Friday, March 6, 2009

SLA-TSG Event Report: Recent Grads Panel (March 5)

On Thursday, The Special Libraries Association Toronto Student Group, jointly with the Toronto Association of Law Libraries (TALL) student representative, presented a panel of four recent Master of Information Studies graduates. We had (in order of appearance):

Mari Beth Slade: a research analyst with Deloitte, who graduated two years ago from Dalhousie University.

Amy Dietrich: a librarian at Blake, Cassels and Graydon LLP, who also graduated two years ago from Dalhousie.

Jenn Reid: yet another Dalhousie grad from two years ago, now working as a librarian for Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt.

And Erin Murphy: our sole FI graduate, now employed as a trainer at XPI Inc., a vendor of business information services.

Panelists had all been asked to describe the actual processes by which they were able to land their jobs after graduating. Remarkably, not one of them had struggled to find a position.

Mari Beth had worked a string of contract positions for various banks and investment firms before even graduating, and was able to transition smoothly into Deloitte on the strength of her existing experience when school ended.

Amy Dietrich started at Blake's as a Summer student and was invited to stay.

Erin Murphy found her job through a personal network and had been hired before even leaving FI.

Jenn Reid, meanwhile, said she'd taken a month to travel after graduating from Dal, then found her job in Toronto by searching relentlessly on job boards and sending out copies of a resume she'd polished with the help of a representative from the SLA.

Each panelist also talked about some of the graduate courses that had proven particularly useful to them. Mari Beth was unequivocal in her answer: "Research courses were the most important." The other panel members tended to agree. Jenn and Erin also stressed the importance of information literacy classes. Amy said that one of the most important things she'd learned in grad school was "how to structure a reference interview." Everyone agreed that grad school is only a beginning, and that a significant amount of training needs to occur on-the-job.

For me, things got especially interesting when the panel began to speak about the role of information technology in their working lives. Erin works for a technology vendor, so it went without saying that her job was essentially consumed with IT. She called XPI "the closest thing to a paperless office I've ever seen," and stressed the importance of being able to troubleshoot tech problems while giving presentations to clients.

Jenn said she'd set up a wiki at Osler. It was originally her personal repository for job-related knowledge, but she said it eventually became a valuable training tool for the entire firm. She also had an unusual suggestion for students in need of training with expensive vendor products: Jenn said that in the past she's been able to wrangle trial accounts with major commercial databases for her private use, just by telling companies that she was a librarian and that she was interested in "poking around." Very crafty.

Mari Beth said that information technology was a "big enabler" in her work, which includes updating databases of business and securities information.

Amy acknowledged that legal librarianship is still carried out partially on paper, despite the existence of sophisticated online search products. Lexis/Nexis and Quicklaw were the two products she mentioned by name, but she implied that there were many others in use at her firm.

There was a thirty-minute Q and A after the speaking portion of the panel, with good questions all around. I'd put the turnout at about twenty, including myself, the two SLA-TSG co-chairs, and Eve, the TALL student rep.

We extend our thanks to all the panelists; to the FI Student Tech Fund for help with catering and gifts for the panel; to all the students who showed up; and even to those who nabbed food and left!

Please note that we'll be having another panel on March 19th. This one will be composed of information professionals in alternative careers (meaning they have iSchool-esque training, but work in non-library settings). We know it's going to be taking place from 4:30 to 5:45, and we know it's being held in a room somewhere in the Bissel Building, but we don't have a precise room number at this time. Watch your inbox for details (if you're an FI student, that is).