Job Profile: Dr. Liz Koblyk, University Career Centre Assistant Director

Posted on February 8th, 2013 by najblog1.
Categories: Alum Profiles.

Here is our next installment of the profile series that department publicity RA PhebeAnn Wolframe is conducting with McMaster English and Cultural Studies Department alumni who are working in non-academic settings, or in academic settings but outside of tenured or tenure-track professorships. These interviews are designed to give a brief overview of some of the careers English & CS grads might pursue. If you are an English & CS MA or PhD alumnus in a non-academic career, Phebe would like to hear from you at wolfrapm [at] mcmaster [dot] ca.

Today we are talking to Dr. Liz Koblyk, who is the Assistant Director of the Centre for Career Action at University of Waterloo. She previously worked as a staff career advisor, also at Waterloo’s Centre for Career Action, and as an alumni career coach in McMaster’s own Career Services Centre. Liz graduated from McMaster Department of English and Cultural Studies’s PhD program in 2005.

Q: When did you decide to pursue a career outside of academia?

A: It wasn’t a sudden clean break.  I started toying with the idea that I might not want to pursue an academic career late in the first year of my PhD, when I realized that I wasn’t a huge fan of solitary research.  It took me a while to research other options, and longer than that to become comfortable with the choice to pursue a new career direction.  From start to finish, the choice took two years!

Q: What got you interested in becoming a career counsellor?

A: I had had a summer job as an employment advisor and loved it, but didn’t consider it as a career option.  Once I started working with a career counsellor myself, I explored several helping professions, and career advising was one of them.  It seemed to combine several things that were important to me: the ability to make a positive impact on someone’s material circumstances and sense of meaning, the drawing together of a narrative (from what clients presented as disparate tidbits of information about themselves), and the ability to go home at 5:00 without feeling guilty.

Q: What do you like most about your work?

A: I’m not actually a career counsellor – I used to work as a career advisor, and now I manage a group of career advisors in a university career office.  What I like most about this job is probably the range of wildly intelligent people I get to work with.  In grad school, most people I knew were intelligent in similar ways.  The group of people I work with now are more diverse in their approaches to tackling problems.  I also like the opportunity to take a broad objective (e.g. help students find jobs!) and figure out how we’re going to achieve it with the resources at hand.

Q: What are some of the challenges of your work?

A: As in many workplaces, my office has lots of ideas about how to solve problems, and those ideas could be put into practice if only we had unlimited resources.  So, I’d say the main challenges are trying to let go of some of my favourite ideas that our team has come up with, and find ways to solve problems without spending a lot of money.

Q: How has your post-secondary education, and particularly your graduate work in English and Cultural Studies, helped you in your current career?

A: It has helped at every step, largely in unexpected ways.  The employers I thought would be excited about me having a PhD haven’t always been, and the employers who should have dismissed my applications because I would likely be too expensive haven’t.  I hate to admit it, but all those funding applications that I dreaded have been a phenomenal help.  No matter where I’ve worked, I’ve benefited from the ability to explain a complex project in few words, while persuading someone to support that project.

Teaching has also been a help.  It developed my listening skills, which were very useful in career advising, and it also developed my ability to feel comfortable in the face of negative emotions.  Wherever you work, you’ll work with people with emotions, and it’s very useful to be able to stay calm when others are visibly, loudly upset.

I could go on for a while, but instead, I’ll mention one last skill that grad school gave me.  The ability to take a whole stack of information, pick out the salient points, synthesize them and present them has been a huge boon.

Q: What advice do you have for recent MA or PhD graduates who may be interested working as a career counsellor?

A: Talk with people in different areas of the career advising field: private practice, counselling offices, non-profits, universities, colleges…  Ask questions that will help you test your assumptions about the work they do, and about what sort of training would likely be helpful.  When you’re in university, especially when you’re taking an advanced degree, it’s easy to assume that more education is needed in order to change careers.  That may be right; it also may be a myth.

Q: What advice would you give to MA and PhD students who are looking to see a career counsellor at their university, or to hire one privately? How do you pick the person who will be able to help you best?

A: In an ideal world, it would be great if there were the opportunity to meet with a range of advisors to see who you click with.  However, advisors need to pay the bills, too, so a series of free appointments with different advisors is unlikely to happen.  If you’re planning on using services at your university, there may not be a choice of advisors.  If there is, word of mouth can be useful, particularly if former clients are willing to tell you what they liked or didn’t like about the work they did with their career advisor.  If you’re looking for a private practitioner, look for someone who sets clear expectations about the work you’ll do together, has enough experience to have worked out the kinks in their method, has experience working with people like you (whatever that means to you at the moment), and is happy to offer testimonials from previous clients.

Q: You have written quite a bit on-line about career-seeking. What is your favourite piece you have written to date? (Or, can you steer us towards one or two you might recommend as key pieces for recent MA or PhD grads?)

A: Probably “Throwing Passion to the Wind” because it is so difficult to even imagine a new direction when you’ve invested so much in grad studies.

Q: Are there any other books and/or online resources that you consider essential reading for soon-to-be and recent MA and PhD grads seeking non-academic career options?

A: Of the online resources, it’s hard to beat  In terms of books, I think Kathleen Mitchell’s Unplanned Career is a lovely marriage of get-a-move-on activities and sound career development theory.

Thanks so much, Liz for telling us about your career experience, and for offering us these fantastic resources. If you want to read more from Liz, she blogs at University Affairs’s Career Café.

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