| August 9, 2019

Angela Rooke, Manager of Graduate and Postdoctoral Experience, University of Waterloo

Angela Rooke, Manager of Graduate and Postdoctoral Experience, University of Waterloo

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A photo of Angela Rooke

Angela Rooke received her PhD in History from York University; her dissertation focused on the religious lives of Protestant children in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Ontario. She is currently the Manager of Graduate and Postdoctoral Experience in Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs at the University of Waterloo.


Q: What factors led you to enroll in the PhD program in history in the first place?

I did my Master’s degree at York, and the program was strong in Canadian history and gender history. I was probably only a few months into the MA program when I had to decide whether I was going to continue, and I was enjoying my research and could see how I could expand it into a PhD project. I was also able to continue working with my supervisor; I had a really strong relationship with her.

Q: Did you have the opportunity to teach much during your program?

I TAed every year for history courses on gender and childhood. In my final year of teaching, I was able to take on a course directorship for a social history course.

I also enrolled in the teaching certificate program offered by the Centre for Teaching. I didn’t finish the certificate, but I did take many workshops about pedagogy and best practices in the classroom, and those complemented my experience leading tutorials. And then, of course, I learned quite a bit from the course instructors I TAed for; I was lucky to work for a brilliant and effective teacher.

Q: What kind of financial support did you receive in the program?

There was a minimum guaranteed funding package, and I also received entrance scholarships, OGS and then SSHRC. There were also other opportunities for conference travel and some other funds through my union (CUPE).

Having this mix of funding was crucial; when you’re doing a full-time PhD, doing a bunch of outside work just makes the dissertation take longer. And in an expensive city like Toronto—which has become even more expensive—I wouldn’t have been able to live without this financial support.

The conference funding was also important; Conferences allowed me to expand my network, get my research out there, and be inspired by academics at other institutions across Canada and the USA.

Q: What kinds of mentorship did you receive in the program?

The training was pretty informal; in your coursework, you get feedback, but that kind of support primarily comes from your supervisor. I was able to start writing quite early on in the PhD partly because of my PhD was sort of an extension of my Master’s, and so I already knew what I wanted to write and I already had research to draw on. The feedback on drafts of each chapter of my dissertation were really beneficial. I also had informal mentoring through the professor I TAed for; we would casually chat about how my research was going, even though she wasn’t on my committee.

There was certainly support and advice when it came to academic careers, especially because I was the last student of my supervisor: I witnessed all her supervisees going through the process of applying to postdocs and jobs, and I could read their application materials. So I received lots of informal training and mentorship on the academic career side.

I also sat on the hiring committee for a tenure-track position, which was a crash course in understanding the academic job market. Ultimately, I chose not to pursue an academic career, but I did feel relatively prepared to do so had that been what I decided to do. 

As far as career advice and training for non-academic careers, at the time, there was virtually nothing to support people looking off the academic track. One of my mentors was really supportive of the idea, but didn’t have personal experience off the academic path, so she couldn’t offer concrete support.

Q: It sounds like you experienced a lot of mentorship!

Yes, I feel like I had a lot of mentors, because of the close-knit group of my supervisor’s supervisees. We would have dinner get-togethers, reading groups, and sessions where we would review each other’s drafts.

It was about mid-PhD when I realized that I didn’t want a faculty career. I was in the depths of the writing, day in and day out by myself, and I was pretty miserable – I realized I was a people person; one of my favourite things about grad school was engaging with people, and sharing and debating ideas. But those opportunities became increasingly infrequent once coursework was done and my supervisor’s other students graduated and moved away. So, I began to wonder why I was pursuing a path that was really solitary. 

Another colleague realized this about the same time, and we started asking: why isn’t anyone talking about this? How can we support students interested in other careers? We started to advocate for change: we did a survey of students in the department to gauge their feelings about their career prospects, wrote a report and shared it with the department, and ended up presenting our findings and recommendations at a faculty retreat.

This experience ended up being one of the most important things that I did during my PhD; it translated into something I could put on my resumé and led to my first position. Equally important, it highlighted to me that I cared deeply about things other than historical research; I cared deeply about improving the culture of academia and the graduate school experience.

I didn’t think at the time that I would end up working in this field, but I eventually realized that if I’m spending my free time advocating for this, perhaps I should pay more attention to why this kind of work appealed to me.

Q: Other than your supervisor’s group, did you feel a strong sense of community? Do you still?

Several people went from the Master’s to the PhD, so we were quite tight-knit. In general, everyone knew everyone, and there was a strong sense of community. Some of those people are still my best friends, and I feel close to others, even if I don’t see them regularly. As people move all over the world, we rely on social media more, but I still feel like I have a strong sense of what’s going on. And I still stay in touch with my supervisor, even though she’s retired and moved to the other side of the world.

Q: How long did it take you to complete the degree? Do you feel that it was the right amount of time?

It took about 7 years. I was past my funding, so in that regard it was not ideal. However, that was in part due to the nature of the archival research I was doing—at the time, the archives wouldn’t allow me to take photographs, so I had to transcribe pages and pages of documents or pay a dollar per page to photocopy the documents, which was very expensive on a grad student budget. I spent way too much time transcribing.

At the same time, I was also doing many other things that were really important to me, so I don’t regret the length of time it took me. I think that the worst thing that students can do is hunker down and focus so much on their research and their teaching that they don’t get other experiences or invest in their professional development. Ultimately, the other things that took up time—learning how to teach, working on side projects (from which I learned a lot!), volunteering with the student society—gave me invaluable skills and experiences that led to where I am now.

Q: And where are you now? What is your current job title?

I started applying for jobs before I finished my PhD. I knew I wanted to work at a university, and I was very particular about the kinds of positions I applied for. I always thought that I would work with undergraduate students, because I thought that that my teaching experience was my most marketable experience. I had a couple of interviews, but didn’t land anything until I got an interview at Waterloo for what was then a part-time permanent position advocating for graduate student professional development in the Career Centre.  My advocacy work for professional development—it was exactly what they wanted, and I had been doing it for free as a grad student!

By the time I defended, the graduate studies office wanted to hire me part-time for the remainder of the week, so after my defense, I was working full time split into two different positions. Slowly but surely, after a year and many discussions with the Career Centre and Graduate Studies, my position moved entirely to Graduate Studies, the title was changed, and postdoctoral affairs was added to the portfolio.

I’m currently the Manager of Graduate and Postdoctoral Experience, which is an expansion of my previous job title, which was Manager of Professional Skills and Postdoctoral Affairs in Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs. I  focus on many of the same things, but my portfolios have expanded. So, rather than focusing exclusively on graduate students’ professional development, I look at the wider graduate student experience. What kinds of research development or  professional development do students need? What can we do to better support them, their mental health, their relationship with their supervisors—all of those really important things that make or break the graduate student and postdoc experience.

Q: Do you feel like your doctoral work contributes to your current position?

Not the topic, but the skills I gained as a history PhD are crucial for everything I do. We are fast learners and effective at finding information quickly.  We learn to think critically, which is important, but we can also position ourselves in relation to a document and read it from a different angle. How do you put yourself in someone else’s shoes? It makes you a natural marketer and communicator, because you can think about your audience and the context in a different way.

Q: Is there any advice that you’d give yourself, before you started the program?

Sometimes grad school can be really competitive, but try to find people who can support you and understand what you’re doing. It’s crucial, and I’m lucky that I found that.

For me, going into my Master’s and my PhD, I was the first person in my family who pursued graduate studies, so I didn’t have mentors to tell me much about the experience. Reach out to people who’ve done it, or to people within the department; even if you don’t meet your potential supervisor in person, they can help you navigate elements of grad school like applying for scholarships.

For professional development, focus on making yourself competitive for the job market—whatever job market you are thinking of. That can mean volunteering for a soup kitchen to expand your experiences and network outside of your university, going to workshops, finding a side project or something to advocate for, being involved in the union—all of these kinds of activities are crucial, not just for alternative or non-academic careers, but also for academic careers. Regardless of the career path you’re pursuing, the hiring committee is looking for people who are collegial and engaged, so demonstrate that you’re involved, active, and committed to a wider community.


Many thanks to Angela for sharing her PhD narrative! You can find out more about her on LinkedIn.

A photo of Angela Rooke

Angela Rooke received her PhD in History from York University; her dissertation focused on the religious lives of Protestant children in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Ontario. She is currently the Manager of Graduate and Postdoctoral Experience in Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs at the University of Waterloo.


Q: What factors led you to enroll in the PhD program in history in the first place?

I did my Master’s degree at York, and the program was strong in Canadian history and gender history. I was probably only a few months into the MA program when I had to decide whether I was going to continue, and I was enjoying my research and could see how I could expand it into a PhD project. I was also able to continue working with my supervisor; I had a really strong relationship with her.

Q: Did you have the opportunity to teach much during your program?

I TAed every year for history courses on gender and childhood. In my final year of teaching, I was able to take on a course directorship for a social history course.

I also enrolled in the teaching certificate program offered by the Centre for Teaching. I didn’t finish the certificate, but I did take many workshops about pedagogy and best practices in the classroom, and those complemented my experience leading tutorials. And then, of course, I learned quite a bit from the course instructors I TAed for; I was lucky to work for a brilliant and effective teacher.

Q: What kind of financial support did you receive in the program?

There was a minimum guaranteed funding package, and I also received entrance scholarships, OGS and then SSHRC. There were also other opportunities for conference travel and some other funds through my union (CUPE).

Having this mix of funding was crucial; when you’re doing a full-time PhD, doing a bunch of outside work just makes the dissertation take longer. And in an expensive city like Toronto—which has become even more expensive—I wouldn’t have been able to live without this financial support.

The conference funding was also important; Conferences allowed me to expand my network, get my research out there, and be inspired by academics at other institutions across Canada and the USA.

Q: What kinds of mentorship did you receive in the program?

The training was pretty informal; in your coursework, you get feedback, but that kind of support primarily comes from your supervisor. I was able to start writing quite early on in the PhD partly because of my PhD was sort of an extension of my Master’s, and so I already knew what I wanted to write and I already had research to draw on. The feedback on drafts of each chapter of my dissertation were really beneficial. I also had informal mentoring through the professor I TAed for; we would casually chat about how my research was going, even though she wasn’t on my committee.

There was certainly support and advice when it came to academic careers, especially because I was the last student of my supervisor: I witnessed all her supervisees going through the process of applying to postdocs and jobs, and I could read their application materials. So I received lots of informal training and mentorship on the academic career side.

I also sat on the hiring committee for a tenure-track position, which was a crash course in understanding the academic job market. Ultimately, I chose not to pursue an academic career, but I did feel relatively prepared to do so had that been what I decided to do. 

As far as career advice and training for non-academic careers, at the time, there was virtually nothing to support people looking off the academic track. One of my mentors was really supportive of the idea, but didn’t have personal experience off the academic path, so she couldn’t offer concrete support.

Q: It sounds like you experienced a lot of mentorship!

Yes, I feel like I had a lot of mentors, because of the close-knit group of my supervisor’s supervisees. We would have dinner get-togethers, reading groups, and sessions where we would review each other’s drafts.

It was about mid-PhD when I realized that I didn’t want a faculty career. I was in the depths of the writing, day in and day out by myself, and I was pretty miserable – I realized I was a people person; one of my favourite things about grad school was engaging with people, and sharing and debating ideas. But those opportunities became increasingly infrequent once coursework was done and my supervisor’s other students graduated and moved away. So, I began to wonder why I was pursuing a path that was really solitary. 

Another colleague realized this about the same time, and we started asking: why isn’t anyone talking about this? How can we support students interested in other careers? We started to advocate for change: we did a survey of students in the department to gauge their feelings about their career prospects, wrote a report and shared it with the department, and ended up presenting our findings and recommendations at a faculty retreat.

This experience ended up being one of the most important things that I did during my PhD; it translated into something I could put on my resumé and led to my first position. Equally important, it highlighted to me that I cared deeply about things other than historical research; I cared deeply about improving the culture of academia and the graduate school experience.

I didn’t think at the time that I would end up working in this field, but I eventually realized that if I’m spending my free time advocating for this, perhaps I should pay more attention to why this kind of work appealed to me.

Q: Other than your supervisor’s group, did you feel a strong sense of community? Do you still?

Several people went from the Master’s to the PhD, so we were quite tight-knit. In general, everyone knew everyone, and there was a strong sense of community. Some of those people are still my best friends, and I feel close to others, even if I don’t see them regularly. As people move all over the world, we rely on social media more, but I still feel like I have a strong sense of what’s going on. And I still stay in touch with my supervisor, even though she’s retired and moved to the other side of the world.

Q: How long did it take you to complete the degree? Do you feel that it was the right amount of time?

It took about 7 years. I was past my funding, so in that regard it was not ideal. However, that was in part due to the nature of the archival research I was doing—at the time, the archives wouldn’t allow me to take photographs, so I had to transcribe pages and pages of documents or pay a dollar per page to photocopy the documents, which was very expensive on a grad student budget. I spent way too much time transcribing.

At the same time, I was also doing many other things that were really important to me, so I don’t regret the length of time it took me. I think that the worst thing that students can do is hunker down and focus so much on their research and their teaching that they don’t get other experiences or invest in their professional development. Ultimately, the other things that took up time—learning how to teach, working on side projects (from which I learned a lot!), volunteering with the student society—gave me invaluable skills and experiences that led to where I am now.

Q: And where are you now? What is your current job title?

I started applying for jobs before I finished my PhD. I knew I wanted to work at a university, and I was very particular about the kinds of positions I applied for. I always thought that I would work with undergraduate students, because I thought that that my teaching experience was my most marketable experience. I had a couple of interviews, but didn’t land anything until I got an interview at Waterloo for what was then a part-time permanent position advocating for graduate student professional development in the Career Centre.  My advocacy work for professional development—it was exactly what they wanted, and I had been doing it for free as a grad student!

By the time I defended, the graduate studies office wanted to hire me part-time for the remainder of the week, so after my defense, I was working full time split into two different positions. Slowly but surely, after a year and many discussions with the Career Centre and Graduate Studies, my position moved entirely to Graduate Studies, the title was changed, and postdoctoral affairs was added to the portfolio.

I’m currently the Manager of Graduate and Postdoctoral Experience, which is an expansion of my previous job title, which was Manager of Professional Skills and Postdoctoral Affairs in Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs. I  focus on many of the same things, but my portfolios have expanded. So, rather than focusing exclusively on graduate students’ professional development, I look at the wider graduate student experience. What kinds of research development or  professional development do students need? What can we do to better support them, their mental health, their relationship with their supervisors—all of those really important things that make or break the graduate student and postdoc experience.

Q: Do you feel like your doctoral work contributes to your current position?

Not the topic, but the skills I gained as a history PhD are crucial for everything I do. We are fast learners and effective at finding information quickly.  We learn to think critically, which is important, but we can also position ourselves in relation to a document and read it from a different angle. How do you put yourself in someone else’s shoes? It makes you a natural marketer and communicator, because you can think about your audience and the context in a different way.

Q: Is there any advice that you’d give yourself, before you started the program?

Sometimes grad school can be really competitive, but try to find people who can support you and understand what you’re doing. It’s crucial, and I’m lucky that I found that.

For me, going into my Master’s and my PhD, I was the first person in my family who pursued graduate studies, so I didn’t have mentors to tell me much about the experience. Reach out to people who’ve done it, or to people within the department; even if you don’t meet your potential supervisor in person, they can help you navigate elements of grad school like applying for scholarships.

For professional development, focus on making yourself competitive for the job market—whatever job market you are thinking of. That can mean volunteering for a soup kitchen to expand your experiences and network outside of your university, going to workshops, finding a side project or something to advocate for, being involved in the union—all of these kinds of activities are crucial, not just for alternative or non-academic careers, but also for academic careers. Regardless of the career path you’re pursuing, the hiring committee is looking for people who are collegial and engaged, so demonstrate that you’re involved, active, and committed to a wider community.


Many thanks to Angela for sharing her PhD narrative! You can find out more about her on LinkedIn.

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