Class of 2001
What was your program at Bishop’s?
I completed a BA, with a major in Political Studies and a minor in Public Administration.
What would you recommend for students?
I recommend choosing a major(s) that suit(s) your interests. After I graduated, I worked in the Recruitment Office (then called the Liaison Office) at Bishop’s for five years. I used to tell prospective students that a university degree is the beginning of their adult life and career. It’s a process, a foundation and a template for what comes next. It’s not simply a means to an end and it’s okay if you change your mind along the way. In fact, Bishop’s allows for, and even encourages such exploration in and outside the classroom. This is one of the reasons why it’s such a great place to study.
Why did you choose to study at Bishop’s and why did you choose this major?
There were two primary elements I was looking for in a university. The first was the opportunity to connect: connect with students from across Canada and around the world and connect with professors. Bishop’s small size was very appealing to me. It didn’t feel overwhelming or sterile. I found it very welcoming when I first visited. The second element was the fact that it was English. As a francophone from rural Quebec who had never studied in English before, I thought Bishop’s was the perfect match.
As for selecting a major, while I always had an interest in current affairs and therefore politics (you can’t be interested in one without the other), it mostly came down to a process of elimination. I eliminated all the programs I was not or less academically interested in, which was essentially everything except Geography, History, Economics, Business and Political Studies. I was looking for a challenge and learn new things and I thought that both Geography and History would not be suitable, not because they weren’t challenging programs but because I mostly saw them as side passions even though they were my strongest subjects in High School and CEGEP. I eliminated Economics and Business largely because of math but also because I thought I could pursue the former through electives and the latter eventually through, perhaps, an MBA or a certificate (I didn’t, in the end, and that’s fine). Also, this was the 90’s and Quebec had just narrowly voted to remain within the confederation after a second referendum in 15 years. I wanted to understand why. “Why” is a question I always ask myself, in fact. That’s how it came down to one remaining option: Political Studies. I liked how broad of a field of study it was.
What were you involved with at Bishop’s?
I was a Student Ambassador from the end of my first year until I graduated. I was also involved in Frontier College for some time, I was an Orientation Leader for one year and I played multiple intramural sports.
What are the best ways to succeed at Bishop’s?
In the UK, when asked what students are studying, the answer will often start with “I am reading… Maths, History, Psychology, etc.”. This should be your primary aim at Bishop’s: read as much as possible.
The world is full of accumulated knowledge and perspectives on that knowledge. Never again in your life will you read as much on a wide variety of subjects, in depth, due to career, family and other obligations, unless you pursue additional studies, but it remains true nonetheless as soon as you enter “the real world”. You should absorb information like a sponge and analyse it with an open and critical mind, but you need to be open (and this means be open to tough, sometimes uncomfortable perspectives) before you should afford yourself the luxury of being critical. You cannot seek meaningful and enduring change if you can only get along with like-minded individuals or be unwilling to compromise. You cannot aspire to be a leader if you are not willing to lead people with different backgrounds and perspectives. Perhaps partly because of social media, it seems to me that the world is both globalising and atomizing. People seem to be more entrenched in their positions than ever before and this is very concerning. As university students, particularly as social sciences students, I think you have a duty to break this unhealthy cycle.
In a nutshell, I guess I am saying: learn, be open minded and be brave!
The second most important element for success at Bishop’s is, I think, the social aspect. There are a million ways to interact with others and Bishop’s certainly fosters these interactions very well. It is a huge benefit, not just from a networking/career perspective but also on a more personal level. Humans are social beings. Be human. BU! 😉
Finally, if you have questions, just ask! And if you need help on anything, don’t hesitate to use the services at your disposal. You pay for them through your tuition and other fees, and I pay for them through my taxes, all for your wellbeing and ultimate success, whatever “success” means to you. So, use them if you need them!
What are you doing currently (work)? What are your responsibilities, and what does a typical day look like?
I am currently a Senior Policy Officer at the Privy Council Office (PCO), in Ottawa. For those of you who may not be familiar with PCO, it’s the Prime Minister’s department. It sets the agenda for the entire federal public service. I work in the Intergovernmental Affairs Branch, where national unity and federal-provincial-territorial relations are of primary concern. I am also the Vice-President of the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne (FCFA), which is my side volunteer activity. Between the two, I can be extremely busy at times.
In a typical week at PCO I will write many briefing notes on a full range of topics impacting federal-provincial-territorial relations. This requires a thorough understanding of Canada and its various components. It also involves a lot of research, requires incredible amounts of analysis and writing, and a healthy amount of relationship-building. (Remember when I said you should read a lot and be social while at Bishop’s?)
My day can easily start early and end late at night. Weekends can be an extension of my work week more often than not. It is challenging at times but also very satisfying.
As VP of the FCFA, I attend many board meetings and events, and sometimes preside them. I help set the organization’s strategic direction. I will also occasionally conduct media interviews.
Why did you choose this career path?
Remember when I said Bishop’s is a foundation, a process and a template, not simply a means to an end? This was certainly my case. I didn’t choose a career path. I chose to pursue my interests and seize opportunities when they presented themselves. Being a Student Ambassador led to my hiring as a Liaison Officer at BU. While a Liaison Officer, I was asked to sit on the provincial committee that organized the annual university tour of CEGEPs because I was bilingual and quite adept at building relationships. I was also invited to sit on the board of a provincial education organization and asked to write an article on the internationalization of education in a university studies guide. As a Liaison Officer, I was not satisfied with limiting my knowledge to the programs and services offered at Bishop’s. I wanted to know everything about every university and CEGEP, along with the evolving context universities were operating in. This is why I was offered all these extra opportunities as a Liaison Officer.
I then went on to complete a Master’s of Public Policy at the University of Sydney (Australia), after a short stint in Alberta, where my interests led me to focus federalism, multiculturalism and reconciliation. I was also interested in how Australia had pivoted its economy towards Asia. This last element would prove to be the main reason why I was hired as Chief of Staff to the Alberta Associate Minister of International and Intergovernmental Relations years later. My close-to six years in Alberta politics was a stepping stone to Ottawa where I first worked in the Senate and later in the Official Residences Branch of the National Capital Commission (one of my files was whether or not / how to renovate 24 Sussex Drive). This mix of experiences is what led to my hiring at PCO.
So here I am, 20 years after graduating from Bishop’s, playing a small role in complex policy and politically sensitive files with national ramifications.
Like I said, I didn’t choose a career. I chose to pursue my interests and seize opportunities along the way.
Did you complete further education, if so why?
Yes, a Master’s in Public Policy, as mentioned above. I wanted greater international exposure and more clement weather, which is why I chose a large research-intensive university in Australia this time around.
Best ways to succeed when you’re finished your undergrad?
By seizing opportunities, by continuously improving your analytical and communications skills, by remaining open to opposing points of views and, of course, by never stopping to learn. If you want to work for the federal public service, English-French bilingualism should also be at the top of your mind. They are Canada’s official languages after all. Bishop’s gives you ample opportunities to learn both. Seize them!
What are you most proud of up to now? (School, work, etc.)
Tough question! I have much to be proud of, but I also certainly made mistakes a long the way. That said, I appreciate never falling into a knowledge or career silo. This was one of my life goals. I always wanted an interesting, open, fulfilling life more than just a good job. I am also proud of the adaptability and resilience I displayed throughout my career.
If you had one piece of advice for a Bishop’s student looking to pursue a career in your field, what would that be?
There is no one way to get to where you want, but there are some common overarching themes: continuous learning; a solid work ethics; great communication, interpersonal and analytical skills; adaptability; resilience; patience and knowledge. Oh… and networking! Do not neglect your networking skills!
What are you passionate about?
From a professional standpoint: official languages, politics, policy, federalism, multiculturalism, economics and education.
From a personal standpoint: family and friends, football, baseball, hiking, travelling and writing.
What are your hobbies outside of the academic and professional realm?
As above. I also occasionally write poetry. I fell into it these past few years, which is funny because I hated it in High School! I also have a guitar… looking at it won’t make me skilled at playing it, so I need to find the time and muster the patience to actually pursue it more seriously!
One last piece of advice?
You chose Bishop’s and your major(s) for a reason. Remember what motivated you to make these choices in the first place. This will be a good guide for what comes next.
Also, you can play it safe (nothing wrong with this) or you can be brave. Don’t be afraid to fail. Pursue meaningful relationships. Have fun along the way! Your career is just one component of your life. It does not define you. The choices you make and your actions do.
Finally, life is not linear and answers to professional and personal challenges are not often straightforward. The sooner you realize and accept this, the more successful you will be! Good luck!