Transitioning from student to alum
A recent Waterloo Engineering alum credits his alumni network for helping him navigate life and work after graduation
A recent Waterloo Engineering alum credits his alumni network for helping him navigate life and work after graduationBy Charlotte Danby Faculty of Engineering
Having weathered the COVID-19 pandemic far from home, Waterloo Engineering alum and Muay Thai instructor, Qianshu Wang (BASc ‘19, Nanotechnology Engineering) is back in Waterloo figuring out his next move.
Born in China, Wang and his family moved to the Waterloo Region when he was in Grade 7. After completing his degree, Wang spent three years working in Newfoundland as a process designer in next-generation holographic display development. That experience, as well as his recent travels in Thailand and Switzerland, helped him learn more about himself and who he wants to be.
As he reboots for his next adventure (he’s interested in semi-conductor engineering in Germany or the Netherlands), Wang highlights his involvement with the Recent Engineering Alumni Council (REAC) for helping him through some challenging times over the past couple of years.
What drew you to study engineering at Waterloo?
I am one of the lucky ones who got to participate in lots of Waterloo Outreach programs during childhood. I went to a good school and grew up within easy access to the University so applying to Waterloo was a seamless next step. Growing up in an Asian immigrant family also set some education expectations; I was always going to study law or medicine or STEM — my love of technology (I’m a big science fiction fan) narrowed it down to engineering.
How did you get involved with REAC?
In 2022 I came across an announcement on the University’s website that REAC was looking for more council members. There are a lot of services and systems in place to support current students which is great, but I’d never heard of a support infrastructure for alumni. It sounded interesting and as I learned more, I discovered I knew a lot of the people already involved. I like what REAC stands for and I think the work it’s achieved so far has made a real difference in many people’s lives — mine included.
REAC launched in 2021 so it’s still a very new program. It’s made up of Waterloo Engineering alumni whose efforts help keep our community of recent alumni (those who have graduated over the last 10 years) connected to the University’s extensive network. These council members build and maintain this bridge through events, giving back and communications. Our work is also geared at supporting current engineering students to foster greater connections between alumni and students.
Graduation is an exciting milestone, but also an intimidating one. How would you describe the transition from student to alum?
It can be pretty overwhelming. No two experiences will be the same but for many recent alumni, adjusting to life outside all the student communities and networks that have held and guided you for the past four or five years is hard. There’s massive pressure to find work and for some people it happens quite quickly, particularly for those who transition from their co-ops into full-time employment. Others, like me, might take a bit longer and this can add more stress to a period of intense change.
I spent about six months looking for a job before landing a contract role in January 2020 with one of my co-op employers. The plan was to transition into a permanent role but when the pandemic hit, the company couldn’t offer me that surety.
I stayed in the contract role and started job-hunting again with the company’s support.
What was it like being a new grad during the pandemic?
It was hard, but I think trying to finish or start my degree under those circumstances would have been harder. It was a challenging time for so many of us but once again, I was lucky — I could do some of my work remotely.
In June I found a job for a holographic display company in Newfoundland. I’d never associated the province with nanotechnology engineering research and development, so I was intrigued and ready to try something new. I see now that I was still in the co-op mindset, mentally prepared for an eight-month work stint rather than an indefinite relocation for a permanent job.
Knowing what you know now, would you have done anything differently?
Nope. Moving to Newfoundland was one of my best decisions; I liked the company, got on well with my colleagues and enjoyed my work. But I knew nothing about the province or the people. I was a stranger who arrived in the middle of the pandemic without any friends or family. I underestimated how difficult it would be, both practically speaking as well as emotionally. But I did it, I figured it out.
Belonging to the REAC community helped. I could share my experiences, ask work-related questions and discuss opportunities for professional growth and development. We’re a group of people all figuring out a similar stage of life and career. We support each other as best as we can and that’s cool.
Apart from valuable work experience, I got to know myself better and see what I’m capable of. The self-awareness and skills I’ve gained will support me on my next adventure. I want to live a life that makes for interesting stories and travelling to foreign places, not just on holiday but to live and work, excites me. Deciding to leave Newfoundland was one of my best decisions too.
Any guidance for students and other recent alumni?
When I was 18 years old, I made a fairly large life choice to study engineering at Waterloo. I was convinced I knew exactly what I was doing and how it would all work out but truthfully, I had no idea. I still have no idea. And sometimes that makes me feel anxious. But the amazing thing I've discovered is that letting go of my convictions about who I should be or what I should be doing creates new possibilities that are just as good, if not better. In my limited experience so far, it all works out one way or another.
But when you do head off into the unknown, make sure you have a friend (or two) who has your back. And remember, once a Waterloo Engineer, always a Waterloo Engineer — this community has your back too.
If you’d like to learn more about REAC and its alumni support infrastructure, share an interesting career story or experience, or find out how to join the council, get in touch with this year’s council members.
Feature image: Screenshot of this year's REAC members in their kick-off meeting.
The University of Waterloo acknowledges that much of our work takes place on the traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee peoples. Our main campus is situated on the Haldimand Tract, the land granted to the Six Nations that includes six miles on each side of the Grand River. Our active work toward reconciliation takes place across our campuses through research, learning, teaching, and community building, and is co-ordinated within the Office of Indigenous Relations.