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Professional Skills Foundations participants

Professional Skills Foundations Participant Showcase

Many amazing graduate students have gone through the Professional Skills Foundations program, acquiring useful skills that have helped them to thrive in their academic and professional endeavors. Learn more about their journey and what they're up to now by reading below.

Carolina Araujo Cirne

PhD student, School of Pharmacy

Carolina standing on a park path by a riverThe Professional Skills Foundations (PSF) program was a great stepping stone in my PhD. Briefly, the PSF program is an excellent opportunity to reflect on which professional skills you would like to improve, have guidance to choose how to improve them, reflect on each step taken for improvement, and practice how to show it all off in a mock interview. First, building the Individual Development Plan (IDP) is unique to each student, designed to help develop specific skills students are looking to improve. Having professional help to pick each component of my IDP was very helpful because I could align the skills I wanted to build with activities and workshops that could directly help me develop them. I also benefited from help with planning and fitting all activities and workshops on my schedule in a pleasant and balanced way. After each activity/workshop, students have the opportunity to write a reflection, leading to a meaningful learning experience. Finally, in the mock interview, I could practice answering some classic interview questions and questions specific to my field and received feedback on my answers. It was great for improving my confidence and relieving my anxiety about interviews! Overall, I believe this is a very comprehensive program, and I am looking forward to applying the knowledge gained from the PSF program following the completion of my PhD program.

Emily Filinska

Master’s Student, Faculty of Environment

Woman holding a dog in front of a lake.I really surprised myself by completing the Professional Skills Foundations program while simultaneously working on my master’s and thesis research. I am proud of myself for not getting overwhelmed by the extra work and pushing through to complete all the workshops, activities, and the capstone project. I learned a lot about myself by completing workshops focused on mental health as well as time management and writing. I learned to better balance my academic life with my everyday living, which has helped me recognize the importance of making my mental health a priority. Taking things day by day and being more compassionate to myself are skills I will continue to grow every day of my life.

Fatemah Haji

MASc student, Department of Chemical Engineering (Nanotechnology)

Fatemah HajiThe Foundations program was recommended to me by a fellow student, and I couldn’t be more grateful that I decided to be a part of it as it has played a big role in my personal and professional development. When I joined my research-based Masters in Chemical Engineering, I was sure I wanted to continue in academia and start a PhD right away. However, during the course of my program, I realized I wanted to get some industry experience first. Having spent most of my time in academic circles, I had no idea how to go about this transition, and this is where Foundations played a helping hand. I found the process of creating an Individual Development Plan (IDP) extremely valuable. It helped me to identify which skills I wanted to work on, and Sarah was a great guide, helping me pick out the relevant workshops and activities that could help me to develop those skills. Once I started completing the workshops and activities, I was able to see results almost immediately. The most significant areas of development for me were communication and personal effectiveness. I developed skills such as effective scientific communication and stress management, which I was able to apply to my graduate studies experience. Although I had to take the workshops online due to the pandemic, I found it helpful that I was able to complete them at my own pace. I was enjoying it so much, that I went beyond the one workshop requirement, and ended up completing most of the available workshops I had listed on my IDP. Once I started nearing the end of my program, I found that Foundations helped me through the job search process as well. I attended a career planning appointment as part of my career preparation activity, and I was pleasantly surprised to realize that so many of the skills I had acquired during my time in academia were applicable to industry jobs. During the final stage of the Foundations program, I was then able to practice including those skills in my mock interview answers and tailoring my answers to specific requirements on a job posting. For me, this was the most valuable part of Foundations as it really helped me to tie everything I had learned together and apply it.  

Harleen Kaur Taunque

MEng, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Harleen Kaur TaunqueProfessional Skills Foundations workshop is a great capstone-based program especially catered towards grad and doctoral students. This program helped me become comfortable in the important professional areas like- communication, leadership etc. The most wonderful feature of this program is to reflect after each workshop which is a great way to push yourself out to work on yourself. Additionally, the guidance to build up the learning plan is marvelous. I remember struggling to choose between the areas I want to improve, what are my hidden talents, how I can leverage and explore what I really want to achieve. However, working through with the GSPA coach was very helpful to commit to my IDP.I believe from commitment comes achievement. In my professional career after I graduated, within a span of 1 year, I transitioned from software developer to an IT manager role. I feel this workshop helped in my professional development and career change as it prepared me by assessing my skills, weakness, following a plan, reflecting on my progress, defining, and measuring my success. This program also helped me in improving my inter-cultural communication skills, presentation skills and public speaking. I gave a confident lightening talk at Software Developer conference in virtual reality setting at Bell which would have been out of my comfort zone 2 years ago. Many of the workshops especially the ones by Career Center, Student Success Office and Mitacs provided lifelong lessons of improvement and achievement by preparing and introducing me to holistic key industry skills. 

Julia Gyapay

MSc, School of Public Health Sciences

Julia GyapayMy research aims to characterize and collaboratively develop culturally relevant dietary messages for healthy and safe food choices in Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories. I currently reside on Treaty 8 territory in Hay River, Northwest Territories. To me the most valuable aspects of the Professional Skills Foundation Program are its design and flexibility. I really appreciated being able to tailor the program to my needs by selecting workshops and activities addressing specific professional skills that I sought to improve. I also enjoyed being able to complete the program at my own pace and attend a variety of workshops online throughout the pandemic. I would highly recommend the Professional Skills Foundation Program to other graduate students as it encouraged me to improve my professional skills through applied learning, complementing my studies and facilitating my transition from graduate student to professional. Following the completion of my Master’s degree, I look forward to applying the knowledge gained from the Professional Skills Foundation Program by working as a Research Associate in Community Engagement and Climate Change Adaptation with Wilfrid Laurier University in the Northwest Territories! 

Meryem Chahboun

MArch student, School of Architecture

Meryem ChahbounI joined the Professional Skills Foundation Program (PSFP) in the Winter 2020 term. My ambition was to have a framework to support and help me keep accountability while I develop essential soft skills to successfully manage career development. Today, reflecting on my experience over the foregoing months as a PSFP graduate I can identify two levels of valuable takeaways. First, after joining the program I met with team members who introduced me to various school resources such as our access to the LinkedIn Learning platform, Mitacs workshops, and career advising appointments. I learnt how to present “my brand” in the online climate, write pertinent job application material, and other foundational skills, some as simple as writing effective, straight-to-the-point emails. Second, joining the program helped me foster my initiative taking skills and personal effectiveness. For instance, after putting it off for months, I was able to commit to writing my post-travel memoirs that I was ultimately able to publish in the Galt publication. In fact, before starting graduate school, I went on a year-long trip around multiple countries in Central Asia and America. Reflecting on these experiences allowed me to understand the essence of my trip, learn important life lessons from them, and realize that I want to do a lot more writing in the future; both in academia and parallel to my professional activity. I am glad I engaged in the PSFP journey: as a recent graduate, I have the feeling I am empowered to enter the workplace as a professional rather than a graduate thus reaching smoothly and surely my full potential.

Natalie Doan

PhD student, School of Public Health Sciences

Natalie leaning against a treeThe Professional Skills Foundations program has provided me a reliable source of mentorship throughout my graduate studies. This program introduced me to perspectives, activities, and on-campus resources I would not have otherwise came across. I genuinely enjoyed completing many of the requirements, particularly the reflection activities, because they helped me develop connections between my values, experiences, and goals. Since registering in this program, I have started my PhD in Public Health & Health Systems, where I combine theory, statistics, and machine learning to examine dietary and health inequities. In addition to my research, I started working towards my Certificate in University Teaching (offered by the Centre of Teaching Excellence). I continue to increase my professional and community involvement, through working with the National Eating Disorder Information Centre, Waterloo-Wellington Eating Disorder Coalition, and the Graduate Student Endowment Fund.


Navya V. Nair

PhD student, Sustainability Management

Navya standing in front of the CN towerThe PSF program at the University of Waterloo entered my life at a time when I was having personal and professional difficulties. The program's ideas and materials were well-organized, and I believe the themes covered are critical to the future success of graduate students. This training enhanced my communication skills, strengthened my confidence, and raised my long-term goal expectations — it had a real life-changing effect on me! I strongly encourage anyone who wants to improve their future prospects to engage. The core categories and the Individual Development Plan were excellent ways to cover the important components of professional development. The workshops that I attended were just the correct length and covered all the topics thoroughly. I learned about my leadership style and how it influences my capacity to lead during the training course. I also learned about different leadership techniques that I may employ. The value element sparked a lot of thought in me because I had no idea how my values influenced my actions and behaviour. It was time well spent and I was able to reflect on my abilities and work towards the ones that I was weak at. I practiced and applied strategic communication principles; I learned leadership approaches to help and motivate teams in achieving a shared goal, and I became aware of different ways of thinking and action in various situations. Whatever program you are in, no matter if you want to continue in academia or jump into the corporate field after graduation, it's critical to have a strong foundation of professional abilities to assist you to improve as a working professional in your chosen sector. The more you know about which professional abilities lead to additional possibilities and progress, the more equipped you will be to succeed in your field. This program offered the opportunity to validate and strengthen professional skills in a respectful, collaborative, and knowledge-rich environment. The greatest advantage was that you can complete the program at your own pace during the course of your studies. I see the importance of applying what I've learned to my family, team, community, organizations, and to my own life by continuous practice. PSF will set you on the path to becoming a leader. I would recommend PSF to all our Grad Warriors as it will benefit you in the same way that it has benefited me.


Swakshar Saha

MASc student, Civil Engineering

Swakshar in a suit with a grey backgroundI am currently working as a graduate engineer at GHD Ltd. I joined the Professional Skills Foundations program during my master’s degree with a view to improving my interpersonal skills and enhancing my job search. I have to say the journey to the completion was amazing. The Professional Skills Foundations program offers a lot of intensive workshops and activities that helped me to develop my leadership, communication, and personal effectiveness. Being in academia for almost 18 years straight, it became difficult for me to articulate my technical knowledge to non-technical audiences without using deliberately technical terms. The conversations would become very hard to follow. However, workshops such as the ‘Public Speaking and Communication Skills’ seminar provided me with some tips and tricks which I am still following in my professional career.

This program also showed me ways to improve in building networks, conducting job searches and interviews. I remember I did the workshop called ‘Get a Job Using LinkedIn’ where I was taught different features of LinkedIn and how to attract recruiters through my profile. As a matter of fact, some of that advice helped me to land my dream job. To complete the program, I also had to perform some activities apart from the well-organized workshops. One of the most interesting activities I did was participating in the 3MT competition. Public speaking was never my forte, but the Professional Skills Foundations program inspired me to come out of my comfort zone and face uncomfortable situations with confidence. My presentation was praised by everyone. I came to know about this program in the last term of my studies. I knew it would not be easy to complete the program in a few months as it was structured to be finished in a year. But guess what? I was able to finish it within just 3 months which really gave me a boost in self-confidence and last but not the least, something to brag about in front of my potential employers. In my opinion, all graduate students should participate in this program as it will help them to recognize all the skills they are developing during their studies and showcase those skills successfully in front of their prospective employers.

Yichang Huang

MSc student, School of Pharmacy
Lab Data Analyst 

Yichang HuangI'm currently working as a clinical data manager at Q2 Lab Solutions, a company that is a central laboratory for contracted clinical trials work.  I was promoted to a client lead for a top-20 account at my company within 10 months of joining the company, on overwhelmingly positive feedback from clients and internal team members.  I can definitely attribute this career success to the Professional Skills Foundations program at the University of Waterloo, which I did in between my 1st and 2nd years of my Master of Science program back in 2019 (before the pandemic... wow that felt like so long ago). 

During my Master's degree, I was conducting research in the field of pharmacoepidemiology (in other words, using statistics to describe health outcomes associated with medication use).  My undergraduate degree specialized in learning about pharmaceutical development in the context of Life Sciences (best described as a pre-medical human health sciences program).  Given this, I had wanted to apply my skills from both my undergraduate and my Master's program in industry.  I wasn't really sure where to start, so after discovering Professional Skills Foundations, I figured that could be a great starting point to see how I can start a career. 

Indeed, Professional Skills Foundations was a great starting point for me.  For me specifically, what I found really helpful was having to think about activities for my Individual Development Plan (and then of course, subsequently doing those activities).  I was encouraged to think more "out-of-the-box" (in the context of academia) for these activities, which I believe really helped me hone the soft skills required in career success. 

I'm sure everyone has heard this a billion times.  But having worked in industry for a year now, I never really realized the importance of non-technical "soft" skills in career success until now.  Professional Skills foundations gave me the motivation to set myself apart from others while building my career.  Having gotten to know some of my colleagues and other people working in my field, my educational skills are really a dime a dozen.  But going from "fresh blood," having no job experience whatsoever, to client lead of a top-20 account within 10 months was described as unprecedented by my management, and I truly believe that the soft skills I honed in Professional Skills Foundations really helped me out. 

I'd definitely recommend Professional Skills Foundations to anyone seeking careers, perhaps those not in academia!