User Tools (skip):
The big "what next?"
Friends describe Christian Stamm as a tough guy to faze. The biology student comes across as calm, cool and collected, but he is feeling uncharacteristically bewildered right now.
Industrial relations student Julie Glick is in similar straits. She has a better handle on things these days, but confesses to being in pretty bad shape a few weeks ago. A tour guide who works at McGill's Welcome Centre, Glick was almost in tears when she sought out the advice of Welcome Centre coordinator Patrizia Tarica.
Education student Robyn Ouimet is facing the same situation as Stamm and Glick, but she has a clearer sense of what her next move will be. "I have a sort of a plan," says Ouimet, "but I still flip flop a lot."
What Stamm, Glick and Ouimet have in common is that they've survived this place. They've run the gauntlet of lab assignments, term papers and killer finals and they've come out as winners. They're graduating. Trouble is, now they have to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives.
English professor Marianne Stenbaek recently won a new award for being the kind of teacher that students feel they can confide in.
"There is a lot of fear in the last semester," she says. "No matter how hard university can be, it does offer, in some sense, a sheltered and ordered life."
"There aren't many students graduating who know what's coming next," says history student Peter Deitz. "Most of the people I know are taking a year off. Some are going straight into graduate school or into full-time jobs. One friend is off to Korea for a year to teach English."
As a research-intensive university with high academic standards, it's no surprise that a lot of McGill graduates go on to do a master's degree or PhD. "A lot of people really want to do it," says Stenbaek. "With others, you get the sense that they just can't think of anything else to do."
With a big chunk of his family having earned graduate degrees, Stamm says there is unspoken pressure on him to do the same. But he discovered he didn't much enjoy the small taste of independent research he had at McGill. He enjoyed working in teams much better. Maybe an MBA?
For the moment, he is looking into internship possibilities related to sustainable development. He also hears there are jobs in Boston for fresh graduates with the skills to do environmental consulting. He wonders whether he should just go back home to his native Switzerland, maybe earn some money teaching English, while taking it relatively easy for a year and planning his next move. There is no shortage of options, which is both good and bad.
"My parents would like me back home," Stamm says. "They think I should take it easy for a few months."
It's a tempting proposition, but Stamm doesn't know if he can do it. "I would like to relax but I feel like I can't stop. I need to continue on to something. I want to be able to earn my own money instead of being dependent on my family.
"I almost wish [my parents] would put their foot down and say, 'Come home and do this.' Then, I wouldn't have to think about it." But, he adds with mild ruefulness, "my parents trust me to make the right choice."
Political science student Rashi Khilnani is getting different messages from her folks. "I get mixed reviews," says Khilnani. Her father is anxious to introduce her to someone who might be able get her a marketing job at a bank. Her mother is careful not to apply any pressure. "She says, 'Do what you want to do.'"
Khilnani is leaving McGill with some reluctance having thoroughly enjoyed her program.
"Political science is so juicy. I never get tired of it. But I can't spend the rest of my life taking 300 and 400 level courses as much as I sometimes wish I could."
Khilnani will spend the next few months in Ottawa working on a short-term contract for Heritage Canada on a web site dealing with multicultural themes. "I'm really excited. It's kind of funny to be able to use what I've actually been studying for a job."
The Indian-born Khilnani's parents currently live in Ottawa so she can stay with them. For many students a political science degree is viewed as a stepping stone to law school. "That's not for me," says Khilnani. She is on the hunt for internships from the federal government in areas related to developing countries. There are plenty of internships to be had, says Khilnani. But there are plenty of newly minted graduates competing for them.
Khilnani has thought about graduate school, but she says she doesn't want to be tied down just yet. "I want to have the flexibility to try different things.
"The time to do that is now. I'm young. My only responsibility is to my cat.
"My fear isn't about finding a job," she says. "It's more about lifestyle. I would hate to be a nine-to-five girl right now, where your co-workers will be your co-workers for years whether you like them or not."
Robyn Ouimet has a solid sense of her immediate future. She will work this summer for McGill's Alumni Association, helping to organize send-off parties for new McGill students hailing from cities like Toronto, Boston and Ottawa. Then, with her boyfriend, a recent computer science graduate, it's off to Vancouver where, in about a year, she'll begin a graduate degree.
"I know the direction I want to go in. I know I'm going to graduate school and that I want to continue to study kinesiology. I want to get my PhD and probably teach at a university. But even with all that figured out, there are so many aspects to [kinesiology] that I find interesting, it's hard to decide on only one."
Why Vancouver? "I'm from Barbados and my boy friend is from Trinidad. We love Montreal, but not enough to stay for the winters. Moving is a weather thing and it's a way to stay in Canada."
She says she is not jumping straight into graduate school "because I didn't want to bite off more than I could chew. I want to take the time to get used to my new surroundings."
The plan is to be a volunteer in her future advisor's lab. Ouimet wants to get a good handle on her new environment, learning "how all the administrative stuff gets done, for instance," so that when she formally begins her graduate training, she can hit the ground running. "Getting published as soon as possible is so important," she says.
Stenbaek says students are more organized and serious about their futures than they once were.
"They come early in fall for references, not in March. It's not last minute anymore. They do a lot of research on what to do next."
She says students appreciate the education they receive through an English degree, but they are realistic about how far it will carry them in the job market.
"What I'm seeing more of these days is students looking to get an extra edge by taking a professional degree. It might be in broadcasting, education or commercial art. I know one student who is off to Scotland to go to a film archive school."
For her part, Glick, not quite as concerned about the future as she was before, wishes she had approached her impending graduation differently.
"I spent a lot of time worrying. Instead of being scared, I should have been on the Internet, looking for a job."
For the moment, she is off to her native Boston where she will move into an apartment with three friends in the fall, after a few months of touching base with mom and dad.
She is mulling over the types of jobs that appeal to her. Her list includes teaching, working with kids, planning parties and doing student recruiting for a college.
"Some people tell me that, with the economy going downhill, I should just get a job, any job," Glick says. "I don't see it that way.
"I want something that will get me out of bed in the morning, feeling excited."
While Glick credits the Career and Placement Service with offering useful workshops about such things as writing résumés, she believes McGill ought to offer more internships as part of its programs. "CAPS gave me some tools, but internships help you get connections."
Deitz, the history student, is planning on using the skills he picked up through his degree in an unorthodox way. If all goes according to plan, Deitz will be offering tourists snippets of Montreal's history as a tour guide with his own horse-drawn carriage this summer.
A New Yorker, Deitz had to get a job related to his studies in order to qualify for a working visa. "The job itself sounds fun. It's a way to pay the bills, be outside and stay in Canada a bit longer."
He is thinking of travelling, a suggestion made by several of his professors.
"They encouraged us not to jump into something right away. Some of them regret that they didn't travel right after their degrees, that they didn't take the time to see a bit of the world while they had the freedom to do it."
Stenbaek says students are less anxious than they were five years ago when the job market was really rough. They "aren't depressed. They're confident they'll get something in the end. They also know they'll have to hustle."
"It's time to move on," says Deitz, "I don't want to spend any more nights in the McLennan Library. I've had my share of that."
"I like the adventure aspect" to not quite knowing what comes next, says Ouimet. "I like the fact that it's not all set in stone."
"In one sense the party is over," says Khilnani. "In another sense, the party has just begun."