A multi-day conference for graduate students and postdocs

People holding signs with symbols for skill development

The Professional Skills Conference is held annually in collaboration with many campus partners at the University of Waterloo. It provides guidance and resources to help prepare graduate students and postdocs for careers outside of academia, by focusing on key skill areas sought after by employers, as well as offering insights into personal growth that will be valuable in any career path. Not ready to think about your next step yet? Don’t worry. This conference emphasizes skills that will help you succeed now, while you’re doing research at Waterloo, as well as later, in your future career. 

The theme this year is “Communication and Community.” Sessions will focus on effective interpersonal and intercultural communication in professional settings, exploring ways to thoughtfully and strategically build your network, work better with others, and effectively communicate boundaries.

The 2023 conference will be held on April 11 (9:15 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. ET) and April 12 (9:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. ET). The first day will consist of virtual sessions, hosted on Zoom. The second day consists of in-person sessions and includes an opportunity to network with other graduate students and postdocs while a free lunch is provided for you! 

Continue below for the following event details:


Registration for the Professional Skills Conference is free and open to all graduate students and postdocs at the University of Waterloo. You will need to register through Eventbrite for the virtual and in-person portions of the conference separately. For the virtual sessions, graduate students and postdocs are welcome to attend all conference sessions, or only those that meet their current needs or schedule. For the in-person conference, graduate students and postdocs who register are expected to attend the full day (9:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.) on April 12. 

If you have any questions about the conference, or how to access the sessions, please reach out to us at gradventure@uwaterloo.ca

2023 Conference Schedule

April 11 - Virtual sessions 

Register for the virtual sessions!

The first day of the conference consists of virtual sessions hosted live on Zoom. Links to join will be sent to registered participants two days before the conference, as well as on the morning of April 11. You will need to log in to your Zoom account in order to access the sessions. 

9:15 to 10:45 a.m. ET Understanding EDI-AR, IC, and the skills that everybody needs (Leadership)
10:45 to 11:00 a.m. ET Short break
11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. ET Building better boundaries: How to set and communicate clear boundaries (Personal Effectiveness)                            
12:30 to 1:00 p.m. ET Long break
1:00 to 2:30 p.m. ET Networking throughout your career (Career Preparation)

April 12 - In-person sessions

Register for the in-person conference!

The second day of the conference will be held in-person on campus. The live sessions will be facilitated in the Davis Centre, DC 1302. Lunch will be provided during this event in DC 1301 (the fishbowl), where you will also have an opportunity to network with your peers, putting into practice skills and activities discussed in earlier sessions. 

9:00 to 9:10 a.m. ET Conference check-in
9:10 to 9:15 a.m. ET Welcoming remarks
9:15 to 10:45 a.m. ET Planning a project as a team (Leadership)
10:45 to 11:00 a.m. ET Short break
11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. ET Planning an engaging pitch presentation (Communication)                                                                                       
12:30 to 1:15 p.m. ET Networking lunch 
1:15 to 2:30 p.m. ET Giving and receiving feedback effectively (Communication)

Session descriptions

Understanding EDI-AR, IC, and the skills that everybody needs

Have you ever felt you see words like equity, diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism and do not really understand what they mean? How about the way they are related to intercultural competence? Why are employers increasingly asking for candidates to develop skills within these areas? Why are they important in research and collaborative work? Join us in this interactive session to learn more about what these areas involve, how they relate to your own context, and what you can do to further develop EDI-AR and IC skills.

Facilitator bios:

Jazz Fitzgerald (they/them) serves as the Manager, Student Equity and Community in the Student Success Office (SSO). Jazz’s team supports student development training, peer connections, and student events with a focus on specifically supporting Black, Indigenous, racialized, 2SLGBTQ+, and other historically underrepresented students. Their team seeks to invite others into equity work by beginning with self-reflection and leading with empathy and curiosity. If you’d like to connect with Jazz, feel free to send along an email: jazz.fitzgerald@uwaterloo.ca

Sandra López-Rocha, PhD (she/her) is the Intercultural Learning Specialist at the Student Success Office. She is responsible for the development and support of intercultural learning initiatives within the SSO and across campus. Sandra also contributes to developing programming fostering internationalization on campus, while leading the strategic direction of the Global Experience Certificate. Her research encompasses sociolinguistics and the socio-cultural adaptation of forced and voluntary migrants, ethnic identity and identification, and the critical and practical integration of intercultural competence in higher education settings.

Building better boundaries: How to set and communicate clear boundaries

Do you have difficulty saying “no” or telling others what you need? You can be more successful at meeting your needs, sustaining your self-respect, and taking better care of yourself if you set clear healthy boundaries. Effectively setting and communicating boundaries teaches people how to interact and work with you. Boundaries are the physical, emotional, and mental limits you create to honour your values and protect your energy. In this workshop, you will learn to identify and effectively communicate your boundaries professionally and personally.

We will explore the following:

  • The steps to take when identifying boundaries
  • How to spot weak boundaries
  • How to identify your top personal boundaries
  • How to communicate what you want and need in a respectful and authentic manner
  • How to remind people of your boundaries when they are not respected
  • How to create boundaries for working or learning remotely from home
  • How to understand and respect other people’s boundaries

Facilitator bio:  Sandra Corelli is a leadership and culture strategist, keynote speaker, consultant, and coach. As Founder and CEO of Humanicity Consulting Group, she brings global experience and a multi-disciplinary approach to her work, drawing on neuroscience, human behaviour, positive psychology, and emotional intelligence. Sandra consults with clients on human leadership, inclusion, culture, and well-being in the workplace. Her mission and purpose are to create a more human world of work. Sandra is currently completing her Master’s in Counselling Psychology and working towards becoming a Registered Psychotherapist.

Networking throughout your career

In this workshop, we will discuss how networking can be a valuable for your career development and as part of a job search strategy. We will explore networking strategies, including building a networking introduction and how to open and close conversations in networking events.

Facilitator bio: Kira Bruschke (she/her) is a Career Advisor at the Centre for Career Action who supports graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in their career development. As a registered psychotherapist, Kira is interested in career well-being and supporting folks in clarifying their career identity and goals.

Planning a project as a team

Project planning can bring clarity to goals and objectives and support increased and effective communications, thereby helping team members focus on the work of the project. In this workshop, you will learn some project management planning techniques that can help keep a team focused, foster good communication practices and keep work on track.

Facilitator bios:

Wendy Hague has over 25 years of project management experience working on large, enterprise-wide projects such as Digital Learning Strategy, International Student Arrival, Waterloo Works (coop system), and Workday (HR system). She is currently a project manager in the Project Management Office, Information Systems and Technology, at the University of Waterloo. She has worked in project management in the private sector, primarily in the insurance industry.

Nathan Lee has over 15 years of project management experience working on large, enterprise-wide projects such as the Learning Management System (LMS) review, the Electronic Health Records System (Campus Wellness), Advancement system implementation, and the Academic Calendar and Curriculum Management system implementation. He is currently a project manager in the Project Management Office, Information Systems and Technology, at the University of Waterloo. Prior to joining the University of Waterloo, he worked in IT project system implementations and operations at Grand River Hospital, the Region of Waterloo and Blackberry.

Planning an engaging pitch presentation

As a professional scholar or researcher, you’ll often find yourself explaining your research to different kinds of audiences, from people who are as expert as you, to people who’ve never even thought of your particular field of interest before. Pitches – which might be informal ‘elevator pitches’ at a networking event, or more formal short 3-5 minute presentations – are an effective way to get people interested in and curious about your work. Attend this workshop to learn what goes into an effective pitch and to get some time to brainstorm, storyboard, and plan out pitches for different audiences.

Facilitator bio: Nadine Fladd is Manager of Graduate Student and Postdoctoral Fellow Programs at the Writing and Communication Centre (WCC), where she has worked since 2015. She supports graduate students, postdocs and faculty through all stages of the writing process by meeting with them individually, designing workshops on communication topics, and coordinating intensive support programs like Dissertation Boot Camp. She completed a PhD in English from Western University in 2014.

Giving and receiving feedback effectively

Feedback plays a critical role in the graduate student and postdoc experience as well as our academic and professional lives. Yet we don't spend enough time critically reflecting on what makes feedback effective or developing this foundational skill. In this workshop, we'll reflect on, and discuss, the qualities of actionable feedback. We’ll also explore best practices for giving and receiving feedback effectively. This workshop will help you improve your feedback practice and approaches to enhance your academic and professional skillset.

Facilitator bios:

Emma McDougall is a Graduate Educational Developer at the Centre for Teaching Excellence (CTE), and PhD Candidate in the School of Planning. She supports graduate students participating in the Fundamentals of University Teaching through workshop and microteaching facilitation. This is Emma's first semester working as a Graduate Educational Developer, however she previously worked as a T.A Workshop Facilitator (since January 2022), facilitating a range of workshops on teaching methods and approaches.  

As Educational Developer, TA Training and Writing Support, Dr. Kristin Brown supports graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in their teaching development as well as instructors integrating writing into their courses and curriculum. Kristin facilitates in the Certificate in University Teaching program and supports the Fundamentals of University Teaching program, working closely with CTE’s graduate student staff.

Professional Skills Foundations participants

Conference participants will have the opportunity to engage in sessions covering each of the four Professional Skills Foundations core categories: career preparation, communication, leadership, and personal effectiveness.

Interested in having session attendance count towards your progress in the Professional Skills Foundations program? Follow these steps: 

New Foundations participants: Hearing about Foundations for the first time? Here are the steps you need to take to have Professional Skills Conference sessions count towards your Foundations progress: 

  • Register for the program to gain access to the LEARN course. 
  • Once you've received access to LEARN, complete all five of the self-paced introductory workshop modules 
  • Prepare your Individual Development Plan (IDP), as described in the modules, ensuring to include the conference sessions you wish to count towards your Foundations progress
  • Book a one-on-one IDP review meeting to have your IDP approved before the conference begins

Current Foundations participants: Complete the following steps, depending on your current progress through the Foundations program:

  • Introductory workshop completed, but Individual Development Plan (IDP) not yet approved:
    • Complete your IDP, including the sessions from the conference you wish to count towards your Foundations progress
    • Book an IDP review meeting to have it approved before the conference begins
  • Individual Development Plan (IDP) approved:
    • If you wish to count a session from the conference instead of a workshop on your approved IDP, email gradventure@uwaterloo.ca with the name(s) of the workshop(s) you wish to replace, the name(s) of the session(s) you wish to count towards Foundations progress, and a brief rationale for the requested change. Please note, changes must be approved prior to the conference sessions