School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Jennifer Massey, Graduate Alumni Mentor

December, 2015
By Georgia Carley

Alumnist - Jennie Massey

Jennie Massey, Alumni Mentor

Graduate students “often have difficulty contemplating how their training and skills might prepare them for careers in and out of academia.” So says the call for Graduate Alumni Mentors, a new initiative that is part of the Queen’s 175 celebrations.

One Queen’s Alumni Mentor who saw clearly how her doctoral training and skills would contribute to her career development is Jennifer Massey, now Director of Student Life at Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Massey chose to begin a PhD in Geography precisely because it would lead to professional development and career advancement in her chosen field: educational administration. Massey is passionate about co-curricular engagement and inequalities in access and retention in higher education. She saw that she could develop nuanced lenses to bring to student experiences in an administrative capacity through doctoral research within the Department of Geography. She completed her PhD while holding full time administrative positions, first at Queen’s and then Baylor University, and raising two young children.

As Director of Student Life at Memorial, Massey has a broad portfolio that incorporates many of the university’s programs to help students navigate their degrees and enhance their experience. In this role, she puts into practice skills and knowledge that she acquired during her graduate studies.

One important skill is her ability to ask good questions. Massey conducted a number of interviews for her project’s qualitative analysis. As she progressed, she found that the quality of her interviews and especially of her follow up questions improved. This experience in turn has helped her to be a good facilitator. Working across multiple constituencies at Memorial, Massey must bring out the information necessary to solve the various major and minor crises that beset students, one of her major jobs at the university. Her doctoral research has also helped her anticipate crises and create new programs to address potential crises facing university students.

Today, Massey regularly blogs for, a website that provides practical advice to help students succeed in grad school.

In conversation with Massey about her time at Queen’s and her employment trajectory post-PhD, four tips for graduate students emerged.

A) Sit on Committees

Massey was a student representative on the General Research Ethics Board while at Queen’s. She calls this her “most impactful piece of professional development.”

Sitting on committees, Massey says, allows students to learn what great leadership looks like. Stepping out of a meeting, one can reflect critically on how the meeting was facilitated – Why did the meeting run long? Why was consensus easy to build? Being able to observe and critically reflect on committee meetings allows students to cultivate their own leadership styles.

B) Have Multiple Mentors

Massey relied on a number of mentors during her time at Queen’s. Her experience is that graduate students need multiple mentors to speak to different parts of their lives.

Massey calls her supervisor, Dr. Anne Godlewska, “exceptional.” Godlewska offered “deep mentoring,” combining academic and personal concern and awareness in their meetings. She also encouraged Massey to find practical applications for her work, and to work towards a goal.

But a single supervisor, no matter how exceptional, should not be a graduate student’s sole mentor. Massey speaks of the important mentoring she received from Dr. Joan Stevenson, then chair of Queen’s’ General Research Ethics Board. She met Stevenson when acting as Student Representative on that board – another important reason for joining committees!

Massey also turned to Dr. Yolande Chan of Queen’s School of Business. Massey saw that Chan was a woman who “wore the multiple hats” that Massey herself wanted to wear – administrative, parental, and academic. Massey reached out to Chan; they had many “honest conversations” about professional and personal trajectories. Having a good relationship with her peers in the department was also key, as they encouraged each other in their work and created a sense of community.

C) Take Time for Yourself

This is one of the hardest parts of graduate studies. Massey emphasizes that this is something she had to learn to do, and that it takes discipline.

“I think of personal balance as a muscle,” she says. “It’s a piece of self-discipline, that we have to work on a daily basis.”

Personal health and wellness are incredibly important, but too often graduate students head straight into exhaustion or burnout. Students have to learn that they can’t do everything. Prioritizing commitments and compromising according to importance are key to keeping time available for personal wellness. Massey calls this “flexible working,” allowing yourself to be flexible about what you can and can’t get done.

Learning to recognize when you need a break – and then taking that break – is fundamental. And against the instincts of graduate student stress, taking the time to be rested and to eat well will lead to greater productivity than continuing on without a break.

D) Write Early, Write Often

In her work, Massey regularly has to construct persuasive and multifaceted arguments in writing – a skill she perfected during her PhD. Learning how to construct and write arguments takes practice, and Massey believes there is no better practice than doing!

Massey recalls that she used to wait until she had four clear days before she could write anything. Of course, as a full-time administrator, mother and student, she never had four days clear! It was only when she realized that she would not have this time that she began to write in 15-20 minute moments. By writing for 15-20 minutes every day, Massey developed momentum. Writing little and often was more effective than awaiting the magical four days of writing. In this way Massey finished her thesis and built up the writing skills that serve her today.

Follow Jennifer Massey on Twitter @jennie_massey

Learn more about Jennifer Massey’s career path on LinkedIn