For students and new grads – a conversation with Career Education Specialist, Ken Lee

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Show Notes

In this first episode of 2021, Sujani sits down with Ken Lee who is a Career Education Specialist at Ryerson University. His role is to specifically support students in the area of health. I love this conversation because the episode offers practical tips for students and new graduates. We really wanted to provide guidance to help navigate your careers.

You’ll Learn

  • What a Career Education Specialist’s role (also known as a Career Centre or Coop Centre) within a university is, and its value.
    • What students can expect from these services career centre (i.e. resume writing, networking).
    • How Career Centre services have changed in the face of a pandemic.
    • Why students should reach out as early as possible (i.e. first year) to these Career Centres/services, even if they don’t need any help or guidance just yet.
    • Whether students’ questions and concerns for their public health careers have changed since the pandemic.
  • How Career Centres help students achieve their goals: we take a common goal that students come to Ken about and talk through the type of advice we’d offer them.
    • A specific question we tackle and discuss strategies for is: “how do I get policy/research type roles and/or experiences?” 
  • Strategies related to the following top questions received by PH SPOT from public health students and new graduates:
    • How do I get public health experience – specifically, if I am about to graduate soon and need to quickly build experience?
    • What cover letter tips should I keep in mind? (Hint: Regurgitating what the organization knows about themselves is not enough anymore. It’s no longer about “what” you said, but how you say it.)
    • How do I get a mentor? Do I need a mentor? What’s the difference between a sponsor and a mentor? How to build strong relationships and give back to your mentors.
    • Skill building: How to build skills outside of your academic courses?

Today’s Guest

Ken Lee

Ken Lee is a Career Education Specialist with the Career & Co-op Centre, Ryerson University where he designs and delivers high-impact programming that equips students for careers in a rapidly evolving world. Prior to his journey in higher education, Ken brings experience working in the non-profit sector. His particular focus was guiding individuals in discovering creative ways to achieve their career goals while finding fulfillment, satisfaction and balance in their lives. The developer in him lives to watch the people in his life grow, succeed, and turn their dreams into reality. Connect with Ken on LinkedIn (make sure to add a note that you listened to this podcast).


Other PH SPOT resources:

Episode Transcript

Ken 0:00
That’s so obvious, but I’ve never even thought about that as a career coach, or career education specialists myself. So I think really, it’s about challenging and not challenging the status quo by challenging the traditional ways in which you can find an opportunity. So-

Sujani 0:20
Welcome to PH SPOTlight, a community for you to build your public health career with. Join Us Weekly right here. And I’ll be here too, your host Sujani Siva from PH SPOT.

Sujani 0:38
Hi, everyone, thank you for joining me today on another episode of PH SPOTlight a space for you and me and everyone else in public health to share our stories and inspire each other. My name is Sujani Siva, I am the host of PH SPOTlight. And I’m here to help you build your public health career. And happy new year. This is the first episode of 2021. And I am so excited to just jump in front of the mic after some time now to deliver a really good value this year. And I’m excited that this episode is going to be the one that I’m airing for 2021. Because it’s really a good one. I sat down with Ken Lee, who is a Career Education Specialist at Ryerson University. And his role is to specifically support students in the area of health. And I love this episode with Ken because our conversation, it’s focused on students and new grads, and this episode is full of practical tips. So I think that you might need a notebook for this one. So I really hope you enjoy it. And here is the conversation.

Sujani 1:58
Hi, Ken, thank you so much for joining me on this episode of PH SPOTlight.

Ken 2:04
Thank you so much. Sujani. I’m really excited to be here today or be here virtually, yeah.

Sujani 2:09
Virtually now. Yeah, it’s cool. I think we met each other on LinkedIn. And I think it’s probably because we both have similar interests, you know, just guiding students and early professionals with their careers. And I do this through PH SPOT and you do this as a career education specialist at Ryerson University, which is super cool. And I’m really looking forward to you know, both of us, you are saying like, you know, maybe we’re going to ask each other questions and come up with all these great ideas for students. And so I’m really looking forward to our conversation today.

Ken 2:44
Yeah, same and definitely we originally met over at LinkedIn. But I think I knew of you for quite some time, because I refer a lot of students to PH SPOT because it’s definitely a wonderful career development resource for folks interested in public health. So no, actually speaking to you now is actually kind of like surreal in a way.

Sujani 3:08
Super cool. Super cool. Yeah. So you know, like I was saying, before we started to record really the intention of this episode. For me, at least, it’s to provide guidance and support to undergrad students or grad students who are interested in a career in public health. And I really hope that our conversation is going to provide some level of clarity for these students as they navigate their kind of years in undergrad or grad school. And so before we dive into, like some specific topics that students might have, and I’d really love to hear kind of the way that you guide students, I thought first, perhaps we could quickly just chat about this role that you’re in, because I assume it’s not just Ryerson that has an a kind of a career education specialist or some sort of a career guidance unit within their institution. And so for students who are feeling like they need guidance during their years in university, what can they expect when they reach out to a career service within an institution?

Ken 4:14
Yeah, so every university college or post secondary institution has a career center or current Co-Op center, a lot of them have different names associated with what they do. And typically each department or each team has folks that work as a career coach, Career Education Specialist, all different titles that basically mean the same thing. Those individuals typically will work one on one with those students to support them in their career journey and their exploration. So for many times, you know, students will come to us with questions around like, I don’t know what I want to do with my degree to I need some support on like resume writing to networking. Typically are those career coaches will be there to help support that individual in that process, whether it’s applying for an internship, full time job or even a co-op, we’re really there to support an individual in that process. Now, I guess Sujani, like what is different? Or what is different between a career coach or the career education specialists with like a friend, I would say, because a friend or even a family member can also give career advice, right?

Ken 5:26
Yeah, absolutely.

Ken 5:27
Is that like, are these career coaches, or even like myself, we tend to ground our practice and a student development theory, for example, to inform the work that we do, but also through development theory. Now, depending on the coach, there might be different approaches that you might take as well, for example, a strength-based approach and anti-oppressive practice, for example. But we work within a certain framework, I guess, in order to better support the students and the individuals that we are working with.

Sujani 5:59
Okay. And so, you know, if we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic, a student could probably walk up to one of these offices and do a drop in with yourself or somebody at their institution. So now that everyone is online, how has this service kind of changed, and I’m going to assume that it’s kind of stays the same across all institutions, or at least very similar in how people could access this service.

Ken 6:27
Yeah, I would say I can’t speak for all the other career centers by now at Ryerson, the Korean Co Op center, we move to a virtual delivery format, immediately, as we knew or after, like, sort of, like COVID hit or once we started to work from home. So the appointments that we normally would do in person are done over zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, or even on the telephone as well, nothing has really changed with the appointments per se, meaning that type of appointments that we typically offer, so career advising, resume, graduate school applications to interviewing, for example, are still there to really support students. But yeah, soon as can still drop by virtually to their career in co-op center, Career Center, in order to receive that kind of support in their career journey. Now, I think one thing, what- what is interesting, and you might kind of like, guess this Sujani is not like, a lot of like, first or even like second year students, even third years, I would say, typically don’t access career service support, until they actually need it, when they’re about to graduate. And it’s like, I’m about to graduate in three months. And I need help. And we do encourage, and to the viewers and the listeners that are listening to this. And if you’re in your first year of your undergrad, or even the first year of your graduate program, please introduce yourself to your career center, to your career coach. And, you know, even if you don’t know what you want to talk about, or you don’t know how to begin the conversation, as long as you say career and go- and go from there, we can ask you questions. So yeah.

Sujani 8:17
Yeah. And I think the cool part about the role that you’re in is that you kind of like, the students that you focus on have this general health background, you know, just seeing everyone, right, so you could kind of, you know, take problems and issues that students generally have in public health and help other students with those similar problems.

Ken 8:40
Yeah, so what’s very interesting about Ryerson, we have a model called a factory labor market model, where each coach or a specialist focuses on a particular area. So my focus is on community services. So I primarily work with like Social Work nursing, public health, occupational health and safety students, for example, in supporting them in their career journey, and that is done deliberately and intentionally so that way, each specialist has a certain- certain, like subject matter expertise in careers that are related to someone’s like program or like their sort of, like, field of interest. So yeah, I work with a ton of like public health students, you know, in their sort of like, journey at Ryerson. And sorry, go ahead.

Sujani 9:29
No, no, I was gonna say, well, it’s kind of changing gears a bit different questions. So if you want to finish your thought, go for it.

Unknown Speaker 9:36
Oh, no, I think- I think that was kind of my thought. Yeah.

Sujani 9:41
No, yeah. It was just thinking, you know, with the pandemic. Are you seeing that, questions, or problems that students are coming to you with have changed? Are they relatively the same as kind of pre-COVID?

Ken 9:56
Yeah, I would say early on, when it was was around March, April to even like in May, there’s definitely a lot of like anxiety when it came to that job search, especially for the recent graduates, and how were they able to make that transition from the labor market? So there were definitely a lot of questions around like, how do I look for work in this environment? How do I network? Or does this really just change my approach in the sense of, do I transition to full time employment or work? Or should I now actually consider graduate school? Right? Because I think for a lot of students even like right now, a significant number of them more than usual, are considering graduate school in order to serve like, outweight what is going on with like, COVID 19. Because of the job prospects and even like, again, no employment. But yeah, I would say for the most part, the questions are a little bit different. And I think, right now, anyways, in the school year, a lot of students have a lot going on. So I’m finding that, you know, students have different priorities, which is definitely understandable, given the fact that they’re studying from home, working from home and so forth. So it’s quite interesting. It’s not to say that career has taken a step back by think, you know, you know, public health related, like, you know, mental health is such a huge thing right now.

Sujani 11:34
Yeah. And so, you know, you kind of talked about one such question that a student could come to you with, and I think one of the things that I was reading about you, on your kind of LinkedIn profile is that you, you brainstorm ideas with the students. So, when they come to you with a goal, you help them brainstorm ways to achieve that goal. And so I was wondering if off the top of your head, you could throw out kind of a common goal that you often hear students trying to figure out how to achieve. And if we could work, work through that goal right now and talk about the types of advice you’d offer them?

Ken 12:20
That’s a good one. There’s so many. Well, I think a common one, definitely a goal that students have is like trying to like break into like research and policy.

Sujani 12:34

Ken 12:34
Which you might be familiar with, as well. And maybe for- before I sort of, dive into like the brainstorming, how would you or like suggest or recommend someone breaking into research or policy?

Sujani 12:47
And so yeah, I was wondering if like, this is a very new student kind of, in their first or second year considering wanting to get into research? Is that what you were?

Ken 12:59
Yeah, let’s do that. Yeah.

Sujani 13:01
Yeah. So you know, I think about my experience in undergrad and kind of what I’ve heard some of my peers do as well. And it’s typically been to try to reach out to your professors, even if kind of, they’re not your immediate professor, but perhaps professors that you’ve heard of that have really good reputation with offering students good, I guess, experience because I know when I was in my master’s, I was really looking for some sort of way to build my research experience. And so just reached out this one Prof, who wasn’t even part of my faculty, but I had heard about him and just set up a casual chat with him, told him what I was interested in. And, you know, building that relationship right at the beginning of my master’s allowed me to get kind of three different research opportunities with him throughout my two years in my master’s. So I often would tell people to not just look out for opportunities that are advertised on your school website, but reach out to professor’s and build a relationship right from the beginning.

Ken 14:07
Yeah, I love that. And I think it definitely goes into like that relationship building process and really taking the initiative to find opportunities before they come to you, right? Because that’s really all about accessing something, I guess a lot of people call like, the hidden job market. And I love that stuff, like advice that you would like give, it would be exactly what I would share as well. Other things are, I guess, like for me, like, how I would like sort of like, depend on how the conversation flows. I think every conversation is a little bit different. I always like like to wonder why or what makes them want to go into research and like policy as well, because I think sometimes there can be like underlying reasons or conversations. There can be a lot of like exploration that can come from that right because even with like, I guess like public health, like, public health is like so broad where you can think about like epidemiology, biostatistics. And you can even go into like, policy and research as well. And for me, sometimes I’d like to understand why policy, like, why research? Is there a particular interest that you have in that? Or did you hear something just to understand. Were the students like, how does that, but if they’re, if they say, like, you know, like, the goal is this, I also like to try to think about kind of like, different paths or different things that they may not have considered as well. So I think, at an undergraduate level, if it’s like a first and second year students, this might be a huge generalization, but they probably don’t have any experience in those two spaces, let alone maybe even any sort of like formal, and I say formal and air quotes, you can’t see it. But from our work experience, they might have worked as a sales associates or even like a barista, for example, which is you know, great, because it helps you to develop transferable skills, but they may not have that, I guess, real world experience. Now, what I would recommend, depending on the conversation is that they maybe like, look into think tanks, for example, think tanks, or, you know, research and like policy, like, institutions that they could maybe even like, look into in order to discover any sort of like, volunteer opportunities. But funnily enough, I read something on like, Reddit recently, and this was because I was doing a little bit of like, research, you know, Reddit is not credible source, but like, I made sure to like fact check that bias, or like, it’s like, oh, that is like some pretty sound advice. And one of the, I guess, like users, they’re like, “Well, if you ever want to find a research opportunity, what you can also do is look for studies that are looking for or seeking participants, and then email the lab to inquire if they are looking for any RAS or research assistants.” And I was like, “Whoa, that’s so obvious.” But I’ve never even thought about that as a career coach, or career education specialists myself. So I think really, it’s about challenging and not challenging the status quo but challenging the traditional ways in which you can find an opportunity. So definitely, you know, there are those think tanks. There are also like advocacy groups, and like nonprofits as well. And I think what’s interesting about public health and you know, this, Sujani, is like, well, obviously, you know, this, but like, public health is like, so broad in the sense that there’s so many different areas like topics.

Sujani 17:51

Ken 17:51
Like, do you want to do like public health when it comes to? Oh, my gosh, I can’t think of something right now. But like,

Sujani 17:58
Yeah, like, I think I think of an example, at least with me, I kind of was interested in the area of diabetes in my undergrad. And I emailed the Canadian Diabetes Association. Now. They’re called diabetes Canada. And I remember like volunteering to staple papers and photocopy papers, and like I was in that environment to like, consume all the knowledge I could from the different people and then just building a really good relationship with that office eventually, like I showed them that I could do a little bit more than photocopying, and stapling, and, you know, they were able to apply for federal funding to hire me for one summer, which gave me even more experience. But even before that, I kind of showed them, I could help them with needs assessments and different research opportunities. So I think like you said, not for profit organizations, advocacy groups, if you just go in and start building those relationships and areas that you’re interested in, and then show them the other skills that you can offer.

Ken 18:59
Yeah, I love that exactly. Like if you kind of like know, the compact area that you like, want to like look into, such as like, something around like diabetes, whether that- whether that’s like diabetes prevention, and so forth. You can find a bunch of groups and organizations that are out there and start begin volunteering from with them. And who knows one thing leads to the next and it can lead to like, I kinda like summer job, our job as well.

Sujani 19:24
Absolutely. And so do you typically find that the students come back for follow up kind of, checkpoints with you? Or is it often just a one time dropping?

Ken 19:36
I would say I’m hearing their how I like to approach my conversations and I think a lot of career services do something similar as that I’ve got near the end of a conversation, we typically will collaboratively decide with the student and action plan. So my appointments are typically 30 minutes long, so every five minutes and to engage in that conversation So let’s discuss together, you know, what are your next steps? So if it’s, for example, you’re interested in, you know, working in the field of like HIV and AIDS, okay? Why don’t you, before our next conversation, identify five to 10 organizations that you might want to work alongside or even volunteer with who, you know, play in that space, I guess you could say or like, do work in that space? And also, what I would like you to do, or what do you think about finding or brainstorming, three or four people that work within each of those organizations. So I think a lot of times, I would love to have, you know, those follow up appointments. But I think sometimes, some students don’t necessarily come back. Because maybe, you know, they’re quite independent. And no, they got the information. And from there, they can start, you know googling as well. And-

Sujani 21:01

Ken 21:01
Because students have access to Google. Like I like to say they know everything. But with Google, there’s like, so much information need to also like, evaluate whether that information is actually true.

Sujani 21:12

Ken 21:13
So sometimes I find that maybe they don’t come back for a follow up appointment right away. But they come back later. And then like, “Okay, I did some research based on like what you said, and like, I found all this information like is this like, right?” And a lot of times as like career coaches, at Ryerson, we’re also like fact checking, or assessing or like challenging the knowledge that has been disseminated like online, I guess the case could fake because there’s so much like misinformation out there now.

Sujani 21:44
Yeah. And so if the student kind of comes back on a regular basis and say they’ve identified opportunities within the university, does, I guess you could speak to your experience at Ryerson. As a career center, do you have relationships with professors? And could make help make those connections? Or is it truly kind of independent and up to the student to do that?

Ken 22:12
Yeah. So in terms of like that relationship building process, I think, the Ryerson in particular, we work really closely with the faculty and certain professors. So sometimes we might be able to do that. But really, it’s about teaching that individual, that student, and equipping them with like the knowledge, skills and abilities to really engage in those conversations or to do it on their own. But we’re happy to support them in that process, because we really believe and are sort of like, model, not model, but like our mission, our part of it is sort of like building careers for life. So if we can teach that student to do it, there, they’re going to be equipped with that skill to do it after Ryerson and beyond. And if they ever go through a career transition, they have that skill. So it’s sort of like yes, teaching them but also, if we, if we are able to, we’ll definitely make that connection as well.

Sujani 23:13
Awesome. And then I guess the flip side to that is do like- does the faculty kind of come to the Career Center and say, “Hey, I have all of these opportunities? Can you help me recruit?” like, does that happen with Career Centers?

Ken 23:28
I would say, sometimes, so sometimes there might be like RD positions that are even like work study positions that they’re trying to fill in. And maybe they need some assistance and promoting those opportunities, we might be able to support them, and that through our listserv, and so forth. And I think that’s sort of like a nice segue in the sense of like, each university or like post secondary institution will have some form of like work study program, in which a student can get on campus experience, if you’re able to, you know, from my understanding, demonstrate a financial need, whether it’s using OSAP. So that’s an easy way for a student to get experience. And usually those opportunities are facilitated by a career center or any office that, you know, deals with experiential learning. But going back to your question, because I think I’m going in circles. Yeah, we sometimes we do help faculty, you know, maybe sometimes find folks for their positions.

Sujani 24:34
Very cool. I am guilty of one of those individuals who never used the career service at my institution. So very, very cool to hear kind of what is available to these services. And like I think with the way that Ryerson service is established, it sounds like you have content experts as well, which I think goes a long way and you know that the individual knows the struggles that you’re going to kind of bring up and can help you in a meaningful way to work through those issues. So, very cool. So thank you for spending some time to just talk about the career services.

Ken 25:12
Yeah, of course. And I think it’s, it’s funny. There are times though, where I get completely stuck. And it’s like, hold on, give me like, five minutes. Or let me get back to you on that. So we, we have expertise, but I think there’s a lot of things we don’t know as well.

Sujani 25:29
Yeah. And I think that’s kind of what a coach is there for. Right? They’re kind of there to help ask you some questions. And sometimes they might be the obvious questions, and it’s just the way they presented to you or they help you navigate your own questions and then help you either, like, be someone who you can be accountable to to say, “Hey, this is my action plan. This is what I’m going to do. And I know that Ken is going to be expecting me to come back.” So that’s kind of nice as well to have that.

Ken 25:58
Yeah, exactly. I love that.

Sujani 26:01
Okay, so kind of the next part of what I wanted to talk to you about our- I want to call it like specific questions that keep coming up within the PH SPOT community, and it’s kind of generic to recent grads and students. And so they are huge questions. And I know that we won’t come up with the best answer together. But I think it’s, it’ll be great for both of us to kind of brainstorm and offer as much, I guess, just as much value as weakened with these different topics. And so the first one that I wanted to talk about, which we kind of highlighted was just getting public health experience. So like you said, someone comes to your career service early on in first or second year, and you can sort of guide them and help them gain a ton of experience in the next three to four years. But then how about someone who’s kind of ready to graduate, and they’re kind of like scrambling to build some public health experience, because they know in the next couple months, they’re gonna graduate, they’re gonna have to find a job and their resume doesn’t really stack up to what employers want. What kind of advice do you give those individuals?

Ken 27:14
Someone who’s like you’re ready to graduate or about to graduate? And you don’t necessarily have any public health experience right now?

Sujani 27:20
Yeah. Because, you know, one of the questions I think, someone had said is, you know, as a new grad, and you’re applying to a full time public health job, organizations are often looking for public health experience, even for an entry level position. So if you hadn’t thought too much about building that experience, because you’re so focused on getting that high GPA, for example, I know, I had a lot of friends who did that, like how does someone prepare to apply to an entry level position without having the right experiences?

Ken 27:54
Yeah, so I guess I’ll kick things off, and then I’ll pass it to you Sujani. So I think when it comes to like public health, public health has lots of different core competencies, and they can really fall into like different categories, whether it’s like communication, leadership, even to like collaboration and advocacy, right? And typically, students would have maybe developed some of those transferable skills throughout their undergraduate education, but also in any sort of like co curricular or volunteer work opportunities as well. So I think when it comes to applying for opportunities in which, you know, you’re applying to like a public health job, but maybe you don’t have experience, it’s really about highlighting those transferable skills. And showcasing what those skills actually look like in practice, right? Like, communication can manifest itself in so many different ways, such as being able to communicate in an assessable, or like in plain language, which is so important in public health, I think, you know, students, no, listeners are listening to this right now, please start developing that skill. That, you know, employers will look for that. But I think the tricky thing is, or, like, the tricky thing is with like public health is that there aren’t a lot of like entry level positions, I find, in a sense, in comparison to other fields. So you really, when you are applying for a job, a job description for an employer is just a wish list. Like they’re not going to get everything from that there. There’s no such thing as like a perfect unicorn. So even if they, you know, get 50% of that, that’s more than wonderful. So, if a person is applying for opportunities, they don’t necessarily have experience. You know, sometimes they need to just like apply. And again, really focus on those transferable skills, but also lean into those academic experiences. And the projects that they have engaged in as well, because they must have, confidently I can see that, and their upper years either, you know, wrote a paper or conducted a report had some kind of like field work experience where they needed to maybe do like a public health inspection, right?

Sujani 30:21

Ken 30:21
That we can really talk about.

Sujani 30:23
Yeah, no, I think those are all great tips. And probably similar tips is what I would offer one being what you’ve done in school, I think we shouldn’t undermine all of that. I remember when I was applying to my first job, I didn’t have any experience in, like working in infectious diseases. So a lot of the examples I offered about my experience, and my background, our skills in that area was from a lot of my course assignments, and kind of really highlighting what sort of research I did, how I presented the information, how I communicated that with my peers and students when I presented my assignments. So really leverage those assignments and work that you’ve done. And the second part, I think you mentioned was the transferable skills, even if it’s not from a public health job, you need to really dig into all the work that you’ve done, whether it’s volunteer, whether it’s on a it’s at a club in school, really think about those skills that can be transferred into this role that you’re applying to. And one that comes to mind. For me, again, I think it was trying to apply to a job at a- at an institution that worked on brain research. And I had zero skills and or zero experience in brain health. And so in my cover letter, I actually, that was my first statement in my cover letter was that I have zero experience in brain health, but this is why you should consider me. And so I told them, I had zero knowledge of brain health. But these were the other areas that I was really interested in and kind of brought in new innovative research that was happening in the area of brain research and highlighted how I would want to explore those research topics within that organization. And I ended up landing an interview. And the- the panelists kind of said, the reason we- we- we know you don’t have brain health experience, but we really wanted to talk to you because of your cover letter. So that cover letter, I know, I’m guilty of it when I was applying to jobs that kind of just use a generic cover letter, just because the job asked for it, and not think too much about it. But I think the cover letter is also someplace where you could really highlight why you’re a strong candidate.

Ken 32:45
Yeah, 100% and I- Sujani If you ever need ever engaging in a second career, and you haven’t had a job, I think you actually hit on a really key point. You know, public health really is just like population health, right? So like, you really need to know, like, what the issues are at hand, whether it’s like how to identify the issue, options, etc. So if you’re able to demonstrate interest, or you’re understanding what’s going on in a particular space, I think that holds quite a bit of weight. And if you’re able to speak to that or showcase that and either your cover letter or on your resume, maybe you attended a webinar, or maybe you- you know attended some like workshop, talk about that, right? Because if you don’t have that practical experience, you at least need to be able to demonstrate an interest and that theoretical knowledge in some capacity.

Sujani 33:43
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And like, really, I think the mindset I had with this cover letter is what could I lose, right? Like, let me try something different. Let me start my cover letter with, I don’t have any experience in the field that you’re recruiting for. But here’s something else I can offer. So I don’t know what your tips are for cover letters in general, but we’d love to hear kind of how you guide students with their cover letter preparations.

Ken 34:09
Yeah, I love your- your- your statement that you use, it definitely throws the reader from like, you know, left field like, oh, I didn’t really expect that. But I would say with like with a cover letter. Typically my recommendation when it comes to that very first paragraph is really speaking to like your motivation, and your intention behind your application and like really like why you want to work alongside them or the kind of work that they’re doing. I think a lot of times from you know, what I see from students is that they tend to, like regurgitate information that the organizations already know of themselves, possibly. And I would say that used to be okay. And I used to be good enough, right? Like if I was applying for a job at like, Ryerson, hypothetically, I’m saying like, oh Ryerson. values equity community inclusion. So do I, I’ve always aligned, therefore we should work together. But now it’s more about saying like, why is equity community inclusion is- why is that important to you? Or why is it important for you to be doing work around diabetes prevention or in health promotion? Or what’s important about that. And the reason why I think employers are really looking for that is because the recruitment and selection process and just like hiring people costs a significant amount of like resources, time, money, you know, mentorship, etc. So they’re really looking for people who are really motivated. So if you can demonstrate, you know, commitment, knowledge within a certain space, like you did, or even, you know, just saying, like, you know, I want to work for your organization and here’s the reasons why and why this is- why this resonates with me. That’s how you stand out and how you, you know, your- how your cover letter distinguishes itself from any general application.

Sujani 36:02
Yeah, no, absolutely. And I think you know, some of the templates that you can download, give you the general structure of what a cover letter should look like. But that first paragraph, like you said, is really important, because that’s what’s gonna grab the reader’s attention. And if you can do that in the first couple of sentences, then you’ll ensure that the person reading it is going to go through and read the rest.

Ken 36:27
Yeah. And it’s like, it’s a mix of what you say. And also like, how you say it, I think, what’s interesting about students or like public health students, or any student in general, I’m sorry, but like, we’re not I’m sorry, but they, they’re very used to academic writing.

Sujani 36:44

Ken 36:45
So when it comes to transitioning that writing to I guess, like, were placed reading, I don’t know about the thing, but are just like writing casually. It, the writing that they do on a cover letter sometimes is a little bit like restrictive, it’s like, kind of like, boring slash, like, plain. And you can be more colorful, you can like, show a little bit of like, flair, like even on my cover letter. Sometimes I will say like, I would love to work with your organization, like using the word love. Yeah. But like, things like that can like, you know, go a long way.

Sujani 37:19
Yeah, yeah. Break the norm. Try something different.

Ken 37:22
Exactly. Exactly.

Sujani 37:25
Awesome. Very cool. Okay, I know, we can keep talking about how- how to get experience for much, much longer. But I did want to cover maybe two more kind of themes. The next one is also a favorite one of mine. It’s about mentorship. And you know, you often read and hear that you should have mentors, and then you see these other articles about mentors versus sponsors versus coaches. Just wanted to hear your thoughts of whether students come to you about, you know, I would really like a mentor, how should I establish that relationship? Or do I need a mentor kind of just those questions? Do they ever come to you with that?

Ken 38:09
Yeah. Out of curiosity, did you say sponsor?

Sujani 38:12

Ken 38:13
Okay, that’s great. Because I actually wanted to, like, bring that up as well, because I think there was something in like, a Harvard Business Review, or I can’t remember where I saw it. But like the difference between like mentorship to like, sponsorship. So yeah, firstly, I think mentorship is like, so important. I know, I have mentors myself. Funny and funny enough, like I was having a conversation with one of my students on like, Friday, and she was like, reverse mentoring me. And I was like, I’m kind of digging this, like, this is like, perfect, because it doesn’t matter. You know, how old your mentor is, or how much experience they have. You might have mentors for different things, whether it’s careers, relationship, you name it, and you can really like soak in like their blueprints for success. So I think like, you know, mentors are important. And if students are able to access a mentor or find a mentor, whether it’s just a upper year student, they should definitely do so. But those relationships don’t need to be formalized too, right, they can be quite informal, and like the conversations that you have, and I do, I would say, though, sometimes that you do need to or you do want to sort of like acknowledge that, in a sense of like, sometimes it might be good to acknowledge that. Hey, you know, I hope you know, I consider you a mentor. And I think that can sometimes go a long way to in that relationship building process.

Sujani 39:43
Yeah, yeah. And I liked how you touched on you can have a mentor for different kinds of areas of your life. I think, you know, initially when I was much younger in my undergrad or grad school years, I thought that you needed to make it clear to the other person that they were your mentor, and they were your only mentor. And that’s not the case. And you know, over the years, I’ve learned that that mentor relationship kind of naturally unfolds because you kind of go to that person for advice, or just to hear what they think about a certain topic, and it naturally evolves and you build that relationship over time. So, you know, for me, I have a mentor who’s in public health, who I go to when I want to make like drastic, like out of the norm decisions with my career, because I know that he’s going to give me the advice I need. And then I have other mentors who have, you know, followed the more traditional path and public health and public service, because that’s the work that I do. And I know that I could go to them when I need help navigating different opportunities within the public service. So yeah, you can have different mentors for different areas of your life.

Ken 41:00
Yeah. And I think as you were saying that I was thinking like, you know, when we think about mentorship, and like that relationship of mentorship as relationships, so it’s really important for folks to also understand that they can give back as well or given back is important, too. And I think a lot of like, young folks think that they don’t have anything to offer, like, I’m a student, therefore, like, I don’t really have any value to provide to them. But you know, in reality, like, when you like, like, let’s say, for example, I asked someone for a coffee conversation, you’re really just like, validating what they’re doing, you know, the work that they’re doing is important, who they are, is important. But more importantly, you can find ways in which you can give back just in sort of, like very small ways. And social media has made it so easy, right? You follow us on Twitter or like LinkedIn, you can react to the posts, you can share it, you can even like leave a comments to even like writing a card or sending the holiday greeting, here and there. So I think there are ways for students to give back. So for anyone that’s listening and they maybe haven’t connected with their former supervisor, and like few months or a few years, you know, I recommend doing so yeah. It’s nice to hear from folks.

Sujani 42:19
Yeah, no, totally. I’m glad you mentioned that. Because I think that’s how you build that relationship over time. I know for me, I did that a couple years ago, where I had emailed a mentor of mine, I don’t- I don’t- I didn’t think she thought of like me as a mentee. But I wanted to kind of tell her, I thought about her when I was reading this article about mentorship, and just thank her for all the kind of advice she provided for me over the years. And you know, it just kind of puts a smile on people’s face.

Ken 42:47
Yeah, and it’s even like a personal story. Like, I have this card sit on my desk. And it’s like, for me, like, not my guidance counselor, but she was like, I was in high school as a part of like this club called The Breakfast Club where we help serve food, or like, I guess, like the students. And then like, I’ve been meaning to thank her, but I just haven’t done so ever since I graduated like high school, which was ages ago. So I want to like, you know, send that off on one day, once like, you know, you know, once things start a little bit normal, but I think, you know, transitioning from that from like mentorship. Like I think there’s also that thing around like sponsorship, right? Sponsorship, for those that don’t know, is sort of like more of a public relationship where that mentor, that person is willing to, like, fight for you, I guess you could say publicly and like giving you opportunities, or even like, you know, publicly like giving you recognition. I think that is a little bit more challenging in the sense that you do really need to nurture that relationship. And typically those sponsorships will happen like in the workplace, I find.

Sujani 44:02
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. You have- you build these really good relationships with managers, for example. And even when you leave them and go to a different role, they’re still thinking about you when other future opportunities come up, and they throw your name out or tell you about it. So I think both mentors and sponsors are really important for like career development and career success.

Ken 44:26
Yeah, 100% and for students who are doing co-ops and like internships, just because you leave a workplace doesn’t mean you forget all those relationships you’ve built, nurture them, monitor them, feed them, you know, you can ask for a coffee chat, you can just check in with how they’re doing and, you know, you do want to make sure that you have that professional family or that community there to support you when you do need it, especially now with like, COVID.

Sujani 44:55
Yeah, absolutely. And I know like one of my managers from about seven or eight years ago, still will send me job opportunities, and they pop up. So really grateful to him when he does that. Yeah. And yeah, I think well, I’ll have to look up the article, either from the Harvard Business Review or another one that kind of talks about the difference between sponsors and mentors, so people can read up about them. But I think at the foundation of either one of those are really good relationships and ensuring that you’re valuing the other person and being respectful about their time and not just going to them for a job. And you know, you’re done with that relationship. And you walk away. It’s really about, yeah, valuing and respecting them.

Ken 45:42
Yeah, 100% and I think we kind of like touch on like these, like mentors, or sponsors, or like people that you kind of, like, already know, in some way, but you can also like, do that, or like build those relationships from nothing where it gets a total, like cold connection as well?

Sujani 46:00
Absolutely. Okay, maybe the third topic we can talk about is skill building. So you know, I’m thinking student comes to your center, like your career counseling center and says, you know, I really want to work in maybe in a- in a role where I want to be a research coordinator. And project management, for example, is something that I really need to build on. And I don’t have any courses that does that. How do you help them I guess, navigate building skills outside of the courses that they’re taking? Or? Or is that even a question that comes up?

Ken 46:46
Well, firstly, if anyone ever wants to, like learn how to design infographics, you can, you should definitely check out the course that PH SPOT offer.

Sujani 46:55
Thank you for that.

Ken 46:57
I think it’s a great resource. And I think, yeah, skill building is so important to complement your transferable soft skills, but also with those hard and technical skills, right? Like, for public health students, like who, you know, might be doing more like research a policy, for example, you might need to have like those statistical skills, right, understanding how to use Microsoft Excel, to SPSS, and so forth. And I think there’s a lot of like free resources that are available to folks. Now, whether it’s through like LinkedIn learning, for example, Coursera, to name a few in which they can start developing those like skill sets. But I think ultimately, when it comes to skill building, they need to find ways in which they can apply what they learned into like practice. And an easy way they can go about doing that is by engaging in sort of, like, I guess, like self directed learning, but working on independent projects that they might find interesting. So sometimes, if it’s something as simple as like, oh, I want to like develop my ability to communicate in plain language. Well, take- take an abstract kicker journal article, or even take a public health announcement that was like released and try to reduce the jargon and try to translate it into an accessible language that someone with a grade nine level education could understand.

Sujani 48:34
Yeah, no, I was gonna say, I think the advice that we were kind of chatting about around building experience is probably applicable here, too, as you give that example of grabbing an abstract and trying to explain it to a grade nine audience. I think, yeah, just finding ways to gain that skill, not just through a formal employment, but other ways that you could build that skill, right? So I’m thinking, if you could be part of a conference, for example, at your university, could you take on a more active role to do a certain task for the conference committee that helps you build some sort of skill that you’re looking to build? And then you talked about LinkedIn learning and it reminded me I think does, like university sometimes gives students access to kind of the pro-licenses because I think my husband has, or he graduated from Ryerson. And he has alumni access to LinkedIn learning maybe. So there might be different I guess, perks that you have through your university to do kind of self directed learning through some of these online mediums.

Ken 49:47
Yeah, I’m definitely and if your institution doesn’t have that access, chances are your public library might as well. You might need a library card for example, but that can also be an additional resource. So, yeah, definitely I would encourage students to take up, you know, that opportunity, especially since if they’re a student, you know, the- the access for it for free.

Sujani 50:15
Yeah. And the other example that kind of comes to mind is, the United Nations has a volunteer, like an online volunteer repository. So they have opportunities from around the world, where organizations are asking individuals to help them with certain projects, and you can filter by different skills, and you can try to, you know, sign up to be a volunteer for a project somewhere across the world that can be done online.

Ken 50:43
Yeah, I love that. I didn’t mean like, know about that. So I’m definitely gonna, like make a note of that myself. And I don’t mean to like plug PH SPOT. But like, even like your newsletter, for example, sometimes the rent provides opportunities of like resources, or opportunities in which students can engage in professional development opportunities for free. And that’s such a wonderful resource that, you know, students don’t need to dig and like, find that information, but just readily receive that information. In the inbox.

Sujani 51:13
Yeah, no, absolutely. Okay, so I’m just kind of looking at the time here, can and you’ve spent almost an hour here with me. So thank you so much. And, and I’m glad that we can highlight how important your career service at your institution can be. And just the value that you can gain from someone like Ken, who could really, you know, spend some time with you, help you through some of the goals that you might have during your undergrad or grad studies and help you come up with an action plan, keep you accountable to it. And so with that Ken, if you have any last words of wisdom for our PH SPOT community,

Ken 51:54
I don’t know if I have any last words, but thank you, Sujani, for the invitation to come on the podcast and know, share tidbits of like insights and wisdom. And I hope the listeners were able to maybe take something a little bit away, I would say for the most part, for the listeners that are current students, I would definitely encourage you to access your career services, or the department that delivers that career education, but also for the viewer or not the viewers, listeners that you know, are far removed from university and maybe they’re just like a recent graduate, and maybe they don’t have access to those services anymore, is that there’s, you know, a lot of resources out there on the internet. But sometimes you need to, again, evaluate whether that information is accurate. So double check the references.

Sujani 52:47
And for the students who are at Ryerson, can they kind of reach out to you, I know you’re quite active on LinkedIn and you post some really good information there. Is that someplace that you’re open to having students connect with you?

Ken 53:03
Yeah, definitely. For anyone listening with a Ryerson students, feel free to connect with me on like LinkedIn or Twitter. If you do connect with me on LinkedIn, definitely add a note, you listened to this podcast. And that’s a surefire way for me to agree to like, accept you into my like, network invested and say.

Sujani 53:25
Awesome, thank you so much, Ken.

Ken 53:27
Thank you Sujani.

Sujani 53:30
So I hope you enjoyed that episode with Ken and myself as we talked about some practical tips for students and new grads in public health. And as always, if you want any the links or information that we mentioned in today’s episode, you can head over to And we will have everything there for you. And if you’re curious or interested in that infographics course that Ken mentioned, it is one of our Flagship courses, you can check that out at The course is open for enrollment. So check that out if you’re interested and the newsletter that PH SPOT puts out that can also mentioned in the episode can be viewed at Up and until next time, thank you so much for tuning into PH SPOTlight, and for the invaluable work that you do for this world.


About the Show

PH SPOTlight: Public health career stories, inspiration, and guidance from current-day public health heroes

On the show, Sujani sits down with public health heroes of our time to share career stories, inspiration, and guidance for building public health careers. From time to time, she also has conversations with friends of public health – individuals who are not public health professionals, but their advice and guidance are equally important.

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