What can you do with your degree?

Brigitte Dreger-Smylie
Brigitte Dreger-Smylie (biology) worked as a grizzly bear habitat research assistant in Banff, Yoho and Kootenay National Parks.

It's a question we hear often at Co-op and Career—"What can I do with my degree?" Your experience at university is an exciting time for career development. Where will your degree take you? You can use the resources in this section to:

Explore possible career paths

How did you end up on your career path? How difficult was it for you to land a job after graduation? Advice from past WCYDWYD panelists:

Jessica Woollard (English, History) – Communications Officer, Greater Victoria Public Library

One piece of career advice you would give to your undergraduate self?

I would tell my undergraduate self to take advantage of opportunities to gain professional experience at university. I focused on my studies — which is very important and helped me get scholarships for graduate school — but I wish I had made time to write for the school paper, have a radio show, run for student union. Once you’re in the working world, these kinds of opportunities are harder to come by. At university, they are there for you on a platter. If, for example, you ever think you’ll be interested in doing a radio show, don’t wait till you’re out of school and “have more time to fit it in” — you won’t. Do it now!

How did you end up on your career path? What was most helpful in guiding you along the way?

I had been leaning toward a career in education when a chance encounter in my undergraduate degree set me on my path to work in communications. I took a film studies class in second year and met a mature student auditing the class. I bumped into this woman at a Blockbuster the summer after the class had ended, and she offered me a job on the spot. It turns out she owned a private business school that helped people start their own businesses, teaching them about writing a business plan, marketing, bookkeeping, accounting, and everything you’d need to know to become an entrepreneur. She remembered how I conducted myself in class and the kind of work I produced and felt I’d be a great fit with her office. I became a marketing assistant for the school and worked there for three years before I moved out west to go to graduate school.

What has been most helpful to guide me along in my career is to always put my best foot forward — be professional, be reliable, produce good work, accept criticism with grace, and yearn to learn more.

How difficult or easy was it for you to land your first co-op or your first job after graduation?

Once I finished my Master’s, I started freelance writing to build my portfolio and gain more experience in professional writing, so I could land a job in communications. Then, an opportunity came my way to teach high school at an independent school. I thought carefully about the chance that had presented itself. I didn’t have a teaching certificate, and I was being given this opportunity. I said yes. After my year of teaching, I decided my instincts had been right; I wanted to work in communications. My first job in the field? Working for an independent school, a job I might not have gotten if I hadn’t had the year of teaching experience at an independent school.

Nathan Müller (Engineering) – Mechanical Engineer, StarFish Medical

How did you end up on your career path? What was most helpful in guiding you along the way?

The ability to integrate new practices into what was a standard degree. I followed my passion and adjusted my mechanical engineering path to include biomedical, and this opened new doors and got me where I am today. 

Who has inspired you? Were there any important mentors you had along the way?

My professors through school and my managers at my co-op placements and beyond. I appreciate their patience with my unexpected questions and their willingness to pass on their knowledge and advice.

How difficult or easy was it for you to land your first co-op or your first job after graduation?

Difficult to get a lead, but I was lucky that my previous co-op placements suited my passions in my field, and this lined me up to get my current job during an informational interview.  

What kind of personality do you like to hire as an employer (or if not applicable, what personality traits do you think have helped you in the workplace)?

The ability to work together in a team to accomplish difficult and challenging projects to a finished state, with a satisfied client, is the goal. Traits include the ability to work with people from all backgrounds, encourage others ideas while advocating their own, confidence in their own abilities with the drive to learn more.