Stepping into the world

As winter approaches, graduation is starting to seem very real for students completing their final year. But is pessimism over the job market justified? The experience of recent graduates shows that opportunities are out there for those that look

Stepping into the world

The endless theories about the dire state of Millennials entering the job market are unavoidable. Columnists gleefully exclaim that we’re a lost generation, that we’re lazy and entitled. More gently, but not particularly hopefully, others state we were just dealt an unlucky hand and happen to be graduating at the “wrong time.”

“We all know of people who only had one career in mind, studied it with vigor, only to be burned once entering the field, realizing it wasn’t what they wanted. I planned to apply to graduate school immediately after I finished my undergraduate degree, but realized that all of the theory I learned would be meaningless if I wasn’t able to apply it in the real world.”

The fact is that Canada is currently experiencing an unemployment rate of some 14.7 per cent for youth age 15 to 24, close to double the 7.4 per cent figure for the nation as a whole according to Statistics Canada. The number could actually be a lot larger, as Canada’s unemployment statistics only account for those collecting unemployment insurance or welfare. As fourth- and fifth-year students face the looming specter of graduation only a few months away (or the more imminent deadline of grad school applications), these statistics can become a whole lot more frightening. It is clear that our expectations need to loosen and adapt to these changing conditions, as do those of our parents, many of whom still assume that a smooth school-to-work transition is guaranteed when you have a degree in hand. The truth is, the path to “adulthood” is a lot shakier.

It’s easy to judge yourself and others for not being able to land an ideal job right out of university. Panic mode often sets in during the last few months of one’s post-secondary career, and the more months that go by without school or work, the more you can start to feel like a deadbeat graduate with nothing going for you. This pressure can warp how you handle such a personal conflict. The search for worthwhile opportunities can quickly lead to confusion over whether to wait to start a profession, or work other jobs (i.e. the service industry) to make ends meet.

Edil, a 2010 U of T graduate with a double-major in Political Science and Anthropology, experienced these problems while bouncing between various short term positions after graduation. Once she finished her degree, Edil found a short-term job at as a Community Organizer with Toronto ACORN, a non-profit organization focused on tenant rights advancement.

“After a few months with ACORN, I was unemployed for about five to six months. But for all the headache and grief it caused me, I became much more introspective and thoughtful about the things that mattered most.”

After that, Edil took advantage of two more temporary opportunities ­— a research position at Canada Council for The Arts and a job as a youth worker leader with Tropicana Community Services’ Summer Jobs for Youth. Eventually, Edil received a more stable year long contract as a research coordinator with Educational Attainment West.

“Those posts took up my almost two years away from school. I am currently a graduate student. Although social science degrees are notorious for their unfocused career streaming, they do allow for graduates to try a variety of fields before they plan to commit to one,” she said. “We all know of people who only had one career in mind, studied it with vigor, only to be burned once entering the field, realizing it wasn’t what they wanted. I planned to apply to graduate school immediately after I finished my undergraduate degree, but realized that all of the theory I learned would be meaningless if I wasn’t able to apply it in the real world.”

Alternatively, many recent graduates choose to bypass the job hunt for more school. With ample working years still ahead of them, continuing studies can provide students with more time to think through their future career goals. Political science specialist, Anupa, went straight into a two year post-grad journalism program at Humber College when she graduated from U of T in 2006.

“I enjoyed the journalism program, but it was more about me not knowing what I wanted to do and turning to more school as a solution. It was kind of a kick in the ass. I was panicked; I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my degree or how to break into the industry. After I graduated from the program, I got a job doing digital marketing and a writing job on the side.”

Unable to find a 9–5 job in their preferred field of study, students either retreat into another degree or find a job that pays the bills but doesn’t necessarily utilize their skill set. Anupa worked in digital media during the day and devoted extra time outside the standard workweek to develop her writing portfolio. Though stressful, pressure like this can sometimes be beneficial, making time spent on writing or other fulfilling projects special, and motivating you to work harder on your goals.

Anupa recently started a new job as an associate producer with CBC Music, and she plans to stick with media as her line of work down the road. Anupa loved her time at U of T but isn’t so sure she would pursue a post-grad program if she could do it all over again.

“Journalism school helped me, but would I have done it again knowing what I know? Sure. But you can break into journalism without doing post-grad. It was kind of a waste of money. That’s something to consider, and it’s important for me because I’m not loaded.”

Then there are graduates who decide to look for work outside their own country. If re-claiming your parents’ furnished basement is a big no-no, spending money on a plane ride to your dream destination is an investment to seriously consider. Sahar, a 2012 U of T graduate armed with a double-major in cinema studies and political science, travelled to Jordan in September to work on her film portfolio. Sahar, who in light of her situation abroad asked that her real name not be used, met like-minded students and had great success making a short film with the use of local resources and acting talent in Amman. What was intended as a short visit until October was extended to January after Sahar found work with a film production company, assisting a team of writers with the development of TV shows and web series. Sahar also got the opportunity to act as a production assistant on sets for several small films, commercials, and educational ads for local companies. The closest Sahar ever got to this kind of hands-on experience in Toronto was her part-time position as an audio visual technician trainee at Innis Town Hall’s projection booth.

Of course, moving to a new country involves learning to adapt to a new environment rather quickly. Travelling will do that, forcing you to take responsibility for yourself and face working relations and circumstances that aren’t the norm in North America. From time to time, Sahar has dealt with less-than-positive feedback while on the job, surrounded by all of her colleagues.

“Doing this job the first time around, I definitely made mistakes and people got frustrated. But you need to keep your cool and act professional in high stress situations. Put your fears to the side and be efficient instead of dwelling and getting upset, because there will be people who treat you like shit.”

Sahar’s next steps include higher learning, most likely pursuing a master’s degree in creative writing. Sahar is glad she chose to study both political science and film at U of T as it gave her a lot to work off of.

“Being Iranian and working in Jordan, I can work through controversial political issues in a creative capacity and reach out to a wide audience in a more diplomatic manner. When you cushion political issues with a creative outlet, your reach grows dramatically.”

For others, there’s no rush to jet off towards foreign sunsets fresh off of the U of T train. With hefty loans weighing on the minds of many graduates, travelling abroad is not only a daunting prospect, it’s also not the most practical use of their limited funds. Alumna Sonal felt the same way when she graduated from U of T in 2010 (due to the nature of her future plans, Sonal asked not be identified). She spent the summer job-hunting for pretty much anything. She got an interview with a PR firm, which went beautifully, and she worked there as an intern for three months before getting a full-time placement. She’s been working the grind as a social media analyst ever since.

“When I got there, everyone was a graduate from Humber. My friends were all either unemployed, starting their master’s, or doing a shitty job they didn’t like.”

Sonal’s plans for the near future involve moving to France next spring to teach English. She’s even enlisted a tutor to help spiff up her high school level French skills before the big move, a testament to the very real opportunities available to those hoping to upgrade and continue learning later in life. Graduates shouldn’t get bogged down with the idea that they’ll be locked into one career trajectory their entire lives.

“I had a lot of wanderlust in university but I couldn’t afford to take a vacation. I knew the only way I could do that was by becoming financially independent,” Sonal said. “My ability to travel was dependent on me paying for it. In order for me to do that, I needed to adopt a sort of traditional route. PR isn’t something I thought I would do but it’s comfortable.

It’s not my dream job but it lets me travel and leave Toronto, and being a “starving artist” working at a coffee shop wouldn’t allow me to do that. Now that I’ve been in this field for the past two years, I definitely know this isn’t what I want to do. But moving to France wouldn’t be a possibility if I didn’t pay my dues and work first.”

Such a bold transition between jobs is actually quite typical of Millennials. According to a recent survey by Future Workplace, the majority of young employees expect to stay in a job for less than three years, meaning you’ll probably have amassed a wealth of experience before settling down in a profession past young adulthood. You might not land your dream job right out of school, but remember that other jobs still yield experience, adventure, and opportunities for advancement. The graduates featured above suggest that there is more than one way of doing things, and many paths that can lead to your destination.

The anti-Feist

Julie Doiron has found herself living the stuff of a good country song. Woke Myself Up, Doiron’s 7th Polaris-nominated full length on Jaguwar Records, is a 30-minute saga detailing Doiron’s domestic bliss—and angst—as a mother of three and touring musician in Sackville, New Brunswick, recorded after the disillusion of her marriage to illustrator Jon Claytor. Produced by ex-boyfriend Rick White and featuring a restored roster of Julie’s former Eric’s Trip bandmates, it is Doiron’s most vulnerable work to date, no small feat for her usual lo-fi fare.

“When I was writing these songs, I was happy to be in my home, happily married, happy not be on tour, happy to be alive. Most of these songs aren’t even about relationships, they’re about being sick of the music business. Everyone has this idea that my album is about a relationship going wrong, but it’s more about not wanting to be a touring musician, to stay in my nice house, plant things in my garden. And for years I’ve tried to make that happen, but then someone offers me a good tour and I go,”said Doiron, her voice froggy and strained by a bad cold, late Friday afternoon over the phone.

A demanding schedule placed Julie in the precarious position of touring constantly to support a family she rarely saw.

“I guess it does seem like it’s about a relationship going wrong, and maybe in a sense it was. It was my relationship to what I was doing, my marriage failed because I was touring musician, and most of my songs are pretty much about that when I think about each one…When you really think about it, I’m a mom now, I have three kids, and this is my job.”

A job that Julie has been diligently working towards since unexpectedly playing bass in Eric’s Trip, one of the first bands to be signed to Sub Pop igniting the Halifax pop explosion in the early 90’s who recently played a small reunion tour across Eastern Canada. Since slipping away to record solo work under then-insightful moniker Broken Girl, Doiron’s hushed vocals often reveal the painful, desperate moments of love and loss (occasionally in French, such as 2001’s Desormais). And when it comes to indie, Doiron is the anti-Feist—raw, effusive and shockingly real.

“The whole thing about the Polaris is that it’s supposed to be for the best album of the year. I think there’s a few artists or albums nominated that are doing just fine on their own. And while it’s good to bring attention to the other lesser-known nominees, artists who are already doing just fine internationally probably don’t need the prize.”

“It’s a unique experience to be nominated for something that seemingly garners so much attention from the press. All of a sudden CBC is playing Polaris nominees all the time, the Globe and Mail is writing profiles about me. I feel happy about it, ‘cause I never imagined when they called me that’s what they’d be calling me about. It’s more the possibility or the idea of what I’d do with the money. To be honest— I’m trying not to think about it too much,” she admits.

Julie Doiron headlines Ladyfest this Thursday, Sept. 27 at the Tranzac. Ladyfest was started in 2000 in Olympia, Washington, spearheaded by riot grrls Neko Case, Cat Power and Sleater- Kinney. Toronto’s Ladyfest runs from Thursday, September 27 to September 30, and features music performances, video screenings and live theatre. Visit for more info.

Brushing up on Austen

There wasn’t a whole lot of reading Jane Austen on the set of the romantic-comedy The Jane Austen Book Club. Just ask actress Maggie Grace, the 24-year-old actress best known for playing Shannon Rutherford in the television series Lost. She approached rehearsals for this film with the vigor and enthusiasm of a grad student.

“We had a fake book club, and we were supposed to read Emma,” recalls Grace, who went above and beyond writer/director Robin Swicord’s course requirements by not only reading her assigned book but also the rest of the daunting Austen canon.

As for the rest of the cast, Oscar-nominated actress Maria Bello (A History of Violence) sums up their literary progress bluntly. “Some of the cast members who will not be named watched the movies. Some cast read the cliff notes.” Shame on them.

The Varsity caught up with Swicord and some of the film’s stars last week during the Toronto International Film Festival. Grace, and Bello joined actors Amy Brenneman, Kathy Baker, and Jimmy Smits to discuss who read what in preparation for the shooting of The Jane Austen Book Club.

When Smits claimed to have “revisited” Emma, a book he says he read back in university, Amy Brenneman (of Judging Amy fame) was quick to pounce his dubious verb choice. “Did you actually re-read it, or did you just think about it a little?” Needless to say, Smits dodged the question.

It’s possible that this lackluster approach to primary sources could have something to do with Austen’s overall relevance in the film. Dealing with the romantic trials and tribulations of five modern-day Sacramento women, The Jane Austen Book Club presents the Regency-era novelist as merely a framework for which the problems of the group are viewed.

Absent from the film, which itself is based on Karen Joy Fowler’s novel of the same name, are Austen’s scathing critiques of the aristocratic class system and her calls for a more modern approach to everyday life. “Those are themes that recur through all of her novels,” admits Swicord. “And I didn’t go after that. It just didn’t exist in the novel that I was adapting.”

By shamelessly stripping Austen of what so many contemporary critics have prized her for, and leaving only the romantic skeletons of her works, it’s easy to see why many might consider The Jane Austen Book Club nothing more than a formulaic chick-flick, which was a label that Brenneman was not pleased to hear.

“I was in a Michael Mann movie,” Brenneman retorted, referring to her role alongside Robert DeNiro in the popular crime drama Heat. “I was in a hugely macho movie, and I did it because I thought my character was worth doing. I feel like our job as artists is to break up these stereotypes and actually depict humanity.”

Brenneman, a Harvard graduate, makes a valid point in defending her shameless choice to take on The Jane Austen Book Club and any other film that may cater to a specific gender niche. Yet it is still to be seen how this film will sit with actual Austen buffs (they do exist!).

However, one indication may be hiding in Maria Bello’s response to the question of whether she now has a new appreciation for Austen’s novels. Her answer, “Nope.”

The Jane Austen Book Club opens in Toronto on September 28.

Spotlight On: Laura Barrett

Uof T alumnus Laura Barrett plays the Tranzac, Sept. 27 for the festival’s opening concert. The Varsity caught up with her in Kensington market as she spilled the beans on calimbaplaying and robot ponies.

The Varsity: So how did you get started with the calimba?

Laura Barrett: It was just a product of coincidence… I was making electronic music at the time, searching for something portable on eBay and I bought one on a whim. There was this Weird ‘Al tribute show at the (now defunct) Bagel that I heard about and I decided to prepare a cover. The next theme was “robots” and I wrote “Robot Ponies.” It just took off from there… I finally feel like I’m starting to tap into new aspects of the instrument. Before, I was still trying to work it into this 4/4 pop convention and now everything’s like 12/8 and divided in different ways. I’m having a lot of fun with it.

V: Where do you get inspiration for songwriting?

LB: A combination of cognitive science and sociology… I’m pretty academic. I’m drawing on personal experiences more, but I’d rather look at things from the more universal way … I’ve never done confessional, therapeutic song writing, although I could try. I generally look at things around me, and either try to turn a large-scale idea into a small metaphor, or vice versa.

V: Are you excited about playing Ladyfest?

LB: I’m just happy to play on a bill that has more women on it…just in terms of numbers. I talked to Liz Piesen from Picastro and we commiserated about always being on these bills loaded with dudes. And there’s nothing wrong with it, except for the perception that it spreads. It perpetuates just this idea that they’re the only ones who can, or are sustainable. Some people even feel like girls can’t play guitars, I almost feel a little frustrated that I’m not out there playing in a thrash metal band just to prove everyone wrong. But it’s not really about pitting genres against each other. It’s just important to continually have events like Ladyfest that raise awareness.

Shadow sheds light on lunar exploration

The British documentary In the Shadow of the Moon was made for people like Sherri Shepherd. Last week, while co-hosting an episode of The View, Shepherd stated that she didn’t know whether the earth was flat or round, citing her need to “feed her child” as more important than thinking (or learning) about the nature of our world.

Shepherd, along with other lunatics like Bill Kaysing and Bart Sibrel—who both deny that man has actually walked on the moon—are the people who need to see this moving doc the most, but almost everyone can benefit from a reminder about the amazing scope and accomplishments of the Apollo program.

From December 1968 to December 1972, NASA launched nine spacecrafts on the longest voyage of human exploration ever attempted. 24 Americans journeyed the 500,000 miles from the Earth to the moon and back, and of these, 12 actually walked on the lunar surface. These 24 men are to-date the only humans to ever travel beyond Earth orbit, and the only people to see the Earth from an alien world. In the Shadow of the Moon features archival footage (brilliantly re-mastered in HD) cut together with present day interviews with nine of the Apollo astronauts, including Buzz Aldrin (LM pilot on Apollo 11 and the second man to walk on the moon), Jim Lovell (one of only three astronauts to make the voyage twice and the ill-fated commander of Apollo 13), and Harrison Schmitt (the first scientist, and last human, to set foot on the moon as LM pilot of Apollo 17).

The film chronologically covers all of the incredibly risky aspects of an Apollo moon-landing mission, from the blast off a top the mighty, three-stage Saturn V rocket, where the capsule is accelerated to speeds exceeding 30,000 km/h—bullets, by comparison, only travel 5,400 km/h—to insertion into lunar orbit, the lunar landing, walking on the moon, lunar blast off, lunar orbit rendezvous, and finally re-entry through the earth’s atmosphere where temperatures outside the craft reach a staggering 11,000˚C. Hearing interviews with people who actually endured all of this, and lived to tell about it, is nothing short of remarkable.

Shadow also gives special pause to important moments in Apollo history: the fire that killed the crew of Apollo 1 during a launch pad training exercise, Apollo 11’s history-making moon landing, Apollo 13’s close brush with death, and the premature cancellation of the Apollo program by the U.S. Congress. It also combats the sad reality that anyone under the age of 35 is not old enough to remember a manned lunar mission firsthand.

In our current stunted state of space exploration (the space shuttle and International Space Station have kept manned missions tethered to earth orbit since Apollo) and with our less-than hopeful view of major American projects (the “re-building” of Iraq), it is inspiring to revisit a time when major risks were taken with vigor, and lofty, peaceful goals were achieved in the name of all mankind.

So, just as Dan Quayle received a dump-truck full of potatoes after misspelling the word at an elementary school spelling bee in 1992, let’s hope someone sends Sherri Shepherd several copies of this film, just so she can watch Bill Anders, Frank Borman, and Jim Lovell videotape the first recorded earthrise, shot as Apollo 8 emerged from the shadow of the moon and saw, for the first time, the full splendour of our strikingly spherical planet.

Lewis: ‘the work means everything’

Stephen Lewis has come a long way from his days as a U of T student back in the 1960s. The former United Nations Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa gave a sold-out lecture, Africa: Our Responsibility in the 21st Century, at Hart House Monday night. The talk, also featuring American Jewish World Service president Ruth Messinger, was presented by presented by Hillel of Greater Toronto.

“This is an issue that has really been brought to the forefront,” said Devora Schwartz Waxman, director of social justice at HGT. As the event was Stephen Lewis’ third lecture at U of T, it marked a milestone for Hillel.

“We’re always hoping to raise the bar,” Waxman said.

Lewis spoke passionately, asking the audience how the world could allow calamities like the genocide in Darfur and the pandemic spread of HIV. The statistics are indeed frightening: as of 2005, HIV has infected some 70 million people worldwide, of whom 24.5 million are in sub-Saharan Africa. From that number, 59 per cent are women.

Lewis said that gender equality continues to be the greatest problem facing the continent, with male sexual entitlement a common mindset and spousal rape occurring in an astronomical 71 per cent of couples.

If the forecast seems grim, it does come with some small hope. With new technologies such as crop rotation and drip irrigation brought to parts of Uganda by the American Jewish World Service, said Messinger, women of that country can finally grow enough food to sustain their communities. Women formerly drove to Dakar six hours away to work, she said, “as maids if they were lucky, or as prostitutes if they were unlucky.” Messinger believed the greatest chance for success was working at a grassroots level, within communities. And Hillel student Rebecca Schwebel, who volunteered in Uganda this past summer, agreed.

“We’re not like some great white saviour swooping in,” she said. “We’re helping them help themselves.”

The problems ravaging the continent are indeed great, and will take time to eradicate. Corruption and poor governing, as well as a lack of international funding, have contributed to the proliferation of the disease in the last 25 years.

In his closing, Stephen Lewis implored students join the fight against HIV/AIDS, through both volunteer work and donations. Though it’s a difficult fight, said Lewis, “It’s a fight worth making.”

Ulrich Schnauss keeps it dark

Ulrich Schnauss could very well be a vampire. While speaking to The Varsity by telephone last week the German electro-shoegazer artist had this to say about touring: “I find it difficult to adjust to this much daylight. When I’m at home I switch into a night rhythm where I sleep during the day and work during the night.” It sounds possible, no? “Why do you like the night so much?” I ask, looking for more evidence.

“It’s much nicer to work when its quiet and there are no distractions. I just generally really like nighttime, I find the atmosphere very nice, and very inspiring.”

While Schnauss may prefer the isolation of his London home studio to life on the road, his oneman live show has been turning a lot of heads in both the ambient-electro and shoegazer sets.

“I’d rather focus on studio work than playing too many gigs. But it’s not like I’m suffering out here, at the end of the day I do manage to have a good time,” says the well-spoken 30 year-old in his charming, German-inflected British accent.

In fact his accent is actually a pretty good indication of his musical style, which is inspired in equal parts by gothic German synths and British shoegazer ambience.

Interestingly, Schnauss, who was born in the northern port city of Kiel, describes his introduction to the shoegazer genre as a direct product of the Second World War.

“When I grew up in the late 80s, early 90s there were British and American troops here in Germany and they had their own radio station, and some of the shoegazing stuff made it into the top 40. That’s how I first got the opportunity to listen to that kind of music.”

Shoegazer, a short-lived guitar-driven rock movement in the UK during the late 80s and early 90s, essentially filled the gap between the chart dominance of Baggy and Brit-Pop. Despite its inability to cross into the North American mainstream, Shoegazer managed to find a small niche of young, dedicated fans, many of whom— like Schnauss—are now in bands of their own and leading a resurgence of the genre.

Schnauss’s newest record, Goodbye, which he says is the third part of “an accidental trilogy,” is packed with nocturnal soundscapes, ghostly vocal-lines, subdued beats, and strong songs and structure. At times, some of his dirtier synth patches bring to mind a hybrid of later Radiohead and the Cocteau Twins, or Hot Chip and My Bloody Valentine.

While a number of musicians are credited as performing on Goodbye, Schnauss’s live show is a one-man affair. In an effort to keep his performances fresh, he’s done some re-tooling since his last tour, trading backing tracks for loops.

“I was a bit unhappy with the way I was playing live previously. I was basically just playing backing tracks from the computer and keyboard on top. In the last couple of months I’ve put a lot of work into developing a new live setup where I spilt up all the songs from the album into small loops that I can improvise with, so the good thing is that this time its a bit more live and spontaneous than last time, which hopefully is going to create some interesting results.”

Ulrich Schnauss plays an intimate gig at the Rivoli on Wednesday, Sept. 26 with Madrid and Millimetrik. Cover is $15.

Where’s Kate?

Missing: one candidate for MPP Trinity-Spadina.

That was the sign the Liberal Party might as well have been running Monday afternoon when their candidate in Trinity-Spadina, Kate Holloway, failed to make it out to an all candidates debate arranged by the Canadian Studies department.

Around 100 students, three candidates, and one embarrassed-looking prof waited around for 20 minutes before starting the debate sans Holloway. Professor Todd Gordon, who hosted the debate in his class, said he had made arrangements with Holloway’s offi ce weeks ago. When Holloway didn’t show, Gordon tried calling her office—where no one seemed to know where she was.

According to a representative from her campaign office, the problem was that Holloway’s Google Calendar lost several of the events she had agreed to attend. The offi ce tried to recreate the calendar based on old emails from Holloway’s Gmail account and from her website, but to no avail.

While Dan King, Tyler Currie, and Rosario Marchese tossed barbs at one another and responded to students’ questions, Holloway was apparently out canvassing and gracing other events—presumably ones she made after her calendar crashed.

As of press time, the Liberal riding association had not answered The Varsity’s request for comment.