. Ideally, there would be user contribution and essentially, a shortening of that distance between the producer and the consumer. Basically, all the decisions we make around food are economic decisions. We make our choices based on what’s cheap. Importers source their food based on the global food prices. Our basic theoretical idea behind this project is that food is not an economic good, and not something we should think of economically. This app is a way of reintroducing the social aspect and cultural aspect of food, and to create a system where you can make decisions based on more than what the global market is doing at any given time.

What prompted you to decide to take on this project? There are a lot of issues related to human geography and global affairs. What was special about food networks and food management that made you want to focus on it? Do you think it’s one of the more pressing issues, or is it simply something that piqued your interest more than other problems?

Food and farming issues has been a big thing for me for a while. It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly why, but I guess a large part of it is that I grew up in a very agricultural part of the US, in Illinois, and my hometown was right in the heartland of big corn, soy, and dairy production. I remember even as a kid having a kind of uneasiness with seeing the way that my food was produced. I went vegetarian very early on and have gone back and forth between vegan and vegetarian since then. I think getting into farming on an academic level was a way of marrying my personal belief system with my studies. It definitely started out much more as a personal interest. I’m also fortunate to have grown up knowing a lot of farmers and continuing to know a lot of farmers, so I’d also say it’s an emotional thing for me. I think that farming is one of the noblest professions so having this emotional connection to it really helps to fight off the cynicism and fatigue of working on a start-up project.

It sounds incredibly ambitious. You have background knowledge of food systems and experience working in farmers markets and non-profits, but did you have any experience in terms of app development or managing app development? Was that side of it – the technological side of it – something that was intimidating or daunting, or did you have an idea already of what you need to do to get started?

This is very outside my skill set. As a nearly graduated person it is super scary realizing just how many things are outside our skill set. You have a very narrow definition of the things that you can do. That’s another part of it: you can’t plan everything, and you’re going to have to react to things while the project is happening. The tech side got figured out through my boyfriend whom I’m working on the project with, and he’s also how we’ve managed to get the project off the ground in Mexico – he is Mexican and has a number of contacts there. The grant we’ve received is geared towards tech, so it is going towards hiring the developers, most likely two. You usually have one for Android and one for Apple.

What’s been the most challenging and unexpected part about getting this project started? I guess funding is always the big challenge, but that’s known from the beginning. What was an aspect of planning and implementing this project that you didn’t foresee?

Something we’re still grappling with is how to build this network properly. Technology can be a very exclusive tool, particularly when you’re working with farmers. We don’t want to turn this into a tool of exclusion as opposed to a tool of inclusion. So that is something that we’re continuing to talk to people about so that we can make sure this is something that works for farmers. We are thinking about them and constantly keeping them in mind and asking ourselves, “How can we include farmers in the process of creating profiles of themselves and data on themselves without being exploitative, and do so in a way that benefits them more than anybody?”

If I’m not mistaken, development of the app is already underway. What is the projected rollout date of the app?

We have a developer at this point. When it comes to the grant, we have to have something functional by August. That would mean having something in app stores that is functional and that we can show to potential investors because we would need more money for building the network.

There’s this mentality among students that your life can’t start until you’ve finished your undergrad, until you’ve finished your graduate degree, etc. etc. There’s this constant deferral of goals and projects. It doesn’t seem that way with you. I get the impression that you just organically work something like school into your life – you learn, if your current institution isn’t providing the resources you’re looking for you find one that does – and more than that you pursue your own projects and travels. Would you say that’s an accurate assessment?

Yes. I think that you will get out of a university education what you put into it. My mentality has kind of been, particularly since transferring, that I am going to make this degree work to my advantage as much as I can. I wanted to start working with farming as soon as I could. Last year, I applied for funding to do research on that topic and I got it and through the university I was able to study what I wanted. Having side projects and other things to captivate your attention is a good way to stay motivated. Focusing only on the academic and theoretical is not going to keep your attention with the exception of the few super theoretical PhDs. You need something that’s going to tie it into the real world. Once I did that for myself, school became easier and it didn’t feel like a drain. It gave me a spark to make me more motivated with school.

Has it always been this way?

School used to take up so much more of my energy, and now I don’t feel like it takes much energy at all because basically every class that I take I can link back to farming issues and that makes them a lot easier.

How do you manage to stay disciplined when it comes to balancing your workload? Is it relatively easy because you’ve chosen things that interest you, or have you developed certain time management skills over the years?

It’s mostly that I’m interested in what I’m studying. I don’t have any big tricks. I’m a free form studier. I don’t really study a lot; I just go to my classes. Recently for exams, I tried this experiment where I cut my studying in half, and worked out more, ran more, made myself good meals and it was the best exam period I had. In fact, I didn’t have coffee at all during that exam period and that’s never happened.

My second year was the most hectic because I was involved in everything all of the time, and I never figured out during the year how to fit good habits into my day so everything I did took two times longer because I didn’t have the energy I needed to get those things done.

It seems a bit dismissive of everything we’ve talked about to ask what your ultimate career goals are after graduation because I imagine after you graduate you’ll continue doing what you’re doing so instead I’ll ask, where do you think you’d like to commit your energy in the coming years? Do you see yourself continuing in academia, working for a non-profit, pursuing start up solutions? Perhaps a combination of those?

This one is tough for me, because I have a very academic brain, and that is not something that I can ignore. I don’t see myself falling into academia as a profession, but it is something I would like to continue doing by possibly pursuing another degree. In Human Geography there are a lot of combined MA/PhD programs, and I would consider getting a PhD. The big thing for me is I would like some big chunk of time to be involved in actual farming, firstly, because I think it’s the best work in the world and done by the best people in the world, but also because since I’ve gotten involved in this I’ve read a lot of the big works on farming and agriculture and the thing that always strikes me is the question of “who are you writing for?” and I think that’s one of the biggest issues with academia and why I don’t want to fall into it for the rest of my life. If you decide to make studying farming as your career how do you get to that point without ever actually speaking to a farmer, seeing what knowledge they can access, what knowledge they can’t access, and why would you privilege the university knowledge over the vast body of knowledge that the people you’re supposedly working for possess. The big thing for me is that when it comes to any projects I do about agriculture, I want anything I do to be for and from the farmer’s perspective.

What are some of your favourite spots for getting things done in the city?

It used to be the Centre for Social Innovation on Bathurst, but that just moved. I can be surprisingly productive in my room. I also take GIS, and the GIS lab at U of T is one of the coolest places to work. 

At Your Man’s House Monday: Juan Luis Garrido

Photo credit: Kelly Lui

This week on At Your Man’s House Monday we’re speaking with Juan Luis Garrido. Juan is a Sociology and Drama Studies student with a passion for student issues and higher education. The future university executive took the time to speak with us about his career ambitions, how he balances multiple extracurriculars with work and school, and the importance of self-care.

Sociology and Drama Studies – that’s an interesting combination. Tell me a little about how and why you decided on those two majors.

I started off in Drama Studies and French Studies at Glendon. I chose drama because I always had an interest in it, and French Studies because I wanted to be a French teacher. I realized French Studies wasn’t for me and that the sociology electives I’d taken were cool and interesting so I thought, “Why don’t I just study that?” My drama major is the fun half for myself and my own interests and passions, and sociology is more my academic, professional choice. The latter is still in line with my passions, but more forward thinking and less self-serving.

You are very involved in student life. You’ve been a Residence Don, a Peer Mentor, and you’re currently a student ambassador to name a few. What are two activities or programs you’ve been involved in that you’re particularly proud of, and what did you learn from them?

One would be GLgbt*. When I started in first year, it was a club called Positive Space Committee, and in first year we changed the name. We thought it needed to be more than a club, so in second year when I was a coordinator, I ran a campaign to make it a levy-funded organization. I stepped away for a bit, and now I’m back as a coordinator. It’s great knowing that I’ve had an active part in making it a fully funded organization, and that I get to run events and awareness campaigns around inclusivity and creating safe spaces on campus. We do events that bring the queer community to Glendon. We’ve featured professional drag performers, and we just had our comedy night a few nights ago with a performer who has played in comedy clubs around Toronto. In March, we will be welcoming Rae Spoon. They are a songwriter, filmmaker, artist, and writer and they were just featured in a documentary about coming out as trans. We try to bring the queer community to Glendon and make it a safe space for queer folk living their lives and going to school.

The second is being a TEDx speaker. I was involved with TEDxYorkU my first two years as a volunteer. Third year I went as an audience member and it was at TEDxYorkU 2014 that I decided to be a TEDx speaker one day. The next year I was on the stage and got to talk about something I was passionate about: learning. The talk is called The Value of Vulnerabilities and the message was instead of trying to hide from what makes us vulnerable, we should learn from it because sometimes it’s something that you can’t change. So one of my vulnerabilities is that I have multiple sclerosis, and at times it’s as if there’s this asterisk beside my goals and the things I want to do that says, “pending health”. I have these lofty goals like being a university president, but MS is a degenerative disease, and I don’t know what it will be like years from now. As a result of this, I’ve become more involved in teaching and talking about multiple sclerosis and how awareness is key to finding a cure and finding support. Canada has the highest rate of MS and a lot of people don’t know that, and I think that warrants us to make sure we’re doing something about it. As someone who is living with it, I want to do what I can.

You have described yourself on LinkedIn as a “future university administrator and student affairs professional”. Evidently, you have a very clear idea of what you would like to be doing. How did you decide on this? Was there a particular issue or facet of university administration that interested you over the course of your education?

In first year I got a job in student recruitment and was working there as part of the eAmbassador team and the student ambassador team. At the time I wanted to be a teacher but I didn’t get into the concurrent education program, and that sucked. Even though I had other options, I had a bit of a quarter life crisis where I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I looked to my mentors, like Courtney Mallam and David Ip Yam, and saw myself doing what they do. It started out where I just wanted to be in student affairs, but being a student senator and working for a couple of different offices in student affairs like the YFS (York Federation of Students) and GCSU (Glendon College Student Union), made me interested in the administrative side of things as well. This past summer, I was interning at Fulbright Canada, which is an American scholarship program up in Ottawa, and it also helped me realize that there is more to this university world than student affairs, however I would still like to do student-centric work. I’m kind of broadening my horizons. My lofty end goal is to be president of a university. That’s the idea that I’m headed towards – to be a senior executive of a university and really help shape it to be a student-centric place where all stakeholders are getting what they want out of it. And hopefully that would affect other universities to change the culture of how they are run.

What came first: an involvement in student life or the desire to make a career in higher education?

Student life came first. I was always really involved in high school, so when it came to university I knew without a doubt that I would be involved. And it was through being involved and working with great people who do this full time and create positive change for students at such a crucial age, that I realized I wanted to do this. That’s kind of my thing. I care about social advocacy and ethical issues, but I’d never been able to find my cause or passion. I’ve realized that my passion is helping others realize their passion. So whenever someone is telling me what they are passionate about and what they want to do in life, I like helping them and thinking, “What can I do to assist them in pursuing that?” That helps me feel fulfilled.

Aside from soft skills like effective communication, problem solving, and being personable, what hard skills are useful for a career in university administration? Are there certain technologies you need to be familiar with or qualifications you need to obtain in terms of accounting and budgeting?

I’ve spent a lot of my time and my work in the last few years doing social media, so that’s definitely one hard skill. It’s not as easy as people think it is. Young people are so involved with social media, so in order to be successful at building a student support system you need to know how to use social media and communicate with students at their level. I hope that my current skills with Facebook and Twitter will transfer over to new social media that will come out later.

And of course when it comes to those loftier goals of getting to a senior executive position, there are things like business administration and budgeting that I would need to learn, especially considering that universities are businesses. I think with student affairs and student services there is this Disney fairy tale thinking of “if a program affects just one student, then it’s worth it” and while that is great, things cost money. It’s not just about how you can affect one student, but rather how you can help the most people at the same time with the resources you have. So to do that it’s important to know how organizations work, not just your university, but other universities as well. It’s important to know how to work with governments, not just domestically but internationally because most universities are not isolated and have partnerships.

What are your plans upon completion of your undergraduate degree? Do you plan on pursuing further education or would you rather look for a job in your field?

I don’t know what my career plans are. I’m graduating in two months, and there’s nothing solid yet. I’ve applied to the Sociology master’s program at U of T because they have a prof there who specializes in the sociology of higher education, and I would love to work with her. I’m also applying to a bunch of student services jobs in the province. I definitely know I would like to continue school. One of the reasons that I want to work in higher education is because I want to be a student forever. I know that in a few years I want to go down to the states and get a master’s degree in Education.

Why the States?

It’s a new field here in Canada, and the ones in the States are a bit more established. It would give me a different opportunity and a different learning experience, which also makes me more competitive. I can say that I’ve worked in both the Canadian and American education systems and experienced the differences there. I’m also looking into dual programs where you can get two degrees, and that will help make me more well-rounded – for instance, learning about both business theory and student development theory. Also, a dual degree would be cost-effective. School is expensive in the States, so if I can get as much value out of it by getting a dual degree, that’s great. I would like to pursue a doctorate down the line, but that’s something I would do much later – out of personal interest, but also because more often than not presidents in universities have a doctorate.

What if you got a job in student affairs AND were accepted to that sociology graduate program at U of T?

If I got the job, I would defer the acceptance and make the decision next year because I want to pay off my student loans a bit.

What kinds of issues are you specifically passionate about, and would like to commit energy to tackling personally, when it comes to students and higher education?

One would be access, so ensuring that higher education is accessible to as many people as possible, regardless of anything like race, disability, gender, sexual orientation, etc. There are studies showing that people of colour are far less likely to go on to get a higher education. I did a whole paper last semester about Latinos in higher education who have higher rates of having to work full time while being a student, higher drop out rates, and lower grades [Note to reader: Statistics used in paper refer to Latinos in the United States.] In Toronto, Latinos have the highest high school drop out rates, so they’re not even getting to university, let alone doing well once they get there. And that has a lot to do with institutional racism.

In addition, it’s also about access once you get there and ensuring that there are the proper resources. So for instance when it comes to people with disabilities it’s about getting proper accommodations, understanding that people have different learning needs, and offering programs that are accessible and interesting.

You specify university administration, but there are a number of post-secondary options, namely college and apprenticeships, so student issues span a variety of different programs and institutions. Can you see yourself establishing a career in education in one of those areas – or even in government working someplace like the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities – or do your interests specifically lie in the university environment?

Right now it’s just universities because that’s what I know, but that said, the university and college systems in Canada are starting to merge. We’re seeing more joint programs and more paths where students get a post-graduate certificate from a college after getting a degree. In addition more colleges are offering degrees – OCAD just became a university a few years ago. Apprenticeships I don’t know as much about because their structure is just so different, but with colleges there are similarities. Colleges are catering to universities, and a lot of student theory and student development theory has come from colleges, so I would be happy to work in one.

Are you currently working?

Yes, I work for the Office of Student Recruitment as a student ambassador, office ambassador, and eAmbassador, so I work on all fronts of the student ambassador team. I give campus tours, answer admissions related questions from students calling and emailing in, and I write a blog that gives students an opportunity to see what it’s like to be at Glendon.

I also worked with Fulbright Canada through the York Global Internship Program over the summer. At the time, my responsibilities included running social media, event planning, and logistics. At the end of the summer I prepared a presentation for my exit interview which presented the work that I had done with social media over the summer including hard facts and figures about how I had increased their engagement online. I proposed a new internship where I could do a long distance, remote internship running their social media and they accepted, so I still work for Fulbright Canada.

How do you effectively manage your time, and what are some challenges you have faced along the way?

I’ve faced a lot of challenges, and an important one has been learning to say no and realizing that I do have a limit. One thing I’ve always said to myself is, “I can do everything, but should I?” I don’t have any secrets, yet I somehow am able to do well and balance everything, but that doesn’t mean I should keep trying to find my limit. In terms of getting things done – I just do them. I know what I have to get done, and I know what’s a priority. If I’m finding that things are not getting done then that’s a sign for me to look at what my life’s like. Sometimes it’s my fault – maybe I took a week off. Other times I may have spent the whole weekend doing homework and didn’t get anywhere close to being finished, so I realize I may need to drop a course or work less hours. So my tip would be self-awareness, and also self-care. One thing that’s important to me is getting eight hours of sleep. Also, a large part of self-care is responsibility. Self-care means making sure I do what needs to get done. Self-care is ensuring I have three proper meals a day and do meal prep for the week. Self-care isn’t just curling up and watching Netflix. There’s a fine line between self-care and procrastination. Taking a break to watch an episode of The Office is self-care. Taking a break only to watch the entire season of the Office instead of writing your paper is procrastination. You can’t call that self-care.

What are your favourite spots for getting things done in the city?

Lunik Café at Glendon. It has a cool vibe and it opened in my first year, and I have been involved in it, so it’s cool seeing that develop over the years. The food and coffee is always good, and I can relax and study with friends. Another place would be Starbucks. I like places that have a bit of noise to them. I don’t like place with libraries where there is no noise. I like to be able to take a break, grab a coffee, and people watch. Any coffee shop is fine, but it’s usually Starbucks.

With Your Woman Wednesday: Sophie Angoh

Photo credit: Rachelle Tavas and LMG

This week on With Your Woman Wednesday we’re speaking with Psychology student Sophie Angoh. With her industrious and compassionate spirit, Sophie hopes to someday become a lawyer. In the meantime she is is flexing her business muscles as a shop consultant for shop.com.

You are currently a shop consultant for the e-commerce site shop.com. Tell us a little about shop.com, and what exactly sets it apart from other e-commerce websites.

Shop.com is a revolutionary company that is trying to change the way people shop and also the economy. Its focus is mainly on the consumers and giving them cashback from their purchases as a form of an “annuity”.

Shop.com partners up with different top producing companies and offers them an alternative to mass advertising that may cost them a lot of money. By saving the companies their money, shop.com is able to negotiate a cashback system for the consumers every time they purchase something online.

Shop.com has shop consultants like me who use word of mouth marketing to help direct traffic to our partner companies’ online websites. Word of mouth marketing is probably the most effective and inexpensive way to build your clientele. In return for helping the companies save money, Shop.com is able to create a cashback system.

To illustrate the concept, imagine walking into Walmart and spending $100. After your purchase, you take your products and go home. Now imagine, going to Walmart online and buying the exact same thing, spending the exact same amount of $100 all in the comfort of your home without the hassle of the bus, car or weather and on top of that, receiving 2% cashback every time. Which would you prefer?

Naturally, this company is a way to make an income, but what are some non-monetary aspects of working for this brand that you find rewarding or satisfying?

I have never been part of a company like this that has amazing individuals/partners that help and support you in any way they can and make sure you’re achieving the goals you set out for yourself. The team and culture that the company has is probably the most rewarding and satisfying part of it. Work never feels like work.

Tell us a little bit about the structure around shop.com involving training and payment.

It sounds a lot like individuals who decide to become shop.com partners can be creative with the job. They can blog about the merchandise, hold parties where people can sample different products, and more. What skills are you hoping to acquire or build on through your work with shop.com?

Being part of the company, I’ve developed a lot of different skills where I was able to constantly put into action. My favourite one would probably have to be customer service skills. Being able to interact with people and find out what they truly need, instead of stuffing products in their face, makes it such an easy process. Also, being able to create a lasting relationship with the customer where they come to you for all their shopping needs and advice is always rewarding.

Your ultimate goal is a career in law. Do you have an idea of the kind of law you’d like to specialize in, and what particular issues you would like to tackle with that legal education?

Currently, I have no idea what I would like to specialize in. I’ve always wanted to go into law because it has the ability to help a lot of people. One of my dreams would be to offer low-income families free or inexpensive legal services to help them in their current situation.

What is your preferred spot (or spots!) for getting things done in the city?

To be honest, one of my favourite spots to getting things done is in my kitchen when no one is home. The lighting is perfect, the work space is just right, and I have my dog who likes to keep me company no matter how boring it gets.

At Your Man’s House Monday: Anthony Brum

Photo credit: Katrina Ferrari

This week on At Your Man’s House Monday, we’re speaking with International Studies student Anthony Brum. An engaged and active member of his student community, Anthony hopes to pursue a Master’s degree and a possible diplomatic career upon graduation.

The great thing about the International Studies program is its breadth. You can take courses in politics, economics, communications, health, and more because all of those topics can be studied at the international level. This also means that the career opportunities are quite broad. What are some career paths you’re considering upon graduation?

The greatest thing about the International Studies program is that you will never know everything. You cannot memorize, understand, or fully comprehend everything. I love being exposed to such a vast wealth of knowledge. If I were to take the degree again ten years from now I would still be learning about new issues, concepts, institutions, and conflicts on the international stage. I truly love the challenge of constantly trying to absorb as much as possible about the history that has made the world the way it is today. It’s quite breathtaking to be honest.

After graduation I will most likely participate in a program offered through the French embassy to teach English in France for a year in order to increase my bilingualism to levels beyond my wildest dreams. After that year abroad in France, I would come back to pursue a master’s degree at either the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs or the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. The other option is to possibly take Public Affairs and Public Policy Management at Carleton. I would really like to do a master’s program bilingually. After grad school, I look forward to seeking job opportunities in the government or abroad related to foreign affairs. Being a diplomat would be the goal.

Aside from doing well in school and hoping your grades give you an edge, what are some others ways that you work to prepare yourself for those potential careers? Are you actively networking? Strategically choosing projects or organizations you are involved in?

Absolutely. Let me tell you something. When I was a child my mother would scare me with stories of being jobless, and being without a home unless I properly learned my ABCs, and it worked. I currently work for York University at the Keele Campus as a Leadership Assistant on the Student Leadership Development Team at the Centre for Student Success. I also work for another department at York University under the HUGS Program at the Glendon Extended Learning Office. Through both of these work environments I have had the opportunity to meet some wonderful people who are moulding me into a better-rounded individual and enabling me to gain experience that will prepare me for wherever the workforce may take me.

You’ve been quite involved at Glendon as a student leader. Extracurricular activities are rewarding, but they can also start to take on the obligations of a job, especially if you’re somebody who takes pride in your work. Obviously, one of the reasons people choose to take on these responsibilities is to be involved in their community and in student life. How do you strategically choose which commitments are an effective use of your time?

Well I choose the ones where I genuinely enjoy them. I’m actively involved in GLgbt* as a co-facilitator for our own Glendon Queer Support with the great and amazing Juan Garrido. I am a member of Glendon’s oldest club, the Model United Nations Club, which I do have to say is very intellectually stimulating and enjoyable. Lastly, I am a voting member of Student Caucus for Faculty Council, which I enjoy with a passion. I choose them because they have reasonable commitment times with great rewards. GQS gives me joy and happiness like nothing else. I love being able to help other people with whatever their struggles may be, and it’s amazing hearing people’s stories and having discussions on Queer topics locally and internationally that I think aren’t talked about enough. GMUN is always really rewarding and enjoyable because of the great debates that stimulate factual discussions on relevant issues. I enjoy Student Caucus because it’s where student voices are heard on academic issues and topics. It’s a place where students get the opportunity to debate on relevant student issues that can contribute to positive change on our campus and in our university. I love them all, and they all give me the breather I need from the stressful work days and endless hours of homework.

On that note, a lot of students experience burnout juggling these extra commitments. How do you assess whether something is being a drain on your energy and resources?

Well I had a little burn out last year where I had to revaluate a lot of my life and start again. I had to quit all my commitments and re-evaluate where I wanted to spend my time and how it could best benefit myself. I believe that once something stops bringing you happiness, you have to say, “Enough is enough. I have to stop doing this.” Sometimes it could just be that you need a change of pace. What I do to find solace in what can sometimes be a hectic reality is go to the gym where I can get my mind off the things in the day that have been bothering me.

Career paths are not necessarily linear and you’ve mentioned your desire to enter the workforce before possibly pursuing more studies (such as graduate school) at a later time. What advice do you have for people who are trying to decide how to map out their lives after undergraduate studies?

This will be cliché, but I strongly suggest that you follow what makes you happy and keeps you afloat in life. Strike a balance between emotional and rational decisions towards your continuous journey of being content with yourself, and if you’re not then take the necessary steps to get where you need to be.

What is your preferred spot for getting things done in the city?

I’m so sorry, York University but I have to say the Student Learning Centre at Ryerson University has my heart in pieces every time I go there with my friends to study.

With Your Woman Wednesday: Ana Laura Vianei

This week on With Your Woman Wednesday, we’re featuring citizen of the world, Ana Laura Vianei. Born in Brazil and raised in the U.S. as an undocumented migrant, she moved to Canada in 2012 to pursue a degree in International Studies. She shares with us how she found her current passion amidst the uncertainty that comes with pursuing a liberal arts degree, her experience volunteering at a refugee and migrant house in Mexico, and her straightforward networking advice: Just do good work and people will notice.

I imagine the career paths youve considered have changed over your four years in university. What industry are you leaning towards as you approach the end of your undergraduate degree?

After flirting with going to law school or grad school, I gave up trying to figure out what I was going to do and hoped that I would have an epiphany before graduation. Thankfully, that epiphany finally came after I got off my butt and did some real work. Through the international internship program at my university, I was able to travel to Mexico and work at a migrant and refugee house and that experience absolutely changed my life and my perspective on what success means. It also made me more eager and engaged in the classroom, so the thought of law or grad school no longer seemed like such a soul-sucking cop out. Considering my personal history with migration and now my work experience, I feel like I have finally found the fuel to chase something I know will make me really happy and professionally fulfilled. But this wasn’t random. I started by looking for internships that interested me and that were in fields I wanted to learn more about. Thankfully, there were ideal circumstances: The university provides a grant that pays for interns’ living expenses, so I didn’t have to worry about making money, and I also had a free summer. Following that experience, I am now certain that I want to work in the nonprofit sector, ideally focusing on migration.

Our current job landscape involves a lot of networking not just to advance a career, but also to simply start one. What aspects of the university experience have proven helpful in this regard, and in what areas do you feel our institutions are lacking in terms of preparing students for the workforce?

My most important contact to date is someone I met during my internship at the migrant and refugee house in Mexico. It was a complete coincidence, and I was fully unprepared to meet this person that may potentially offer me a job post-graduation! What wasn’t a coincidence was my ability to impress him enough to warrant his request for my e-mail. I did my little job in that little refugee house very well, and I made the best out of my internship. I could’ve had a completely crappy experience filing papers for three months. Instead, I got out of it exactly what I put into it and what I put in was a lot of hard work, initiative, and enthusiasm. This showed to everyone I encountered during my time there, and it is what prompted him to approach me. So I think that’s the most important networking advice that no university or student leadership group can teach you – do your job, however menial it is, well, and people will notice. What I think universities, and my program in particular, are missing and could do more of is to help students meet alumni that can aid them with their careers. I would have really loved to meet people who graduated from my program and to hear stories about where they are now and how they got there.

Many students are unfamiliar with the ways in which they can leverage their degree by obtaining specific qualifications that position them to work in certain fields such as project management or supply chain management. Have you considered any post-graduate certificate programs?

I have very seriously considered project management as a really versatile and incredibly useful post-graduate certificate. I think it would give me an edge and make me more employable, but beyond that I think I would gain actual skills. Though I value my degree very much, especially after travelling and working abroad, I realize the need for practical skills and acknowledge my lack of them. Before my internship, I had decided that in the event I didn’t get a job straight out of university, I would pursue a post-graduate certificate in project management. I still think it’s a good option, but with my newfound enthusiasm for the academic field of migration and refugee studies, I may also consider graduate school.

Has your experiences living in different cities made you eager to pursue an international, perhaps nomadic, career or do you feel a desire to establish yourself in one city?

When I moved to Toronto I loved it so much that I never wanted to leave. After two years here, I cried like a baby after I decided to leave for a two month long Spanish course in Mexico. Then I fell in love with Mexico and cried like a baby when I had to go back to Toronto. I realized that I loved new places and I loved travelling for long periods of time. I want to spend enough time in a place to know it intimately in a way I wouldn’t be able to as a tourist. Having said that, I do want to establish a home base at some point, but who knows when that will be!

Is there a specific problem youd like to tackle either through your professional work or on a volunteer basis?

Movement from place to place in the search for food and safety has been characteristic of our species since the beginning of time. Borders, and the fences and officers they come with, are a recent invention of the ever-cruel human mind. Because of pretty serious national security concerns they have become a necessary evil, but that does not mean that nations need to close their doors to those fleeing violence, poverty, or both. We see the consequences of this kind of public policy every day on our Facebook feeds and are beginning to become numb to it. My own history as a migrant and my experience working with migrants and refugees makes me want to help reshape immigration policy on a global scale.

What is your preferred spot for getting things done in the city?

I love the Glendon Library! Its big windows let in lots of light and offer a beautiful view of the Manor gardens.

Learn more about Toronto Discursive’s new Q&A series At Your Man’s House Mondays and With Your Woman Wednesdays here.

At Your Man’s House Monday: Edwin White Chacon

This week on At Your Man’s House Monday we’re chatting with Edwin White Chacon, a student at the University of Toronto studying Political Science and Ethics, Society & Law. A motivated Torontonian passionate about urban issues and youth engagement, Edwin kindly took the time to speak with us about his studies, some exciting upcoming projects, and his hopes for the future of the 6ix.

So first tell us a little bit about what you’re studying.

I’m studying Political Science and Ethics, Society & Law at the University of Toronto. My last two years I’ve been focusing on Canadian politics, specifically cities and their growing role and importance in Canada and income inequality in Toronto. I come from a low-income neighbourhood, and since high school I’ve been interested in how policy can help address income inequality.

What are your immediate goals after university?

The two options I’m considering are finding an internship or getting a master’s degree in public policy. Ideally, I would like to get into a Master’s program, defer my acceptance, and work for a year.

Do you have a preference about the kind of internship you’d like to obtain?

I’d want it to be local and related to municipal politics. I realized there’s two options: Either the more traditional political route or this new socially innovative route. If I could get into something like the Ontario Internship Programme, which is a more traditional route, that’s fantastic, but there’s the other route that leads to more innovative ways of dealing with Toronto politics and issues.

You almost have to be creative about how you get your career started because a lot of these traditional routes (internships, entry-level jobs) are inaccessible if you don’t have certain connections – or money when it comes to great opportunities for experience, but that are for no pay.

Exactly. CivicAction released a report that discusses the importance of the first 1000 days of a child’s life. Those first 1000 days have a critical impact on childhood development and their adult life. So money isn’t the only advantage higher income families have. They benefit from growing up in an environment where their parents know how to navigate the system, and have additional sources of enrichment whether that’s piano lessons or a tutor or connections. Low-income families don’t have those same resources available to them.

What causes are you passionate about, and how do you go about incorporating them into your studies and volunteer work?

Sara Urbina, Joe Becker-Segal, and I started CivicSpark in early 2015. The idea was to create a chapter of CivicAction. CivicAction is a nonpartisan organization that focuses on tackling issues that affect the GTHA. They’ve been so amazing and supportive in this entire endeavour. They agree with our mission that youth have valid opinions and creative ideas to tackle these issues. Our group focuses on bringing youth together, and giving them an opportunity to share their solutions.

Our activity revolves around two main forms of engagement. Our first initiative is hosting conversations. We hold an event with a 10-15 minute panel, but then we split the panelists up with 6-7 people, and they work together to find solutions for a given problem. There are panel discussions at universities, but they often have a barrier where even though the audience can ask questions, you’re mostly listening. We wanted a collaborative event where the two sides can engage with each other and share ideas.

Our second initiative is to host an undergraduate case competition called Building Up the 6ix. Typically, case competitions are for business students. A company or organization will present a problem to them with all the challenges and details, and then students use everything they’ve learned in their studies to come up with a solution. That model is very useful for putting students in situations where they can analyze issues and contribute innovative ideas. We want to expand that model to all students. So Building Up the 6ix would hopefully include students from multiple universities and disciplines to create solutions to specific problems. The issues we’d like to focus on this year are public transportation and public spaces. So for instance, if you and I form a group and we’re tackling public transportation, we may say that we think there should be a downtown relief line. We then have to present the reasons why, how we would implement that, and so on to a panel of judges. The hope is that these judges will have diverse backgrounds, being from the private sector, public sector, and non-profit sector. Our very first case competition is going to be on March 12, so stay tuned. We are also hoping to have workshops as well so that in addition to doing presentations, delegates are learning and gaining valuable skills.

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You’ve been quite proactive about seeking out real life experiences where you can apply your studies by obtaining internships with the City of Toronto, participating as a Crisis Manager at U of T’s North American Model United Nations and as a Legislative Usher at the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. What are some key skills and lessons you’ve acquired from these positions?

As a Legislative Usher I get to observe Ontario Politics on the front lines, and I’m constantly aware of what’s happening in the province. I’ve had the opportunity to observe debates on healthcare and the privatization of Hydro One. In regards to NAMUN, I joined to gain an international perspective and learn about international issues. I noticed NAMUN provided a platform for all these students interested in international politics, but there wasn’t a similar platform for local matters. Why don’t we do something focused on issues right here in the GTHA? That way, students that have a passion for policy and the city have an opportunity to contribute ideas and be part of the dialogue. All of these positions have helped me improve my interpersonal skills and my ability to connect with people on a genuine level.

What do you do in order to support yourself financially, and how do you find ways to incorporate your studies and career goals into your existing jobs?

Currently I have three jobs. Like you mentioned, I have a position working at Queen’s Park as a Legislative Usher. I’m a Residence Don at U of T, and a Youth Engagement Coordinator at York University. They’re all relevant because as an usher I get to observe Ontario Politics directly and see what I’m studying in practice. At York, my job is to help a youth advisory council create a keystone action project. Right now the project that we’re working on is focused on creating a documentary on youth issues across Ontario. It’ll show the challenges youth face, so it allows me to learn about and engage with youth. And as a Residence Don I get to engage with youth on a more personal level. It’s great because it gives me an opportunity to build community and help residents with any issue they may have. I love engaging with youth, and that’s what inspired me to start CivicSpark.

If you had VIP connections, and it were simply a matter of being qualified for the job, what position would you like to hold or project would you like to work on?

I’d like to see Building Up the 6ix grow and become sustainable. If I had VIP connections I would like to see how I can work with the City of Toronto and with community members from low-income neighbourhoods in contributing to the city’s 20-year poverty reduction plan. If I had the connections, I definitely would want to be part of that project.

What is your favourite spot for getting things done in the city?

Home or the library. I just need music to do work, really. So long as I’m listening to music and can focus I’m good.

Learn more about Toronto Discursive’s new Q&A series At Your Man’s House Mondays and With Your Woman Wednesdays here.

With Your Woman Wednesday: Erin Kanygin

Photo credit: Andrew Stripp

This week on With Your Woman Wednesday we’re talking to Erin Kanygin. Born and raised in the small fishing town of Prospect Bay in Nova Scotia, Erin moved to Toronto to study at the Randolph Academy of the Performing Arts before embarking on a cross-country (then international) journey and eventually returning to Toronto to obtain her Specialized Honours BA in International Studies. She is currently living in Australia and preparing to start law school at the University of Melbourne.

Past education:

Study abroad experience in Brazil through NACEL Canada while in high school

Two-year intensive Musical Theatre college program at the Randolph Academy for the Performing Arts

International Studies program at Glendon College, York University

Tell us a little bit about yourself and the journey that led you to where you are now.

After graduating from Randolph in 2008, I moved out west to Vancouver (then considered to be Hollywood North) in order to chase the dream. I lived in Vancouver for two long and difficult years and managed to find some successes, however, by the end of 2009 I was already realizing that I did not want to be an actress for the rest of my life. This was a massive epiphany for me as I had always identified myself as an actress and the decision to change my career path (even though I was only 20 years old) felt like breaking up with a part of myself.

I decided I wanted to go to university and started researching programs online. I had a feeling I wanted to live in Toronto again, and when I read about Glendon’s bilingual International Studies program, it felt like the perfect fit. Glendon was the only university I applied to.

In the meantime, I got a job at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, which was not only an incredible experience, but also a lucrative one. I had just turned 21 and I had a bunch of money in my pocket. I was waiting to hear back from the University, and nothing was holding me to Vancouver, so I decided to move to London, England. Almost the minute I landed, I got my acceptance letter from Glendon College. I was elated, however I knew that I did not want to leave London so soon, so I deferred my acceptance and lived in London for nine wonderful months. I was working like crazy at a restaurant, travelling all over Europe (I never had a plan – I just flew to whichever city was cheapest that month) and falling in love. It was an amazing experience that had to come to an end so that I could begin my studies in January 2011.

During my third year of studies, after returning from another four months in Brazil, I decided that I wanted to apply for law school, instead of pursuing a Masters degree. One month after writing the LSAT, I was accepted to the University of Melbourne’s Juris Doctor Program and recently moved to Australia in order to start this new chapter of my life.

You’ve worked with the Two Brothers Foundation, an NGO that promotes education and social services in Brazil. You’ve done quite a bit of volunteer work that includes time spent at the Women and Trans Centre at Glendon College where you earned your Specialized Honours BA in International Studies. The thread that seems to run through all of your work is a commitment to social causes, particularly on a global level. So what came first: An interest in making the world a better place and then the decision to pursue law, or the decision to pursue law followed by a desire to use law as a tool for improving the world?

Ever since I was a little girl, my plan had always been to become an actress. I had been in a number of professional productions at Halifax’s Neptune Theatre, including Gypsy and Evita, and I had dreams of finishing theatre school in Toronto and then moving on to Broadway or perhaps even film and TV. When I graduated from theatre school and moved to Vancouver, I quickly realized how unfulfilling the life of an actress was for me. This was mainly due to the fact that it all felt so self-involved. After living in Brazil and seeing the massive financial gap that exists between the rich and the poor, I felt as though even if I did ever make it big as an actress, I would not be contributing towards society in a way that I felt mattered.

This was the epiphany that pushed me towards applying to university. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine becoming a lawyer or even applying for law school, mainly because my impression of lawyers was that they were money hungry and good liars. The fact that many of them also use the law to defend those who are defenceless was not something that I had considered. My mother was a social worker, so when I thought of the people who help others I associated them with that career. It was not until going back to Brazil in 2013 and working with the Two Brothers Foundation that I saw how useful an understanding of the law could be. So, to answer your question, first came my interest in social justice, and much later my desire to learn the law in order to apply it as a tool to help people.

This may be an irritating question to ask someone entering law school since the point of the program is to introduce you to different areas of law, but do you have an idea of what type of law you’d like to specialize in?

This is not an irritating question at all, however I do not have a precise answer for you yet because I truly have no idea what law school will bring, and I want to keep an open mind. For now my areas of interests are International public law (human rights law, immigration law) and also International private law (commercial law – how do businesses interact between states?) I have a massive interest in learning about commercial law and I imagine that straight out of law school, I will most likely work for a commercial law firm in order to pay off my debts. I do not see this as selling out. I think it is important to learn how the devil operates if you are ever going to take it down.

Did you consider graduate school as a way of pursuing your career goals? What ultimately made you decide on law school?

I absolutely considered grad school as a way of pursuing my career goals. I was considering programs like International Development or something policy related. After working for the Two Brothers Foundation and living in a favela (the word used for Brazil’s slums) for four months, my mind changed. I saw how effective NGOs could be, but I also saw their limits. I also saw how terribly exploited the residents of the favela were, and I felt that this was mainly due to the fact that they did not know their rights. Then came yet another epiphany in my life that I myself did not have an understanding of my own rights, so how could I ever help others if I did not have a true and deep understanding of the system? This thought, paired with the fact that I had taken some amazing legal philosophy courses at Glendon (Law & Social Thought and Law & Morality) brought me to the conclusion that I wanted to apply for law school. I had no idea what I was getting into or how challenging the whole application process would be, but from the moment I decided to apply, I knew deep down that it was the right decision.

You’ve dedicated quite a bit of time to drawing attention to different social issues, particularly in Brazil, on social media. How do you manage to stay, if not optimistic, then proactive when it comes to working towards positive change? There’s the risk of becoming cynical, I think, and it can be hard to maintain hope that things can get better especially when we are taught about the large-scale systems behind so many of the world’s problems. How do you combat this?

I think that I maintain a strong belief that there is possibility to create a better world. Especially today, our world is a constantly changing and evolving place. There are a lot of horrible things happening, but also so many glimpses of good. I am not delusional in the sense that I don’t think that I am going to single-handedly “change the world”, but I do believe that I can make a small and positive impact. In my mind, cynicism is pure laziness. It is so easy to be dismissive and say that it’s all shit and there is nothing anyone can do. It is also empirically false – there is so much that can be done and as easy as it is to make this world a worse place, it is possible to make it a better place. It can be daunting when you consider that there are so many supra powers operating way out of reach of general society’s grasp, but that is why it is okay and even a good idea to start small. I surround myself with engaging, intelligent, driven people, and I think that is one step I take to keep me driven and inspired.

I also love to do community work and see the way people are working with each other to leave this world a little better off than when we found it. My concern right now is giving people access to justice, and I am so excited to learn more about how to do that. I am sure I will confront many challenges along the way, but nothing good ever came easy, and I will continue to take on the next chapter of my life with an open heart and a positive outlook.

Australia. You are literally a day away. In summary, you’re from Halifax, went to school in Toronto, and have also spent a significant amount of time in Brazil. The decision-making process overwhelms a lot of people who consider making big moves, and when it comes to school, there is concern about how their qualifications will be weighed. How do you ultimately decide on a new location? Is it a gut reaction to a beautiful place? Is there some sort of strategy you’ve developed involving an assessment of career and life goals? A combination of those two, perhaps?

Well Neya, honestly, most of my decisions have been based on the heart coupled with a desire for adventure. I don’t over think things and for the most part, I have moved places without having much of a plan. It is impossible to plan for the unknown, so I tend to just go with the flow.

The choice of applying to the University of Melbourne was based on a few things; I have always wanted to visit Australia and not just for a three-week vacation. I have met many Aussies whilst travelling, whom I have loved and who call Melbourne home. After the past two winters in Toronto I knew I emotionally could not handle another bleak and depressing 6-8 months. Finally, the University of Melbourne is currently ranked the eighth best law school in the world.

I always knew that I wanted to do my Bachelors degree in Canada and then my Masters somewhere abroad, however originally I was thinking the U.S. or the U.K. When I started looking into it though, Australia was more affordable not only in terms of university fees, but also as a citizen. With my student visa I am permitted to work 20 hours a week and minimum wage here is 20 dollars (AUD) an hour. A living minimum wage! Imagine that! The U.S. and the U.K. simply can’t compete with that.

As far as how my qualifications will be weighed, it’s not something I am too worried about right now. I also have a gut feeling that I will not be calling Canada “home” again for a very long time.

For a lot of undergraduates, balancing multiple extracurricular activities, course load, and a part time job is quite the task. For those who have to take care of rent and living expenses, even more so. As I understand it, in your last two years of your undergraduate degree, you were working, organizing the International Studies Symposium (a conference on a chosen country organized and run by students at Glendon College), working on your senior thesis, and preparing for the LSAT. What are some concrete steps you took towards time management and, most importantly, staying committed?

In the last two years of my undergrad, it’s safe to say that I bit off almost more than I could chew. I have always been highly ambitious and as I mentioned previously, I tend to go with my gut, so when I take on projects it’s because they feel “right” to me. Staying committed has never been an issue, since I don’t commit to something unless I am genuinely interested. To say that I have “balance” though would be a lie. I missed many nights of sleep during my undergrad and totally ran myself into the ground. The only way I was able to get through it was because I was genuinely passionate about the work I was doing. I chose to do my thesis because I cared about the subject matter. I chose to apply to law school because I knew it was the right choice for me to get to where I want to go. Working was something I had to do in order to pay rent. I do not do anything half-assed, and if I feel uninterested or uninspired in the work that I am doing, it tends to show. I think the key for me is to just “get ‘er done”. The longer you put a task off, the more daunting it becomes. I am not saying that I don’t procrastinate – I do – but I am getting better at it. I also learned to prioritize. In other words, whatever project was worth the most would be the project that got more of my time. Earlier in my undergrad I would study ten hours or more for exams that were worth 15%. It was not worth my time. I over studied. As I got busier and busier, I no longer had time to make those mistakes. I allotted the amount of time I felt each project deserved, and I tried to accomplish tasks that were given to me right away so they didn’t get lost in the storm of chaos that was my life. I also gave myself strict deadlines, made lists, and always kept an actual agenda. I write everything down or else I will forget it.

What are obstacles you’ve encountered while pursuing your studies, and what did you do to overcome them?

I have encountered many challenges during my degree. Probably the biggest one was a health issue that presented itself in January of 2014 and was directly linked to stress. I have an autoimmune disease called Psoriasis that was triggered by stress. Psoriasis not only affects you physically (which was devastating), but also left me utterly exhausted and greatly impacted my ability to focus. This was all made even more difficult by the hospital visits I had to make twice a week for six months, which would leave me very drained and in severe pain.

This was also the year that I helped run the International Studies Symposium, wrote my thesis, applied for law schools, and wrote the LSAT all the while going through some pretty serious emotional trauma due to my sickness. My big mistake was that I didn’t talk about it and only began to open up about it AFTER it started affecting some of my work. I should have been more open with my professors about what I was going through because I think I missed out on a lot of support trying to fight the battle alone.

That being said, being sick also forced me to really start taking care of myself. I had to totally revise my diet, my sleep and my life and the stressful way I was conducting it. I think that because I got so severely ill, I will manage myself in law school in a healthier and more balanced way to avoid ever becoming that sick again.

You are no longer living in the greater Toronto area (our loss), but when you were here what were your preferred spots for getting work done?

When I was living in Toronto I was lucky enough to have an incredible home that I shared with my two best friends in Kensington Market. I spent a bunch of time working in our bright, naturally sunlit kitchen and beautiful living room. When I wasn’t at home though, my favourite spots to work were;

  1. FIKA Café, on Kensington Avenue in Kensington Market
  2. Pamenar on Augusta Ave. in Kensington Market
  3. Voodoo Child on College St.
  4. The Green Grind on College St.
  5. Boxcar Social at Yonge and Summerhill

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