Queen's Gazette | Queen's University

The Magazine Of Queen's University

2019 Issue 1

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Career Q&A with Annette Bergeron, Sc'87

Career Q&A with Annette Bergeron, Sc'87

As a companion piece to "Forging her own career path", we asked Kelli-anne Johnson, Sc'16, to conduct a career Q&A with Annette Bergeron, Sc'87.

Kelli-anne studies engineering chemistry.She also works on the Engineering Society communications team and is a student ambassador for the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science. In this latter role, she represents the faculty at the annual university fair and open house events.

Kelli-anne: What advice would you give a student currently pursuing an engineering degree?

Annette: My nephew is currently pursuing an engineering degree at Queen’s and my daughter is starting hers at McGill. I would advise them, and have advised all my students, that “It gets better, and it will be worth it.” Accredited engineering degrees in Canada build on a solid technical foundation of science and math. It may not feel like engineering in your first year, but the degree really evolves over your four years to the fun engineering stuff in fourth year. Ensure that you enjoy your university experience outside of your engineering courses; it’s better for you and that’s actually what employers are looking for in terms of well-rounded applicants.

Kelli-anne: When you first graduated with an engineering degree, was it difficult to find a full-time job?

Annette: Not in the late '80s. In hindsight, I was smart to choose a small discipline; three of five of us in metallurgical engineering were hired by Dofasco. Another advantage of Queen’s is that employers then conducted on-campus interviews for summer jobs. I was blessed to be hired by Dofasco for a summer job and then asked to return full-time. I understand that since 2008 it has been more difficult to find full-time work upon graduation. Persevere but don’t worry; you have 40 working years ahead of you! 

Kelli-anne:What did you find most rewarding about working as an engineer?

Annette: I enjoyed starting my career in the steel plant. I worked with 300 ton ladles of molten steel. It is empowering to walk around the shop (like a boss) and know what everything does, like a personal laboratory but with a constant element of danger.

Kelli-anne: What would you consider to be your biggest mistake? What did you learn from this situation?

Annette: My biggest mistake would be extending my university work ethic into the workplace. In university, if you work and study hard, you will pass your courses with high marks and move on after graduation. In the workplace, keeping your head down and working hard is not the ultimate payoff. Your career also depends on your boss and mentors so you have to lift your head up and say “Hey! Look at the great engineering work I am doing over here!”

Kelli-anne: What made you decide to pursue a master's degree in business instead of a career as an engineer?

Annette: First of all, I wouldn’t use the words “instead of a career as an engineer.” To me, the degrees are complementary to each other. When I started working as an engineer, I thought I would never go back to school. But after two years of relatively nine to five, I realized I missed my engineering degree of working 12 hours a day! So I calculated that if I was going to take an evening course, I wanted to make it count towards a degree. Some of my engineering colleagues had MBAs and it is a very valuable combination. I have used my MBA to teach engineering students business at Queen’s and I also use my MBA to administer businesses. I am still very active in engineering as recent President of Professional Engineers Ontario.

Kelli-anne: What have you learned in the workplace that your education did not prepare you for?

Annette: See my answer to question four! Queen’s now excels at ensuring teamwork in its engineering curriculum but that was less the case in the mid '80s. The workplace is about people, not textbooks!

Kelli-anne:  What would you consider to be your greatest success in the workplace?

Annette: My greatest success is the success of my students. Never underestimate the reward of thanking your professors and advisors; you’ll make their day. I’m still in touch with some of my first students from 2000 and they make me proud. I also know that I have served as a role model for female engineers, if I have empowered a single woman, then I have succeeded.