I f you’re a university student, one of these thoughts has probably crossed your mind at some point. Thirty-one percent of Canadian university students reported finding “career” traumatic or very difficult to handle in the past year (National College Health Assessment, 2013). Students worry they are not doing enough, but career counsellors observe that most students have long lists of activities but haven’t always had time to reflect on those activities and connect the dots about how all these activities are the building blocks for their career path.
Recently, I’ve been a participant in It All Adds Up, an innovative career campaign that helps students take this pause. Originally launched by Queen’s University Career Services and the undergraduate student government, the Alma Mater Society, in 2014-15, It All Adds Up is an interactive campaign on campus and across social media. The campaign was so successful at Queen’s that in 2015-16, it expanded to 19 additional career centres across Ontario. At on-campus photo booths, students write down and reflect on their program of study, extra-curricular activities, hobbies and interests. Their picture is taken and posted on Instagram (using the hashtag #italladdsup) for other students to browse through and realize that they are not alone in feeling the need to always “do more.”
With over 1100 unique Instagram posts from students from across the country, the campaign has given students like me the opportunity to reflect on our contributions to our communities while engaging with like-minded peers.
As a fourth-year student, reflecting on what I have accomplished during my time at Queen’s has been important not only for reducing career stress, but also improving my self-esteem. When I was applying to graduate schools, it was easy to imagine the hundreds of other qualified and passionate applicants; however I had more self-confidence in my skills and experiences because I had taken the time to reflect on how they demonstrate my unique nature. Now, as I prepare to enter the research-intensive Master of Arts Health Promotion program at Dalhousie University, I can connect how my involvement in mental health initiatives, knowledge gained from social science courses and skills from my part time job as a communications assistant have led me to this moment in time.
That being said, students from all years can benefit from the intervention. In a first-year mentoring program I work with, called QSuccess, first-year students used It All Adds Up to think about what skills and interests led them to university and how these interests could help them find a community. Second- and third-year students reflect on what they’re currently doing and how it may impact the rest of their degree, while graduate and doctoral students may gain insights into what has influenced and complemented their research interests and the career skills they hope to gain from their program.
Although the school year is coming to an end, students’ confidence in their skills—developed inside and outside the classroom—doesn’t have to! Reflecting on your experiences is an excellent habit to develop. It can reduce your stress, help you prepare for summer job searches and opportunities after graduation and inform your future.
To explore It All Adds Up for yourself, visit www.italladdsup.ca. To post your own or to see what students across Ontario are posting, follow #italladds up on Instagram.