Q&A Series – Part 1
Carl Swanson finished his Masters in Public Health at the University of Saskatchewan. Upon graduation he returned to his hometown of Victoria B.C in the hopes of landing a job there – close to family and friends. However, similar to post graduates across the country, things did not materialize the way he expected. Read on to learn more about his challenges and his advice to those struggling to find their first job.
After many months of looking for jobs in your hometown, how did you bring yourself to finally land your first post-grad opportunity?
I was fortunate enough to find a contract position after I finished my MPH coursework although it happened to take me across the country to Nova Scotia instead of BC where my home is. Even so, I didn’t hesitate to jump on the opportunity knowing that gaining valuable and relevant experience in my public health field was crucial. I knew that there was no guarantee that my one year contract would be extended and that I may just be moving across the country for one year’s worth of experience. Turns out, that was the case and at the end of my contract, I packed up all my belongings and drove across Canada to return home to Victoria. I didn’t save much money after all expenses were taken into account, but I was able to pay my bills and get that crucial first year of experience that helped set me up for my next steps.
That being said, my next step didn’t materialize as quickly as I would have liked – I returned to Victoria to start looking for work closer to my better half, but ended up being on EI for around 8-9 months. I initially planned to only be off work for a few months while looking for opportunities but I learned first hand how difficult it can be looking for work in a relatively specialized field in a single city/locale. I started by looking in Victoria, and then had to expand my search to all of Vancouver Island, then included Vancouver, then all of BC, and finally nationally when opportunities weren’t presenting themselves. There seemed to be many postings that would be a fit for me but few gave me a call back. By December 2014, I had filled out hundreds of applications to various postings with little luck; then all at once I received invitations to interview for several postings, including my current position. While I waited for an answer in Victoria, I was offered another contract in Toronto that was likely to become a full time position. As the Victoria position was unable to comment on final hiring decisions after a while, and my window of opportunity for Toronto quickly fading, I made the decision to set out again to take a 10 month temporary contract in Toronto just to keep myself working. My better half wasn’t sure how she would end up liking the Toronto lifestyle, but lucky for me she was willing to take the leap with me if my position became permanent. We resolved to go another round of a long distance relationship and I packed up my admittedly meager belongings and set off out east again.
Two months in, I was settling into my new Toronto life well and learning the position and projects with work. I was decked out with a bedroom of new IKEA furniture and learned to navigate the TTC and was beginning to feel like a Torontonian. Only then did I hear back from the position in Victoria asking if I was still interested. Despite my initial excitement from having a full time opportunity back home in my specific field, I was taken aback from all the time, effort, and money I put in to set myself up in Toronto, only to be faced with the decision of getting rid of it all and flying back to the west coast!
Ultimately, I made what was the obvious choice and accepted the offer but did not relish breaking my lease to my new room mate, telling my boss and new colleagues of my departure, and selling all my furniture at a huge loss only to come home and have my friends and family joke that I was just on an extended vacation in Toronto. I got what wanted in the end – fulfilling work within public health and within my own specialty no less; but it took a lot of effort and flexibility and certainly more than enough patience and support from my partner.
I suppose the biggest message I can preach to any reader would be this: if you can find work in your field and hometown, congratulations! To those who can’t, don’t let it stop you. Your best opportunities may well be beyond your locale. Flexibility, and the willingness to jump into unknown territory can open more opportunities than you may realize.
I graduated with an MPH, focusing on infectious disease epidemiology and public health policy, from the University in Saskatchewan in 2013 with a background in cell biology & genetics from the University of Victoria.
After taking contract positions in Nova Scotia and Ontario in Communicable Disease operations and policy, I was finally able to return to my home in Victoria, BC where I work as the Regional Manager of Communicable Disease Programs for Island Health Authority.
At the time of writing this, I am helping lead the development of supervised consumption services (SCS) in Victoria in response the the Public Health Emergency announced by the BC Ministry of Health in April 2016. This includes drafting and submitting 2 applications to Health Canada for exemptions under Bill C2: Respect for Communities Act.
When not at work, I enjoy returning to my geeky routes including computers, table-top gaming, and the plethora of craft beer available in Victoria. When it isn’t raining (it is the west coast, after all) – I love being able to get on my bike and ride along the shoreline.
I’m really excited and passionate about supporting and providing insight to anyone interested in Public Health as to what the life looks like after school, what to expect, and how to maybe get there. After going through the process myself, I’m very happy to provide any insights that I may be able to give to students and grads about what our work is.