Engaging in Professional Development During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Tell us a bit about yourself. What is/was your program and research focus?

I’m Navya V Nair, and I am pursuing a Master of Environmental Studies in Sustainability Management at the University of Waterloo. I am currently working on water quality analysis in the context of small-scale fisheries. My research interests broadly include water quality analysis, wastewater treatment, coastal fisheries, microbial fuel cell, and bio-energy generation. I also hold an M Tech in Environmental Engineering and a Bachelor of Technology in Civil Engineering. I have over one-year research experience in air quality monitoring and wastewater treatment projects. 

Why did you decide to participate in Professional Skills Foundations?

Shifting from a quantitative to qualitative studies and being an international student at UWaterloo made me realize that I should improve value-added skills to complement my current academics and enhance prospective future success. So, I wanted to understand and acquire skills apart from my coursework, which led me to participate in the Professional Skills Foundations (Foundations) program.

Navya and her supervisor beside Navya's poster presentation

Navya V Nair stands with her supervisor, Dr. Prateep Nayak, beside her poster presentation at the eight World Wetland Day Research Symposium in 2020.

Professional Skills Foundations allows participants flexibility to decide what workshops and activities they would like to participate in. What was the most interesting activity or workshop that you participated in as part of Foundations?

I started Foundations in May 2020, so unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I couldn’t attend any in-person events but at the same time, I explored the perspective of virtual transition through various resources available to students at UWaterloo. My favourite workshop, amongst the four that I attended for Foundations, was Networking to Job Search by the Career for Action Centre. In this workshop, the facilitator provided advice on practising self-care by avoiding comparing myself with others and trying to practise more creative ideas. I also learned ways to get information on jobs that are not being publicly advertised.

Professional Skills Foundations encourages participants to become familiar with, and utilize, professional development resources on campus. What professional development resources on campus do you think all graduate students should be familiar with?

I believe that UWaterloo provides all sorts of services and resources to graduate students and it’s an individual’s responsibility to explore them and get assistance when needed. For example, I took it upon myself to search through websites for university resources to understand what they offer, and by doing so learned what resources can help improve the professional life of graduate students. Trying to relate which areas I needed to develop and connecting with the available measures to do so was something that I gave myself time for while I was at home during the pandemic. Finding out the areas I needed assistance or expertise in and adjusting my time to work on these was important to me. Once I acquired information, the final part was to approach the units offering the services directly through email and find answers to my concerns. It’s a simple and effective process if one can dedicate some time to it.

What did you find most valuable about your participation in Professional Skills Foundations, and why?

Some of the most valuable aspects of the Foundations that I found were:

  1. the structure of the program for successful completion, which fortunately due to pandemic I could complete within a term;
  2. organization of different skillset and working towards it in a systematic way;
  3. creating an Individual Development Plan for self-organization before starting the program,
  4. the concept of the mock interview to analyze the skillsets that one has improved during the program; and,
  5. overall great guidance from Sarah Howard, Graduate Student Experience Specialist, which had a major impact on guidance when I was confused. 

If another graduate student asked you about why they should participate in Professional Skills Foundations, how would you respond? 

I will definitely recommend Foundations to my colleagues and other graduate students as it is a great platform for boosting one’s confidence and setting oneself up for success. The program is structured so well that students can follow it at their own pace with is a great advantage for graduate students for successfully completing the program without conflicts. In addition, it prepares one to be professional which requires more specialized knowledge and interpersonal skills.

Navya V Nair is pursuing a Masters of Environmental Studies in Sustainability Management. She is studying the vulnerability and viability of small-scale fisheries in Chilika Lagoon (India). Her research interests broadly include water quality analysis, wastewater treatment, coastal fisheries, microbial fuel cell and bio-energy generation.

Are you interested in participating in Professional Skills Foundations? Learn more and register for the program today. 

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