Immigration Diaries — getting with the masters program

I’m encouraged by the response to my previous post about some of the challenges I faced when I moved from Nigeria to Canada. Hoping to follow up with some thoughts from my experience getting a masters. I still regularly get emails/messages from young professionals in Nigeria inquiring about the different post-graduate programs in Canada. This post may help you ask/answer the right questions as you consider what academic programs to take and how to position yourself once you get into one.

While I was working on my move, I was so consumed with the process of applying for admission, getting a visa, plus full time work and I didn’t take enough time to visualize what I wanted to experience on the other side. A lot of my outcome required that I had to quickly apply myself to what was presented to me . While I’m glad it all worked out (thank God!) I could have prepared better for my move. Is it ever too early to prepare for an experience that significantly changes your life? As cli·ché as it may sound, I encourage you to take some time to visualize what kind of experience you want once you get on that flight (or flights as the case maybe).

Let me provide a little bit of my background for context. Immediately after my undergrad, I wanted to get a masters degree in the same field as my undergrad — Computer Engineering. Thankfully, I decided to hold off for some years and get some work experience before going back to school. Post-NYSC, I worked with an investment management firm where I was exposed to quite a lot at a junior level (one of the gains of having your first work experience in a startup). As a technology analyst, I observed the firm’s use of technology as a competitive edge in a tough financial sector. Working with the team on some of the innovative software projects piqued my interest in technology innovation. So, when it was time to look into my masters pursuit again, I knew I didn’t want to be a dedicated techie. I set out instead to understand the business and management of technology solutions. I’m glad I found the Technology Innovation Management program at Carleton University. I had a good time doing this program and enjoyed the projects I worked on (More details on my experience with the program was featured here ).

First, it’s important to appraise your career journey and interests. I remember meeting with the program director early on in the course of my program. I told him my professional background and what I was interested in doing with what I had. This conversation, in my opinion, opened the door to a number of interesting projects I got to work with the department on.

Coming from a developing country, there is the temptation to underestimate the value of your work experience and education (and you will if you listen to the wrong people). I have come to realize how valuable my first work experience still is and learned to confidently tell my story. If you have worked for a few years in a demanding environment like Nigeria, more likely than not, it has prepared you to be an A-student/worker, once you apply yourself. You have peculiar experiences and interesting perspectives to offer in any new environment. So, prepare yourself with answers to the following questions.

  • What is your professional background?
  • What are you interested in? What problems are you passionate enough about solving, based on what you have experienced?
  • What are your current skills?

I think answers to these questions will not only help you decide what program to choose, but will also help you position yourself once you get in. Especially when you get comfortable enough to share this given any and every opportunity.

The second thought I’d like to share and I hope is the major takeaway from this is — appreciate and plug into the ecosystem surrounding the academic program. This is one of the things rarely identified and leveraged by non-residents. However, for an immigrant, I think it is valuable to find out what the ecosystem surrounding your program of interest looks like. By ecosystem, I am referring to the affiliated organizations, projects and initiatives the program consistently engages — locally and globally.

For the TIM program, I consider the ecosystem to be a major value element. It’s engagement with organizations such as Lead To Win (entrepreneurial development for technology startups), Venus Cybersecurity, a number of Open source projects, etc provide avenues for students to participate in some form of economic development. I got involved in some of these and I’m thankful it gave me a foot in the door (which sometimes is all you need to prove your skill set). If you are looking to integrate into a new community as a student, the first place to look may be the different programs affiliated with your academic. These are low hanging fruits for you for a number of reasons. First, you already have an introduction (as a student) and they have some stake in your success (your success is their success).By participating in a number of these projects (paid or unpaid), you leverage the opportunity to find the specific gaps you have for the new environment and to develop yourself to close these. It’s 2017, most academic programs know that building and sustaining an ecosystem is a major key.

If you are still searching for a program, you might want to make this one of your considerations. If you have already found one, figuring this out will help you prepare to plug into it. Some people focus so much on the academic aspect of the program and leave this out. In some cases, they find that it becomes tougher to get an introduction into the professional world as a new immigrant if you have not already plugged in as a student.

Weaving both thoughts together- appraising your professional background, current skills and interests gives you a head-start on fitting into the program’s ecosystem. When your experience, interest and skills meet a network of organizations and problems you can participate in solving, a lot of good can be realized.

I hope you it works out well for you, as you consider your options :)

Cheers.

NYSC — National Youth Service Corp — a compulsory one-year youth service program for all Nigerians upon completion of their education in a tertiary institution.

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