The question of what comes next plagues most Ph.D. candidates and students in research stream programs. Amid precarious job markets, students in many disciplines ask themselves: Will I pursue an academic career, or will I look for an industry job? If academia isn’t what I want to do, what are my other options? For first-generation students, working-class students, Black, Indigenous, and racialized students, international students, students with disabilities and 2S/LGBTQIA+ students, these questions can be especially disconcerting for a variety of reasons. This is the story of a group of OISE students coming together to facilitate an event to help other OISE students work through some of the anxiety around what comes next.
On April 1, 2023, The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) was buzzing with excitement as close to 50 graduate students gathered for a one-of-a-kind, peer-led career exploration event. Hosted by the Ph.D. Caring & Sharing Collective and the Curriculum, Teaching and Learning Students' Association (CTLSA), with support from The University of Toronto School of Graduate Studies (SGS) Sponsorship Fund, this collaborative event was a massive success, bringing together around 29 CTL, 11 LHAE, 6 APHD, and 3 SJE graduate students for the afternoon. For those who were not able to attend in person, the talks were recorded and are now available on So You’re Doing a PhD in CTL?, a resource developed by the Ph.D. Caring & Sharing Collective.
Lindsay Cavanaugh, a 4th Year Curriculum & Pedagogy Ph.D. candidate and founder of the Ph.D. Caring & Sharing Collective, spearheaded this event with 5th Year Language & Literacy Ph.D. candidate Claudio Jaramillo-Yanquepe. After receiving the SGS Graduate Professional Development Grant, Lindsay asked fellow CTL Ph.D. students what sort of topics were at the top of their minds. Many students were interested in gaining more resources and guidance about academic publishing and career development.
“The Ph.D. Caring & Sharing Collective’s ultimate goal is to foster greater lateral care,” Lindsay said. “Academia can reproduce a sense of urgency, hyper-competitiveness, and perfectionism, what Jones & Okun (2001) describe as traits of white supremacy. Our group tries to model reciprocity, vulnerability, and non-mastery through tracing the hidden curricula of academia in educational research and generating peer resources. As students, we know what we need to feel supported, and this care collective tries our best to respond to those insights.”
Lindsay and Claudio, two former teachers, have been working together for the past two years to put on peer events. As a chronically ill, queer student whose mental and physical wellness was impacted by the competitive, perfectionist culture at UofT, Lindsay wanted to build resources that would have helped her feel less alone. Claudio, an international student from Chile, who has fostered other graduate support spaces, also wanted more relevant resources. He explained: “The university has different types of resources, but often they are scattered around on different sites, and at a Ph.D. level, things get a lot more specific and so tailored resources are important.” For Lindsay, this career event, like everything associated with the Ph.D. Caring & Sharing Collective, is a type of harm-reduction work. For her, this means that “even though these efforts are wonderful, intuitional care and structural change are needed more than anything. It’s great that students are coming together to create these resources for one another, but what would be even greater is a livable wage, the elimination of claw back funding procedures, increasing teaching opportunities, decreasing tuition for international students, hiring more full-time faculty so they are not stretched in their supervisory duties, and creating more scaffolding for us in our programs.”
While Claudio and Lindsay imagined they would create a series of talks on career exploration, a new plan was hatched after they connected with students from The CTLSA Team: Internal Coordinator and 1st Year Curriculum & Pedagogy M.Ed. Student, Chun Chih Chen; Financial Coordinator and 1st Year Curriculum & Pedagogy M.Ed. Student, Aakriti Mahajan; UTGSU Course Union Representative and 1st Year Language & Literacy M.Ed. Student, Amy (Sol Yi) Kim; External Coordinator and 2nd Year Curriculum & Pedagogy Ph.D. Student, Zian (Kelly) Zhang; and Communications Coordinator and 2nd Year Language & Literacy M.Ed. Student, Kailey Knapp.
“Collaborating with the Ph.D. Caring and Sharing Collective on this event was an incredibly fulfilling experience for us,” said the internal coordinator, Chun. “Our organizations share a passion for promoting community and supporting graduate students at OISE, and we're thrilled with the positive response we received from attendees. We look forward to continuing our partnership and planning more events that foster a sense of belonging and provide valuable resources for our fellow graduate students." Lindsay agreed, saying: “Working alongside CTLSA, and the wonderful student leaders there, has been a great experience."
Together, the Ph.D. Caring & Sharing Collective and CTLSA created a half-day event with two panels and lots of food! The event began with a meet-and-greet session with coffee, cookies, gluten-free vegan cupcakes from local bakery Almond Butterfly, and halal take-away packages prepared by a local Muslim-owned bakery Eight Daisies for those observing Ramadan. During this opening, attendees had the chance to learn more about student activities of The Ph.D. Caring & Sharing Collective and CTLSA.
The morning session featured a conversation with OISE faculty member, Dr. Arlo Kempf, Assistant Professor of Curriculum, Teaching, and Learning, who shared insights on academic career paths, postdoctoral positions, publishing tips and other advice for navigating a career in academia.
As the first person in his family to graduate university, Arlo described his arrival into academia as “accidental.” He attributed his success to being open, emphasizing that students consider saying yes to as many opportunities, like GAs, RAs, TAs and course instructorships as they can manage. In the case of teaching opportunities, he recommended looking outside of OISE because there are stipulations that graduate students cannot instruct other graduate students; however, there are often different teaching assistant and course instructor opportunities in other departments and institutions. Overall, his advice was to say yes to opportunities, even if you don’t always feel perfectly qualified. Arlo noted that if you are feeling like an impostor in academic spaces or unsure how to network, just remember “you’re in the right place." The full conversation between Claudio and Arlo is hosted under the Finding Jobs Post-PhD on The Ph.D. Caring & Sharing Collective’s guide.
After a brief lunch break, the afternoon session began with a conversation with OISE Ph.D. graduates, Dr. Dominique Riviere and Dr. Anjali Helferty. They shared their experiences of transitioning from academia to non-academic careers, tips on describing research skills to prospective employers, and general advice for navigating industry-based jobs.
For students who want to learn about industry jobs, both Dominique and Anjali emphasized using platforms like LinkedIn to connect with others, to look at job descriptions for the hiring criteria, and to do informational interviews. When asked about what advice they would give to their past self during their Ph.D. program, Dominique said: “I would probably say to myself just maybe [don’t] spend so much time intimidated by my peers.” Anjali agreed, noting she would tell herself not to get caught up as much in the academic game and to not compare herself as much to others in the program. She explained it’s hard to enjoy it if you feel like you need to succeed in one way. She also added that she would tell herself to take the optional research writing course sooner rather than later because it helped her complete her Ph.D. Both Anjali and Dominique emphasized that you are not “stuck” in academia. If you realize that it doesn’t work with your lifestyle, you can leave at any time; it doesn’t make you a “failure,” far from it – it means you are honouring yourself. There are so many opportunities out there and they encourage students to consider what feels best for them. Listen to the full conversation between Lindsay, Dominique and Anjali.
The day ended with exciting networking opportunities, including a human bingo game, which helped attendees connect and gave them a chance to win raffle tickets, which could result in them winning one of six book prizes. Attendees took part in lively discussions, debriefing about what they had learned, exchanging ideas, and building new connections. Qiongli Zhu, a member of Ph.D. Caring and Sharing Collective and participant of the event said: “This event highlighted the agency Ph.D. students should and could exercise in career preparation during our studies and research at OISE, not only in terms of providing support and help each other, but also letting our voices and needs be heard at the departmental and institutional levels.” Overall, those in attendance expressed their heartfelt satisfaction and gratitude towards the organizers for creating a supportive and collaborative space for them to learn from each other.
The success of this collaborative event highlights the importance of creating spaces for graduate students to connect and engage with their peers, faculty members, and alumni. CTLSA and the Ph.D. Caring & Sharing Collective continue to host events for the graduate student community, such as monthly socials with the support of faculty members like CTL Associate Chair for Student Experience, Dr. Rob Simon. “There is more we can do in the future," said Qiongli, signaling the ongoing collaborative efforts of these two groups and other student leaders at OISE.