“Experiential learning will push you to be the person you’ve always dreamed of”

A head-and-shoulders shot of a young southeast Asian woman smiling

The fall term has just begun, but school isn’t the only thing on students’ minds. They’re also thinking about jobs — and what the world of work will look like as the global COVID-19 pandemic continues. Here, Humanities grad and Global Health master’s student Shania Bhopa reflects on how a placement with The Socrates Project allowed her to learn important lessons outside the classroom.

As an undergraduate student I was commonly faced with the question, “What are you going to do after your degree?” Being from the humanities I faced the stereotypes associated with studying the arts. Many people often assume the arts aren’t going to be as career-enhancing as the sciences or other, more technical disciplines.

When I began my position as a communications assistant and the third addition to the team for The Socrates Project at McMaster, I quickly realized that life is interdisciplinary – and that we are nothing without the arts. I began to appreciate and value experiential learning.

We often treat work experience as something simply to add to our resume, but in fact, we learn more from doing than anything else. Experiential learning allowed me to foster my creativity and learn from my colleagues that you can achieve anything with an ounce of belief. Because there were only three of us, I learned strength and determination and how to be courageous in my role.

Taking part in a work placement can help you find your interests as well as develop positive qualities that will assist you in and out of the workplace. Whether it’s a three-month or six-month placement, or a one-year contract like mine, there are immense benefits to your learning experience.

For example, without my experience with The Socrates Project I never would have developed the confidence and ambition to start three of my own projects during the COVID-19 quarantine.

Since the pandemic began, I’ve started my own non-profit organization, The Canadian Courage Project, which has helped homeless youth in the GTA. I’ve started writing a wellness book in collaboration with my mother and sister, and have launched a social media presence to support it. Finally, I’ve created a webinar to help students with financial limitations find external graduate funding. These experiences allowed me to create relationships, push my limits and truly test myself as an individual during an unprecedented time in our lives.

All three of these endeavours were risky – I’m spending time and energy, and opening myself up to failure, all to set myself up for the life I want to live.

But while failure is often one of the worst things we can imagine, being uncomfortable and taking risks will allow you to find happiness.

I urge you, whether you’re a student or a graduate, to step outside of your comfort zone and see the light at the end of the tunnel.

To attend Shania’s webinar on securing graduate funding on September 15 at 7 pm, register at Eventbrite.

Want more information on work placements, or help finding a job? Check out the Student Success Centre’s online Career Fair (Sept. 16 and 17) and their job search tips and strategies.