The path to a great career: Alumni give advice to graduate students

KPE graduate students get career advice from alumni (photo by Animesh Kumawat)

The first annual KPE graduate student-alumni professional development dinner was held on April 6 at the Faculty Club. Hosted by the Kinesiology and Physical Education Graduate Society (KPEGS), the event featured several alumni who attained their Master of Science in Exercise Science (EXS), as well as alumni who graduated from the Master of Professional Kinesiology. The intimate event attracted graduate students studying in a range of programs including kinesiology, exercise science and medicine.

The event was the vision of Sandyha Mylabathula, the president of KPEGS and current Ph.D. candidate in exercise science.

I’ve been a grad student at EXS for both my MSc and PhD, and have been involved with KPEGS and EXS/U of T student life. I’ve attended professional development dinners and similar events elsewhere and really wanted to have something specific to EXS to fill the gap for grad students and post-doctoral fellows in our department. As Chair of KPEGS this year, I brought it up to KPEGS and there was great feedback and enthusiasm for an event like this, so we decided to go forward and organize it.”

Professor Ira Jacobs, dean of the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, was happy to support a new initiative connecting graduate students with alumni who have career advice. Referring to a recent study by the School of Graduate Studies that traced the career paths of 10,000 PhD recipients, he said it was amazing to see the range of things that people are doing.

“Of the 50 exercise science respondents, our division has one of the highest percentages of PhD’s who are in post-secondary occupations, working as professors in universities or community colleges. However, most people who receive PhD degrees have found careers outside of academia, which is interesting and speaks to the breadth of opportunities available.”

Samia Tasmim, a second year Master of Science candidate at the Institute of Medical Science, was attracted to the KPEGS event in hopes of finding some guiding advice.

“I want to teach in a university setting, so I want to hear from the different panelists on their different careers. I want to know how likely I am to get a job teaching.”

For other students, the opportunity to network with alumni and connect with other students in different programs was appealing. Victor Wu, a Master of Professional Kinesiology candidate, said he attend the event to get to know people, hear what they’re doing and expand his network.

“I think it will be helpful for my career development to meet people who specialize in other research areas than myself, because it will give me a broader perspective across the healthcare industry,” he said.

The three panelists included Parissa Safai, an associate professor at the School of Kinesiology and Health Science at York University, Danielle Bentley, an assistant professor teaching anatomy in the Department of Surgery at U of T, and Tanya Scarapicchia, a research facilitator at Public Health Ontario.

“I did my master’s degree in anatomical science at Queen’s and then got very derailed very quickly when I found out you cannot teach anatomy without a PhD. So, I had to do a little bit of reflection at the time, and I decided if I was going to do a PhD, I wanted to go back to my kinesiology roots,” said Bentley, who completed her doctoral studies in kinesiology with Professor Scott Thomas, shifting the focus of her research to exercise for cardiovascular disease prevention and treatment. Merging the two areas of research, Bentley now emphasizes the clinical applicability of basic anatomy within her courses in the Department of Surgery.

Scarapicchia talked about being unsure of what she wanted to do after she finished her PhD in Exercise Sciences, but knowing that she wanted to work outside of academia. Her supervisor, Professor Catherine Sabiston, supported her side projects and non-academic pursuits.

“All kinds of little things set me apart from people who had just graduated with a PhD without having done anything above and beyond, like volunteer work or additional side projects.”

Scarapicchia advised students to go on informational interviews.

“I’ve had so many coffee chats and phone calls with people. That was very helpful in terms of figuring out what I wanted to do and weeding out the jobs I didn’t want to do.”

She advised students not to be shy about building their network, and to develop an elevator pitch they can use to promote their research during casual interactions.

Advice well taken, judging by the students in attendance, who were quick to start up conversations with the panelists and each other immediately after the panel session.