Season 2, Episode 4: Navigating your Educational Journey with Broadcaster Simi Sara

January 17, 2023

Stacey Copeland: Welcome to FCAT after school, a podcast project from SFU's Faculty of Communication, art and technology. In each episode, we joined student hosts in conversation with alumni as they explore career journeys since graduation and gather advice for the next generation. In this episode School of Communication student, Eric Militaru catches up with SFU communication alum and radio host Simi Sara. Simi shares insights into her career as a host at News Talk 980, the philosophy on furthering her career ambitions and highlights the importance of learning to take your time and try new things in your educational journey. Here are FCAT's own, Eric Militaru, and Simi Sara.

Eric Militaru: When we were kids, there was always one question that was asked by our parents or our teachers or friends and it was, what do you want to be when you grow up? It's such a simple question that put a lot of pressure on us to dream about an end goal or a fantasy that would sort of cap off our lives. So as we grew older, we either thought of more realistic career options or planned out as much as we could so that we could achieve that dream that we have from the beginning. As we push through high school, the pressure of getting into university and choosing the right program right off the bat was constantly stressing us. And we had to get into that program, no matter the cost. For some it might not have been as trivial. But even still, we chose the program we are in right now for a reason. With a program like communications, you can do a lot with it. And I know students are using this program as a stepping stone to help them reach their dream or their end goal. But that's the thing. We are so fixated on this ultimate achievement that we might not have really thought about all the steps to get there. Sure, we are taking one step right now as we continue our education and communications. But what's next? For the past year or so, I was feeling pretty lost. I was tired and just over it with school, I just wanted to graduate as fast as I can, and move on. I was so focused on my dream of being a radio host that I wanted to achieve that goal as fast as possible. Time is going by and it just feels like I'm wasting it. I was stuck in this mindset for a really long time until recently, when I had the opportunity to talk with someone very special. And odds are, you've probably heard her voice before.

Simi Sara: Okay, my name is Simi Sara. I currently work as a talk show host at 980 CKNW I host mornings with Simi, which is 5:30 to 9:00 Monday to Friday. I've been there for about 10 years doing like various different shifts. And before that I worked in television news. And I did all sorts of things. I was a news anchor, I was a host, I was a producer, I was a reporter, I was a writer, I was a... you name it,

Eric Militaru: Simi has done it all. And her voice is what a lot of people hear when they start their mornings. And what is really cool is that she's actually an SFU communications alumni. But her journey through SFU was a little bit different than most.

Simi Sara: So originally after high school, I did start out by going to university, I went straight from high school, that would have been 1989. And things didn't exactly go as planned didn't quite work out that way. My mother died in a car accident at the end of my first year. And so I kind of stumbled around the school for the next year. But my heart wasn't really in it. And like I struggled obviously a little bit. But you know, we didn't know that back then. Right? We were supposed to soldier on back then. And whereas now I think we probably would have a much different reaction to somebody who's gone through that. And so I left after I don't know two years or so at SFU and went into journalism school because I got accepted there. And I really found that I had a passion for that I had always wanted to go but I was going to go after I got my degree. And then things changed. So I went earlier. And then after that, like it was just I was in the business and I was doing job after job and you know, it just that was the way it went. And it wasn't until I had kids. My kids were in high school. We were starting to think about where they were going to go to university that I thought you know, it would be nice for me to go back and finish because I hadn't finished at that point. I had my journalism diploma but I only had two years of my bachelor degree. And so I thought before they head off to university, I should probably commit myself and finish my degree. So I did I went back in 20 I guess 2014 it was. And so along with my full time job and two teenagers went back to school, went back Simon Fraser University did part time courses didn't night courses, and I graduated in 2017

Eric Militaru: Wow. That is quite the, quite the journey you have there.

Simi Sara: It really was. And when I finished it felt like it was funny because the second time I went to university, I remember thinking, you know, what was I complaining about all those years ago, you know, being in school, I just instinctively I got I got it a lot easier the second time around. And I guess I just wasn't ready to go the first time. But the second time, I just, I loved it. Like I loved it with a passion, I had a really good time, second time around. So I appreciated it much more.

Eric Militaru: Nice. That's, that's great to hear. Hopefully, I'll feel that same way, maybe later on. But

Simi Sara: I have a 22 year old son, who's graduating this year from Mount Allison University in New Brunswick. And like he it has been a slog for him. And I could appreciate that because he went straight out of school. And he's just gonna finish this thing. And it has been difficult for him. And I told him, I was like, I don't think you understand just how like lucky you are, you're going... but he is kind of like that, where he doesn't see the value of it just yet. Whereas I told him, I was like, Wait a second, I understood that the first time around second time around for me was I really appreciate the value of it.

Eric Militaru: When Simi told me this, at first, I didn't think much of it. I mean, I'm pretty much in the same boat as her son school has just been feeling like a slog and I am so ready to be out of these woods and into the real world. But as we talked more, and I listened to her story more, the dots started to connect. And step by step I was shown how naive I was before this interview. But first, we got to take some of those steps together. So after Simi finished journalism school, she jumped right into the field. And as you can imagine, things got pretty busy. But her work quickly gained traction with the public.

Simi Sara: What happened was this station that I first worked at used to do these 30 second news updates, like every hour on the hour kind of thing. And this was like on TV, right? But nobody paid attention. We didn't really pay attention to them at the new station, because just like something we had to do. But that was my first job there. Because it was like part time. They just took super young people to fill the hours because you had to do them 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So we worked a lot of overnight shifts and graveyards, whatever, I was just happy to do something. But it turns out a lot of the shifts I was doing, I was doing those updates like before really popular shows, and it had never occurred to me. So if you watch like Saturday Night Live in the nineteen, in the early 1990s. That was me at like one minute before Saturday Night Live started. If you watch Seinfeld, Thursday nights at nine o'clock, that was me for 30 seconds before. And it never occurred to me, but somehow, like people would see me right. And so it wasn't very long in the business before I would go out or people would recognize me and I was like 21, maybe 22 at that age.  Yeah, I would say there was for many, many years, I didn't stop like it was nonstop I mean I had my daughter when... I had my first child when I was 25. My second when I was 28. And I was working full time all throughout that process. So and it was such a high pressure or kind of very competitive situation that I didn't feel like I could take, you know, I think I took six months with my daughter four months with my son maternity leave. And so it was just so competitive. And so all during their childhood and kind of teenage years. And if I wasn't at work or doing work I was you know, picking them up from school or dropping them off at school or it just didn't stop,

Eric Militaru: Simi would continue making steps in her journey with multiple jobs in the industry. But in 2014, she would decide to take the step of coming back to SFU and finish her bachelor's. But this detour wasn't as big of a challenge as you might think.  So let's start at to the beginning of your post secondary education. So you said straight from high school, you went to SFU for communications, right?

Simi Sara: No, no, I did not start out. That's I think, I think my original major was history. And I think I minored in political science, and then I switched to a minor in criminology. I think that's where I was at. And then when I went back in 2014 They put me in communications I wanted to continue on in history. But they put me in communications because they said given my work experience and and plus there were a lot of communications courses that were nights part of that SFU now program nights or weekends. And so they said this is probably going to be most relevant for you and easiest for you to complete the more availability of courses. It turned out to be incredibly relevant to what I do. And it was such a learning process. I really I never would have picked it in the very beginning. But as I ended up doing it I absolutely loved I think I ended up finishing with a major in communications minor in history.

Eric Militaru: At the point where you decided to go back to SFU. That must have been a pretty big risk, right to take time out of your day to actually finish the courses and finally get your degree?

Simi Sara: It actually worked out really well in terms of my work because one they were so incredibly supportive. And I think I think I must have gone back the year I turned 43. And the reason why I did is because not just my kids that I had been thinking about that too. But my mom, when I said she passed away, she was 43. And so I was at that age, so I was about to hit the age that she had been before she died. And then we kind of you know, that's a big, that's a big thing. That's a big deal. When you're about to outlive one of your parents who died young, she was on my mind a lot. I was thinking, What would she have wanted for me? What would she have like, and I knew that like for her would have been incredibly important for me to finish school. And that I think it would have been a disapo-, I wouldn't probably have dropped out if she had still been there. But I know how important it would have been for her to for me to finish school. And so that was on my mind too. So when I went to my bosses and told them, Listen, I have to make this commitment to go back to school. They were like 120%, absolutely on board, like completely supportive. And what they encouraged me to do, which I think really made a difference was to talk about it on the air to kind of share the journey with people. And so I did. So everybody knew that I was back at school, everybody knew and I would talk about, you know, courses and things and classes. And it really made a huge difference. So many people would like write me and say, oh my gosh, like I went back to school and did this. And I know how hard it is. And it really helped me to actually get a connection with people that actually helped me at work to tell people that I was doing this because you know what? Regular people, everybody has to do this. At some point a lot of people have to try to, you know, advance your education or better themselves, or whatever it is, and you take it on in spite of everything else you have going on in your life. And you just it was so helpful to hear that from other people that I think it actually provided more support for me, it actually turned out better.

Eric Militaru: Wow, I did not think it would it would go that way. I thought it would be.

Simi Sara: Me neither!

Eric Militaru: Yeah. So I guess you're still continuing your job while you were

Simi Sara: Full time!

Eric Militaru: Full time. That's That's quite the component. That's really I can't imagine doing that. No way.

Simi Sara: Two kids too at home. You know what, in hindsight, I'm like, What was I thinking? I just I had a lot of support and help at home. Everybody was on board, everybody knew that I really want to do this. My husband was great about it, the kids were great about it. Like, it was really a very supportive thing that they helped me to do. And so when I actually did graduate, it was just super emotional. I had my kids there it was. But you know what, lots of adults and parents have to do that. Like we, a lot of them have to do it. We don't all have the luxury. This is what I'm trying to tell you because you're so young. And this is what I also told my son is that this is part of the you don't know how lucky you have it at that age where your only focus has to be pretty much you know, getting through school and later in life, it becomes quite challenging if you are trying to juggle it and go back. So it definitely gave me a greater when I look back. I'm like I wanted to slap myself from, you know, back at the age of 19. What was I complaining about?

Eric Militaru: But here's the thing, Simi's journey through SFU was completely different to what I'm doing right now, she already had years of experience in the field, and she enjoyed working in it before finishing her degree in communications. But for students now we are pressured to pick the right path from the beginning, you know, choose the right field to study or else you'll suffer the consequences of changing paths later on. For someone like myself, I have little to no experience in any field regarding communications, I wouldn't know if I like it or not, until maybe it's too late. So I understand the stress that comes from this fear of straying from the path. Luckily, in communications, there are a lot of opportunities and directions you can go in. So I asked Simi if she felt a similar feeling of trying something completely different.

Simi Sara: Yeah, in fact, there was a time when I thought that you know, academia is not so bad. Like maybe my backup would be I would get my masters and maybe I could be an instructor. Maybe that would be my next step. Because lots of externals and people like go into teaching afterwards. And that was definitely something that opened my eyes into well, maybe maybe I want to do this. It also helped me look at issues better and differently, like see a kind of a broader picture. Did some work in like sociology, it helps me to look at issues in kind of a different manner. I like I wrote a paper for my graduation for a special project to graduate towards the end there. And I was really, I was really proud of this topic and this paper, and it was kind of work that was done from within kind of media that doesn't often get done. And so I remember that my instructor, my professor was saying like, you know, you should continue on with this. You could do this as a basis for a master's degree. But at that point, I just thought, "I do not have the time to tackle that." I just needed a break from it. So I've always thought about going back. But so much of what I learned in communications did turn out to be so incredibly helpful in what I do, but I think I would tell you that there's a ton of different opportunities for you. In communications. You just don't realize it yet. You just don't because you haven't gotten out there to see how useful it is. I mean, there's a lot of commu- right now communications jobs are like they are hurting for people like they are hurting for people. Look organizations if you want like a steady paycheck, there's there's definitely like TransLink and Fortis and BC Hydro and like Fraser health, and like all those big organizations are so desperately looking for communications people. There are so many jobs out there right now.

Eric Militaru: So there are a lot of jobs and opportunities out there for us to take on. But maybe these jobs aren't the end goal you're dreaming of. Maybe it's not what you want to settle for. But here's the thing. Before this interview, I had a plan, I thought of how I wanted to make this episode before even doing this interview, because I thought only about my end goal with this project, and less so about how I'm going to get there. I tried to craft my questions in a way that it would end up forming a narrative that I had envisioned from the beginning. But obviously, it doesn't turn out that way. Instead, the plan I had was turned on its head. And what blossom from this interview was better than I could imagine, step by step story after story, Simi's journey taught me a very valuable lesson. And it was something I needed for a very long time. And I know that a lot of students no matter their faculty can learn from it. When I asked about her current position at CKNW, I still had that mindset of, you know, the end goal or the dream job being the most important thing, you got to get there as fast as possible. But Simi quickly reminded me that that is not the case. Was where you are right now is Was this the end goal or like the dream from the beginning?

Simi Sara: I always tell my kids is that like, don't think about your end goal. Think about the next thing that you want to do. You know, because it's like this business, there is no end goal all too often, you know, the corporate bosses will decide that end goal for you. And I've had that happen, I've been laid off twice. So it's a matter of like, what do you love? What are you willing to do? What is the next thing that you want to do, and I was originally hired at CKNW in 2011. Full time, my, I think I worked that it was the 12:30 to 3:00. That's That's what I was hosting 12:30 to 3:00, and then it became 12:00 to 3:00, which was a great shift. And then in 2014, they did some rearranging and they asked me to do 10:00 to 2:00. So I was like, Alright, I can do 10:00 to 2:00, it's a long day, but 10:00 to 2:00 is fine. And I that to me, after about five years, I was really, 10:00 to 2:00 was like I was not happy doing 10:00 to 2:00. And I had said that, you know, if ever I could do the mornings, I would love to do a mornings. That's. So I've always thought about just the next thing that I could do, and then try to make that happen. Because everything is always changing in this. If you told me 10 years ago, or even 15 years ago, 20 years ago that your goal is going to be hosting like the morning show on CKNW, I would have said, No, I don't think so. So you just don't know how things are gonna work out that's all.

Eric Militaru: You know, to get where you are right now you had to jump quite a few hurdles and jump into different opportunities. And you didn't even know if it will, you know, work out in the end. But what kept you pushing forward? And you know, taking these leaps? And what could you say to current undergrad students who are trying to figure things out?

Simi Sara: That is such a good question. I don't think anybody's ever asked me that question before. Because you're right, there were obstacles, like in 2008, when I was laid off, and the recession was on that was super hard. And then I managed after 10 months to get a full time job at a talk radio station not CKNW but another one that used to be around at that time. And I and I lasted four months before they shut down that station and laid off everybody at that station too. And so then I was starting from scratch all over again. And I was ready at that point to be like I am done. I am gonna go to law school. And I'm going to forget about this, like I was ready to just like go start do something completely different. And I made one phone call and I remember calling well CKNW and the program director at the time. And I said, you know, you probably don't know me, but this is who I am. And he goes, No, no, of course I know. He said, I've been listening. I said what? And he goes, Yeah. And I said so you know, like we've all been laid off. And I'm just wondering, do you have anything part time like, I'm happy to be on call? And he said you know what, come on and let's talk. And I was so impressed by the fact that there's somebody who doing their job well was always listening to the competition, right? Because recruiting talent and finding talent is a very tough thing these days. And so I was fortunate enough that he had been listening to see well what is this new person doing? And like, what is she all about? And so he knew of my work. And yeah, they hired me the next day when I went in to go chat with him. And so I had a part time job which was great. I was part time for a year and a half before I was able to land a full time job. And I think it was just a incremental progress, that I knew this is what I loved. And if I had a goal that I'd get, if I could just get to the next thing, if I could just get to the next thing, and, you know, just keep going that, that I would eventually get that that breakthrough that happened. And I was trying to always be happy with what I had every next step that I had, I was just happy that I had made that particular breakthrough. Like when I got the part time job at CKNW, I was thrilled. And then when I had the chance to get the full time job, I was like, great. And if I don't get it, well, I'll you know, I've still got the part time job. And I can do some other things. But every step of the way, I just tried to pour myself into what the next step was going to be, and then go on from there and go on from there. Because we, you know, you can't walk in the door and be like, You know what, I want to sit in the big chair, and I'm going to sit in the big chair, no, no, there are a lot of steps before you get to the picture. And you got to care about the steps before you get to the big chair. Because if we if they see you is only wanting that big chair, you're not going to get there. Because they want you to care, they want to see your growth, they want to see your development, they want to know that you're good, you have to be very good to get to that big chair. So it's about appreciating I think every step of that journey and showing that you care and you're willing to learn, and do all that every step of the way.  We have a saying. We have a very in business thing that we say amongst ourselves where a lot of students come through. And you know when I was in TV, and I was a news anchor. Every student who came through I knew used to eye me, like I want her job like everyone would come through. And you just figured they were figuring out a way that they could run you over in the parking lot because they thought they were going to be, you know, the next big thing. And so we used to joke and say, you know, they want to be Barbara Walters, even if it takes all week. And that's, that's a mentality that is not good to have, right? Patience, take your time, learn lots of skills, you will get there. But don't be in such a rush to get there that you're going to climb over people or you know, just, it's not worth it. You want it like your reputation is all that you have. What I mean laying off in a recession, desperately trying to find a job, whatever. In the end, all I had was my work ethic and my reputation. And that was only from being in the business for a long time and doing a lot of different jobs and all those little steps. And thank goodness, I had done them, because I wouldn't have gotten the job otherwise.

Eric Militaru: In the end, you never know what can happen. You can't control your life to perfectly fit a specific path. You can't know if you'll like a job or opportunity unless you try it. So focus on the steps you're taking now, we subconsciously move one foot in front of the other to keep going it's just automatic. So let's take the time and think about each step you're taking. And think about how you're going to take the next one. It can be baby steps or any kind of step you want. As long as you don't rush them you learn from them and grow as a person. After all, you're just taking a walk. The only difference is you never know where you might end up.

Simi Sara: Once you're out of school and working full time life is beginning. So enjoy. Enjoy the slower pace, enjoy the school. Take your time and look around. And you know what experiment you're thinking maybe I'll go intern over here, or maybe I'll try it over here. You don't know what you're going to enjoy yet. You're just you're just starting out.

Eric Militaru: I have a couple thank you's to give out before I head out the door. Thank you Simi me for taking part of this interview. Thank you for taking time out of your day to actually do this with me. It means a lot I learned so much from the hour that we had. So thank you so much. And thank you guys for listening. I really appreciate it. It means a lot. And I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did making it. So with all that said, my name is Eric. And you guys have yourselves a great day. Bye.

Stacey Copeland: Interested in learning more about the FCAT community. A brand new episode of FCAT after school hits your feeds every other Wednesday this season. A big thanks to Simi Sara for joining us here on the show. You'll find links to resources mentioned and more info on Simi and SFU School of Communication in the show notes. Our hosts for this episode was Eric Militaru, production by Eric and me Stacy Copeland. FCAT after school respectfully acknowledges the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish), səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), q̓íc̓əy̓ (Katzie), kʷikʷəƛ̓əm (Kwikwetlem), Qayqayt, Kwantlen, Semiahmoo and Tsawwassen peoples on whose unseeded traditional territories our three campuses reside and where many of the stories shared in our series take place. Make sure to rate us and subscribe to FCAT after school in your podcast app of choice, so you don't miss any of our upcoming episodes. And you can follow us on social media at FCAT at SFU. That's FCAT at SFU on Twitter and Instagram.

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