How I overcame my career anxiety: My journey with the Arts Career Design Studio

Aatisha Avasthi, a third-year Arts student majoring in psychology and minoring in English Literature, reflects on how the Arts Career Design Studio—a program for Arts students to craft a meaningful path through their degree—has helped her discover her confidence and shape her career goals.

As a student, questions like ‘What comes after graduation?’ and ‘Is my major the right fit?’ used to occupy my thoughts. To some extent, these uncertainties persist, and the answers are not always straightforward. As someone grappling with career and academic anxiety, a tool that made a big difference was the Arts Career Design Studio, a two-day intensive program for Arts undergraduates. This program enabled me to design a meaningful path through my degree, develop job searching skills, and consider life after graduation.

Exploring my options

Out of the many resources offered at UBC, the Arts Career Design Studio (CDS) has been the most important one in my career and academic journey so far. I first took the CDS in 2022 during my second year of university, with the Arts Career Strategist at the time, Carli Fink. I had stumbled into her career advising office hours curious to learn ways to maximize my chances of getting a job after graduation when she introduced me to the CDS as a way to reflect on potential career paths. Even just the idea that I could reframe my life post-UBC as a journey and not a job-hunt was enough to alleviate some of the career anxiety I felt. The first CDS I attended taught me the art of reframing and being curious to view my career journey as fluid, rather than fixed.

A few months later, I had the opportunity to retake the CDS as part of my Arts Peer Academic Coach training— an additional invaluable resource for Arts majors. During that session, we were tasked with envisioning three possible lives.  My peer pointed out my enthusiasm for curatorial work, unveiling an aspect of myself and my interests I had struggled to pinpoint. This almost radical exercise of collaborative thinking then motivated me to actively seek out and engage with local Vancouver artists by visiting more art galleries and attending music shows in the community. Throughout the CDS, we also shared recommendations on how to bring our dreams to life. My peers offered practical and accessible suggestions, such as exploring the on-campus art galleries like Hatch and Audain, getting involved with Exposure at UBC, and attending art shows within my network and community. Without the collaborative input of my peers, I wouldn’t have known how to move from idea to action.

Experimenting and connecting

A few months later, I decided to participate in the CDS again with a whole new format. This time, the event took place in Downtown Vancouver, featuring visits to potential employers, many of whom were UBC Arts grads. We met four employers, each representing a different field relevant to an Arts major like myself. I gained insight on what it would look like working in diverse roles, such as a manager at Vancouver International Film Festival or a Youth Worker at Covenant House. By meeting with professionals already established in their careers, I effectively prototyped potential career opportunities for myself. Instead of just picking out my ideal job, the CDS encouraged me to take smaller, exploratory steps first. Prototyping was a way for me to explore my big ideas in a low-stakes, low-cost way to see if they would work. Plus, being among Arts alumni who have navigated similar journeys before me offered me the chance to learn from their experiences.

Meeting Arts alumni in such diverse roles was truly eye-opening. I was excited to see the magnitude of opportunities that an Arts degree could lead to. It was especially fun to see how Arts alumni applied their various majors to different jobs and learn about the different ways that UBC had set them up for success in their positions. For instance, I had the chance to meet a Political Science alumna working in project development at KPMG. When asked about the impact of her degree on her role, she not only highlighted relevant classes but also emphasized the significance of a student-directed seminar she led during her time at UBC Arts.

The visit also reinforced the idea that my degree or major was not the only thing that was of interest to employers. They expressed interest in a diverse set of skills in potential hires. This made me reflect on how my degree was just the starting point for my career journey, reframing my major as one component within my broader skill set. I recognized that my major’s significance was somewhat minor in the eyes of employers. Most employers were less interested in what my major was; rather, they wanted to know how I could apply the knowledge from my classes and other experiences to a variety of tasks.

I also learned the importance of making friends and networking, which was not uncomfortable or formal at all. The conversations with my peers naturally flowed, and we often ended up learning something new about each other. In fact, during the last CDS I attended as a student, I not only made friends in different fields but also stumbled upon opportunities, including the chance to lead my own student-directed seminar.

Having participated in three different CDS, I also became more acquainted with Carli Fink and Julie Wachli (Faculty of Arts’ Executive Director of Work Integrated Education and Career Initiatives), who were more than just CDS instructors. They became my mentors as I shared with them my idea of designing a student-directed seminar that builds on the elements of the Career Design Studio.

Forging ahead

Last year, as a way to prototype my student directed seminar, Julie Walchli invited me to co-facilitate the November 2023 Career Design Studio. It followed the same format as the last CDS I had been involved in, and I was familiar with both the structure and some of the participants. The event turned out to be a big success, and I’m excited to once again co-facilitate the next iteration in February 2024!

As I prepare to run my second CDS alongside UBC alumni and dare I say, friends, I invite you to join me: be curious, reframe your journey, mindfully innovate your future paths, prototype, meet some radical collaborators, and, ultimately, move from feeling anxious about your future to feeling confident about your ability to design it!

Register for the next Career Design Studios by April 22, 2024:

Aatisha Avasthi Aatisha Avasthi (she/her) is a third-year Arts student, majoring in psychology and minoring in English Literature. She is currently a WorkLearn Student Assistant for the Compass: Arts Student Engagement Hub.