Alt-ac Panel

May 24, 2017
Sam Wiebe, Haida Antolick, Heather Ritzer, and Mariner James

At this year’s alternative paths to academia (#altac) panel we had four excellent speakers, all alumni of our graduate program. All our panelists spoke to their experience finding fulfilling careers after completing their degrees, highlighting for our grads the importance of realizing the skills we already have when we go on the job market. Knowing how to present the skills gained during an English graduate degree can be difficult, but each of our panelists spoke to how their time in the English department gave them the necessary skills for their careers.

Haida Antolick was our first speaker and she completed her master’s in 2014. Her capstone project is entitled “Toward a Productively Negative Politics of Irritation: Reading Racial Trauma and Its Attendant Anger in Jamaica Kincaid’s Lucy.” Shortly after graduating, Haida joined the staff of the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of BC, a provincial umbrella group of university faculty unions. Her position as Resource Coordinator requires a dynamic skill set and includes research, writing, editing, lobbying support, website management, event planning, bookkeeping, and office administration. Her side hustles include communications and organizing consulting, and child care. She reads, writes, and works in Vancouver / Unceded Coast Salish Territories.

Antolick encouraged students to get involved in the university while they are in their degrees to both think critically about the space and connect with a variety of people. Exploring the opportunities in the university allows grad students to build up a large breadth of skills they can later bring with them on the job market. She pointed out the uniqueness of the university environment itself and how experience in that environment gives grad students insight into the academic world that can be useful in administrative jobs in and around universities.

Sam Wiebe spoke to our group next. He is the author of the Vancouver crime novels Last of the IndependentsInvisible Dead, and Cut You Down (forthcoming, February 2018). Wiebe’s work has won an Arthur Ellis award and the Kobo Emerging Writers Prize, and he was the 2016 Vancouver Public Library Writer in Residence. His short fiction has appeared in ThugLit, Spinetingler, and subTerrain, among other places. He graduated with an MA (English) in 2010. Visit or follow at @sam_wiebe.

Wiebe pointed to the importance of the writing experience gained in a graduate program and how immensely transferable those writing skills really are. The writing done in a graduate program will teach grads how to write effective application and cover letters. He spoke to how our experience writing in an academic setting has taught us how to write for specific audiences and knowing wat the correct tone is with that audience. He also spoke about getting your writing out into the world through submitting to magazines and by gaining more practical experience through technical writing.  

Heather Ritzer spoke next and she is the Business Development and Communications Manager at Lawson Lundell LLP. Her focus is on external communications, particularly in proposal writing, business intelligence research and media relations. She is currently the President-Elect of the Legal Marketing Association's Western Canada Region. Prior to focusing on law, Heather worked for Peak Communicators, Western Canada's largest PR firm, where her clients included law firms, financial institutions, telecommunications and technology companies, charitable foundations and real estate developers.  She completed her Masters in English literature in 2007 and spent two years in the PhD program at Simon Fraser University. 

Ritzer spoke to the persistence and patience needed when pursuing a job and highlighted the skills gained through being both a Tutorial Assistant and Research Assistant. She highlighted the value of marking undergraduate student papers which allows grad students to have a really strong BS meter and a discerning eye that can give constructive and generative feedback. Working in a tutorial and with a group of TAs also allows grads to work on teams, something that is an invaluable skill when looking for work. Ritzer concluded by pointing to the importance of networking and how getting involved in the university can create connections that can lead to work down the road.

Last, Mariner Janes spoke about his career path. He was born in Victoria, BC, and raised in East Vancouver.  His books include The Monument Cycles (Talonbooks 2013), and blueprint, a chapbook.  He has also been published in West Coast Line and the anthology The Revolving City from Anvil Press.  While studying at SFU, he co-edited iamb magazine, a venue for new and emerging writers, and completed his SFU MA in 2007. Mariner works in Vancouver's DTES as manager of a supported housing facility for mental health and addictions. In 2014, CBC put him on a list of "11 Canadian Writers to Watch".  He is currently at work on a second collection of poetry and short stories. 

Janes spoke to the mindset required for recognizing the skills used throughout a grad degree and translating them to potential employers. He pointed to the broad range of skills grad students have from networking, versatility, collaboration, setting and meeting goals, research, being adaptable, and the massive organizational skills required to complete a grad degree. He encouraged grads to not think of their work as individual but as part of a larger team that requires a large breadth of skills. He also spoke about the importance of the writing skills gained in a grad degree as invaluable and a way to get your foot in the door.

All pointed to the importance of asking and reaching out for help in looking for a job, whether it be asking friends if they’ve heard of positions to working with faculty to perfect applications and cover letters. A huge thank you to our incredible alumni for coming out and telling us about their fantastic and exciting careers!