Sam Ayers-Glassey and Naya Goguen
Stay in school kids! Or don’t. You’re cool either way!
It was a mentor who helped convince Sam Ayers-Glassey to stay in school. During her undergraduate studies, Sam wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to do. Graduate school was not really something she had entertained. She grew up in Cape Breton with an academic in the family and always wondered as a kid why anyone would choose – on purpose – to do more school. She took five years to complete her bachelor’s degree, traveling and working and obtaining non-academic certifications (swim coaching, personal training). Toward the end of those five years though, she met someone who changed the course of her academic career.
“I had a really excellent mentor in one of my professors, and after I did a writing assignment he said ‘hey – this would be a great honours thesis!’ So that’s how it progressed – I did an honours thesis (albeit on a different topic) and realized I loved doing research, and school wasn’t so bad when it was on my own terms learning things I wanted to learn! That prof then became my supervisor for my honours thesis and the co-author on the paper that came out of my thesis. He was instrumental in me even considering doing academia past an undergrad.”
Sam has now completed a Master’s in psychology and cognitive neuroscience and is just now starting on her Ph.D. at the University of Waterloo. Her Ph.D. will be in the same field, with the same lab, and the same supervisor with whom she did her Master’s. She enjoys the research she’s doing, the group she’s with, and the atmosphere in the lab. She doesn’t regret her decision to keep going in school and is now really taking to instructing and guiding, particularly in her role as a teaching assistant in the lab, and as a mentor with the CPA’s Student Section Mentorship Program. As a mentor, Sam has been instrumental in helping her mentee Naya Goguen make the decision NOT to pursue a graduate degree – at least not yet.
Like Sam, Naya is a Maritimer. She grew up in New Brunswick. She has just embarked upon her last semester of her Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology at the University of Ottawa. This will be her last year of university – at least for now. She’s working in the pensions division of the Canada Revenue Agency while finishing her degree, and she has decided to continue working after graduation before she even starts thinking about jumping back into school for a Master’s. She credits Sam with helping her make this major life decision.
“Sam helped a lot when it comes to the debate I’ve had with myself – I don’t know what my goal is, should I just do a Master’s? A big part of me has always wanted to just continue and get the furthest level of education I could. Sam helped talk through it with me and helped me realize that I didn’t have to make a decision right away, and I didn’t have to go through the pressure of feeling like I had to do it. I originally wanted a mentor for honours thesis guidance, but she ended up helping with so much more: life decisions! ”
So many students go to university because they feel like they should. They might be really talented in a specific area of study and make that area their next step to a post-secondary education. But often, they don’t ask themselves the fundamental questions that may be the most important. Do I want to do this for the rest of my life? How long do I want to continue being a student? Do I actually enjoy working in this field, skilled though I might be?
In these circumstances, it is often a great benefit to that student to take some time to reflect and to pursue as many options as possible. This way, when they are finally able to make a firm decision about their pursuit of higher learning, or a career, or a direction in life, they will feel much more comfortable and sure of themselves in doing so. This is very much the case with Sam, who did just that before meeting her mentor and setting herself on a path to a psychology Ph.D.
“In undergrad I took some extra time off and took five years to do the degree. I did some traveling and worked both part-time and full-time. I got some non-academic certifications like swim coaching and personal training, trying to get a taste of different areas I could go into. Then my prof started to help me, and having one person say ‘hey, you would be good at ____’ or ‘you’re doing really well at ______’when I was deciding whether or not to go into grad school helped a lot. Especially because he did it without putting any pressure on me to follow the path of undergrad – honours thesis – Master’s – Ph.D. – become a professor and stay in academia. I really wanted to instill that in Naya as well, that you don’t have to just tick all those boxes.”
The pressure to tick all those boxes can be intense, and the prospect of walking away from that path can be intimidating, especially when most of those around you are encouraging you – and often expecting you – to follow that exact path. It takes an empathetic person to help someone navigate that decision, and a confident person to make it. Sam nominated Naya for Mentee of the Year in the CPA Student Section Mentorship Program in large part because she is that confident person.
“Naya was a great mentee because she was really open to the different conversations we had. If she had really wanted to go to grad school and do funding applications and so on that would have been amazing as well. But it takes a lot of guts to say, ‘I don’t know what I want to do’ and talk about that week after week and go back and forth on it. I think that’s one of the major reasons she was a great mentee, because she was really open to talking about everything, and she really embraced picking my brain.”
Picking Sam’s brain has led the two to take divergent paths. But with Naya’s knowledge of self and Sam’s big-picture perspective, we have no doubt that both those career paths will be successful and rewarding. And they’re both proof that voicing the sentiment ‘I don’t know what I want to do’ can lead to ‘I know what I don’t want to do’. And that is tremendous progress.