‘You’re not the master anymore’

Transitioning from graduate school to the workforce can be hard. Firstlesson: “Play nice with others,” according to 27-year-old RachelMetalin, an English teacher at Upper Canada College.

Transitioning from graduate school to the workforce can be hard. First lesson: “Play nice with others,” according to 27-year-old Rachel Metalin, an English teacher at Upper Canada College.

Metalin could write a book about 19th-century feminist theory. She spent the last year of her masters program at American University in Washington, D.C., writing a 364-page thesis on Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. Pared down to 94 pages, it now sits in the Library of Congress “where all the ‘thesi’ go to rest,” as she puts it.

But when it comes to assimilating in the real world, it’s back to the lessons of kindergarten. We’ve all seen where the know-it-alls ended up.

“My advice is listen to your colleagues. Be humble and acknowledge, that at least in this capacity, you’re not the master anymore.”

Metalin, like many graduate students, lacked hands-on training. “I had the academic rigour for it. I had the intellectual and the educational background in terms of the literature but I had no experience in terms of translating what I knew into actually teaching.” Without the help of her colleagues, she admits, she “would have drowned.”

It’s a scenario familiar to Diana Kuprel, associate director of development communications for the faculty of Arts and Science at U of T and editor of the university’s idea&s Magazine.

After getting her PhD in comparative literature in ‘98, Kuprel was offered a job as an editor at Books in Canada. Like Metalin, her education gave her the raw skills but it was the environment that determined how she used them. “It was a lot of on-the-job training. If you go into a job and within six weeks need to produce a magazine you very quickly learn what it takes in order to do that,” explains Kuprel.

Despite their successes, both Metalin and Kuprel acknowledge the transition can be difficult. “You go from a space that’s incredibly internalized, surrounded by books and theories. Then you move to this incredibly different kind of space,” says Metalin. For Kuprel, who participates in a development series put on by the university to help graduate students with this sort of transition, the key is coming out of that shell.

“You have to be able to articulate the transferable skills that you have, and you have in spades. Those are skills that are not to be underestimated. But you also have to be open. That is critical in adapting to the professional environment, whichever one it is.”

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