Heather Thom counsels volunteering and lighter class load for successful job path
Ever since taking her first psychology class in high school, Heather Thom knew she wanted a career that would combine her love of the discipline with her desire to help people.
Her parents wanted her to go to school quickly, get out quickly and get a job immediately so after high school Thom attended a private counselling college, then started her own counselling practice. But she wanted more education and a degree so she enrolled in psychology at Simon Fraser University (SFU).
As a mature student, with experience in the field, Thom had the drive and the discipline to do well in her classes. But being a mature student also appeared to have a down side, at first.
“Being a bit older and at a different chapter in my life I felt like I didn’t fit in and I didn’t really connect with the other students,” says Thom. “It wasn’t until I started volunteering that I really started to enjoy my experience a bit more, just finding a connection with other like-minded students who also were quite driven and were high achievers.”
Thom volunteered as a career peer through the Peer Education Program, then worked her way up to a senior peer coach position, a peer reviewer for Passport to Leadership, and a peer advisor with Student Services.
After graduating with distinction in 2018 and earning a place on the dean’s honour roll, Thom landed a job as an academic advisor with Student Services. She credits her success in this current position to the time she spent volunteering at SFU plus her previous counselling knowledge and experience.
As a seasoned counsellor and experienced student advisor, Thom has a few words of wisdom to offer students.
“I encourage students to get involved,” she says. “It’s important to start thinking a few steps ahead as opposed to just focusing on studies. I would take only three classes as opposed to four or five because although it might take me a bit longer to graduate, within that time I was able to grow out my resume and get skills I wouldn’t have had if I was studying full time with such a heavy load.”
SFU Career Services encourages student to explore options that are right for them and to stay open to other possibilities. As students like Thom can attest, there’s no “right way” of successfully completing a degree
“I had a game plan in place and took advantage of opportunities as they arose and worked my school schedule around them,” Thom says. “I figured that was more of a priority in order to get a job. I was still enjoying school and doing well so it was a good balance.”