Career Alternatives Offered by the GMCA

More and more graduate students are realizing the broad career possibilities presented by an advanced degree. Academia offers one rewarding path, but innumerable options are available to those willing to explore non-academic careers, whether in the non-profit or private sector.

Just ask the Graduate Management Consulting Association — a graduate student-governed professional society that creates resources and hosts events via its seven chapters across Canada. The GMCA introduces grad students and postdoctoral fellows to the world of management consulting, supporting their transition from an academic environment to the world of business.

On May 3 and May 5, the U of T chapter of the GMCA held its 6th Annual Conference at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy. Sessions ranged from “Working with Clients” to “Exit Options.” With support from the School of Graduate Studies’ Innovation Fund in Graduate Professional Development, the conference also presented the panel “Women in Consulting,” which invited six women at various stages of their careers to discuss gender disparity in today’s workforce. Following the conference, 12 teams of graduate students, MD/JD candidates, and post-doctoral fellows from universities nationwide battled it out during a week-long business case competition. This gruelling week culminated in a day of presentations before a panel of judges from top consulting firms. A team of MSc candidates from McMaster and the University of Queensland snagged the top prize; second place went to a team of PhDs, an MSc and an MBA student from U of T.

Consulting: “An unconventional and rewarding career path”

PhD candidate Wenjun Xu, in the final stages of her degree from the Institute of Medical Science, managed to secure a consulting job in less than 10 months by taking advantage of GMCA training and networking opportunities. During the process of learning about management consulting, she was continually surprised by how easily she could transfer her academic skills to a completely new context. “It’s really like you are a Principal Investigator — you take a question, break it down into digestible pieces and try to solve it in a smart and implementable way. You may also have to write proposals to sell your work, like grant writing, and work with teams of highly motivated and intellectual individuals with various backgrounds, similar to working in multidisciplinary research teams.”

GMCA Director of Communications Labeeba Nusrat, an MSc candidate in Rehabilitation Sciences and the Collaborative Program in Neuroscience, couldn’t agree more. Management consulting is “an unconventional, yet rewarding career path for those in the sciences who love problem-solving,” she says. “It allows you to solve problems without having to know a lot about those fields, because the foundation of solving problems is beyond the topic itself.”

The GMCA Conference explored how the intellectual toolkit shared by graduate students in all disciplines can be uniquely suited to a consulting role. Early in the Conference, the “Road To Consulting” session presented a panel of PhDs, postdoctoral fellows, and MD candidates who are in the early stages of a consulting career or are making the transition from academia to consulting. Panellist Nick Hobson, who recently defended his dissertation in Social Psychology and Neuroscience, is currently putting his transferable skills to the test. Thanks to “careful planning” and active involvement in the GMCA, he was recently hired in KPMG’s People and Change Management Consulting practice. “When I began the transition, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to apply my PhD skillset and knowledge,” he says, “but I’m hopeful that my expertise will be value added to the team.” Nick acknowledges that moving from academia may seem “frightening,” but it can be made a lot easier through good time management. “I soon figured out a system where I would divvy up my time on a per weekly basis,” he explains. “Some days were dedicated to the job prospect work; the remainder of the week was dedicated to completing my PhD.”

L to R: Wen Xu, Labeeba Nusrat, and Nick Hobson

L to R: Wen Xu, Labeeba Nusrat, and Nick Hobson

The final session of the GMCA Conference, “Exit Options,” confirmed the value of advanced degrees not only to the world of consulting management, but also to a wide range of rewarding careers in finance, technology, and science. Panellist Matthew Killi, who holds a PhD in Theoretical Physics from U of T, used his consulting experience as a stepping stone to a new career in the emerging field of AI; Wendy Dobson-Belaire, who holds both a PhD in Molecular Genetics from U of T and an MBA from Western University, transitioned from a consulting career to become Forecasting Lead at GlaxoSmithKline. And Mouneesh Sinha, whose background is in business and technology, repositioned his consulting skills to become the Director of Strategy at Scotiabank. All panellists saw their academic training and consulting experience as being invaluable to their current success. “What matters,” Sinha argued, “is your ability to ask questions and to enjoy the process of finding solutions.”


Want to start exploring your options?

For more information about the GMCA and its professional development resources, visit the GMCA website. Some GMCA workshops, including the miniMBA, are offered through the School of Graduate Studies’ Graduate Professional Skills Program (GPS).

Graduate units and faculties across U of T run workshops and programs that explore non-academic alternatives. For instance, the Pathways program administered by the Faculty of Arts & Science provides students with knowledge and skills needed to succeed in both non-academic and academic careers.

Visiting a campus career centre can also get you thinking about alternative career paths:


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