Learners sitting around a conference room

Graduate Professional Development Conference 2022

Paula Karger

Organized by the Robert Gillespie Academic Skills Centre (RGASC), the GPDC is a biannual conference that aims to enhance graduate student transferable skills for both academic studies and a competitive job market. At the GPDC, graduate students develop skills, gain useful knowledge about possible employment, and make meaningful professional connections.

Taylor Irvine, a PhD Candidate at UTM’s Department of Psychology, attends both the fall and winter conferences every year.

The GPDC is a great way to gain knowledge on a wide variety of topics that we don’t always receive during our graduate studies,” she says.

“Especially if you are considering transition from graduate school to industry, there are helpful sessions regarding finding a job, building a resume, and tips on how to build your toolkit in other meaningful ways.”

This February’s GPDC spread its six sessions, which followed two streams—Research Skills Development and Career Skills Development—over the course of three days. Each day saw one session from each stream, and, in lieu of the traditional lunch, those who attended two or more sessions received a food gift card.

The GPDC launched its first day with the popular “Getting Things Done: Time Management for Graduate Students” by Kerrie Martin, RGASC Program Strategist, and Dr. Jonathan Vroom of the Institute for the Study of University Pedagogy (ISUP). Over 50 people learned strategies for organizing their time, creating accountability, and optimizing their productivity. Following a quick break, GPDC attendees heard about the dos and don’ts of Information Interviews from Ron Wener, Employment Strategist at UTM’s Career Centre.

Ron’s session set the stage for the first workshop of the next day, “Career Management” with Jamie Kunkel, Career Counsellor at the UTM Career Centre. Jamie explained how to use information interviews in conjunction with personal decision-making styles to best plan for the future. The best laid plans, however, don’t always work out, and learning from failure was the subject of the second session. Jennifer Ross, a postdoctoral fellow at UTM, Dr. Nicole Laliberte of UTM’s Department of Geography, Geomatics, and Environment, and Dr. Fiona Rawle, Acting Co-chair of the Toronto Initiative for Diversity and Excellence (TIDE) and Director of the RGASC, spoke about the importance of failure for progress and innovation, as well as the need for structural support for failure.

For Taylor Irvine, this session was one of the highlights of the conference: “Everyone faces failures at some point—whether it be in our studies, research, or career—but we typically try to hide that. This session showcased how to manage those failures, how to learn from them, and move forward.”

 Dr. Rawle emphasizes not only the importance of experimentation and risk-taking, but also reaching out through events like the GPDC.

“The GPDC is an excellent opportunity to build skills and create connections—to bring students, staff, and faculty together,” said Rawle.

The GPDC itself is highly collaborative. For the third and final day, the RGASC worked with three Masters of Science in Biomedical Communications students to offer “Anatomy of Data Visualization: Telling Stories with your Data.” Shehryar Saharan, Michelle Wu, and Amy Zhang appreciated the opportunity “to share [their] knowledge and develop resources that can improve visual science communication literacy among graduate students at UofT.”

Over 80 staff and students likewise appreciated their insights, hearing about key considerations when visualizing data, from tailoring graphics to accessible colour choices.

GPDC collaboration, as might be obvious, involves the UTM Career Centre. Not only did the Career Centre lead two of the previous sessions, but it also coordinated the final GPDC session, “Alumni Panel & Networking.” Participants heard from Dan Junik, Science and Regulatory Director of Klick Health and MBiotech graduate; Shefaly Gunjal, Manager – Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at Citizen Relations and MSc Sustainability and Management graduate; Tanroop Aujla, Research Technologist at The Hospital for Sick Children and MSc Physiology graduate; and Anna Cumaraswamy, Associate Director, Oncology at Gilead Sciences and PhD Chemistry graduate. Following the panel, small groups met with the panelists in break-out rooms to connect more closely with our speakers. Monica Scott, Career Outreach Consultant at the UTM Career Centre, commented: “The Alumni Panel and Networking event brings our alumni together with current students to illuminate possible paths forward in exciting, personal ways. This, effective informational interviewing, and career planning workshops, are just a few of the many ways that the Career Centre and the RGASC work together to help graduate students navigate their academic life and beyond.”

The RGASC’s GPDC happens during the Fall and Winter Reading Weeks. Check the RGASC website for updates.