Monthly Archives: November 2015

Finding Direction: The Importance of a Supportive Community at Work

Our third blog installment is brought to you by Dr. Joelle Thorpe, whose PhD work focused on reproductive and stress endocrinology. Joelle currently works as Clinical Research Associate in the Department of Anesthesiology & Perioperative Medicine at Queen’s University. In her piece, Joelle discusses the trials and tribulations associated with building a professional career and how a new employee resource group at Queen’s University has helped to ease this transition.

Building a career is challenging. But building a career by yourself, with no help? Impossible! That’s why it is important to seek out and accept support and advice from others. Unfortunately, creating and nurturing a supportive network at work isn’t always easy. We are all busy with what feels like seven thousand daily tasks and an overflowing, ever growing to do list, which makes it difficult to remember to take time to think about the big picture, and what we want out of our working lives.

Having spent 6 of the last 8 years of my life as a science graduate student, toiling away and trouble-shooting countless technical problems in the laboratory at all hours of the night, I have perfected my ability to work independently. However, the stereotype of the lone scientist who is unable to communicate with or relate to others is no longer relevant. These days, being successful in science requires the ability to learn from and collaborate with others – qualities that are just as crucial in science as they are in any other line of work.

I stepped off the traditional academic path when I accepted a job as a research associate at Queen’s University shortly after completing my PhD, and thereby became one of the already large number of women who leave science before reaching the tenure track. This decision was a painful one to make and the transition, combined with the challenges of trying to figure out how to build a career, left me feeling rather lost.

Consequently, when I heard that some women at Queen’s were interested in developing the university’s first employee resource group, aimed at young women looking to develop professionally, I jumped at the chance to be part of it. After a few short months, our group had a name (Young Women at Queen’s, or YWQ) and a mandate: to build a professional and social community of women, to share knowledge about women and work, to advocate for women, and to strategize career and professional development at Queen’s.

It has now been 8 months since the inception of YWQ, and we have already fulfilled many parts of our mandate. We have organized donations of work clothing to Dress for Success and St Vincent de Paul, we have developed a mentorship program that we are currently piloting before introducing to the broader Queen’s community, and we have invited several prominent women at Queen’s to speak to us about their professional experiences and career trajectories. We hope to soon develop a program of talks open to the entire Queen’s community given by professional women from both within and outside our university.

Until I moved into the workforce, I didn’t realize the importance of having a supportive network. I took for granted the built-in support group of peers I had in graduate school – colleagues all tackling similar challenges and striving for similar goals. My experience with YWQ has opened my eyes to the value of building and maintaining a supportive community around oneself at work. Sometimes this happens naturally, and other times, as in my case, one has to seek it out. Regardless of how it evolves, having a network certainly reduces feelings of isolation that can come about at work.

For me, the best part of YWQ is that it provides a space in which this community of ambitious, proactive, positive women who are similarly dedicated to establishing successful careers for themselves can get together to learn from each other, to talk about the challenges we encounter, and to celebrate each other’s triumphs as we navigate our professional lives.

I know that I for one feel a little less lost.