Man about town
Josh Smee moved to St. John’s from Kitchener, Ontario in 2010 and fell in love with the city. He immediately immersed himself into the community, working with organizations such as Happy City St. John’s and the St. John’s Farmers’ Market Cooperative. Mr. Smee recently completed a master of arts in political science at Memorial, using his research skills to work on a community project with limited resources. Today, he continues to be a champion for the city, working as a Program Associate at the Community Sector Council NL, to strengthen and promote other non-profit organizations in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Why did you choose Memorial for your graduate degree?
I came to St. John’s several years before starting my degree (following my partner, who was coming here to do her master’s in music). We built a life here and I got deeply involved in the community, including finding a great job.
I wanted to do a master’s at some point, but I waited until I had a project coming out of one of the community organizations I work with – Happy City St. John’s. We did not have the resources, but it would make a great MA project. After shopping the idea around at Memorial, I found lots of enthusiasm from faculty, and I was off to the races.
Tell me a bit about your experience as a graduate student at Memorial.
In some ways, I wasn’t a typical grad student. I’m a couple of years older, came out of the workforce, and didn’t move to St. John’s for school. I’d be ducking into campus from a work meeting, then hightailing it out to sit and write papers on my laptop at Middle Cove Beach! This meant that I didn’t spend a ton of time on campus – but when I was there, I had a great cohort of fellow students in the department; we became fast friends and remain that way. It was also nice to get such a great vibe from faculty and staff in my department; they’re always good for a laugh or a rant.
What were some of your accomplishments during your graduate degree?
I was awarded a Canada Graduate Scholarship at Memorial to pay my way through, which was exciting. I also won Memorial University’s Three Minute Thesis Competition (3MT), placed third in the Eastern Regional 3MT competition and was one of SSHRC’s Top 25 “Storytellers,” which got me to Ottawa to do another 3-minute talk on my research topic.
While doing my degree I was still working part-time and volunteering with a number of community organizations. I’m particularly proud of my work as Chair at the St. John’s Farmers’ Market Cooperative. During my time as a graduate student, we finalized five years of work to build a permanent market for the city – not far from Memorial, in fact.
What are you doing now after having graduated with your master’s degree?
I’m working as a Program Associate at the Community Sector Council NL, a non-profit organization that works to strengthen the other non-profits in Newfoundland and Labrador. My job is a program management role, but from day to day that can mean a lot of different things – sometimes I’m out delivering workshops, sometimes I’m writing reports, sometimes I’m facilitating conversations.
Did you get a job directly after graduating?
I had been working at the Community Sector Council before starting my masters, and actually stayed on part-time while I did my degree. Once the MA was done, I came back on full time and moved into a bigger role.
How did your graduate program help prepare you for your current job?
The two overlap a lot, actually. In my professional life, I do a ton of research and survey-building, which is exactly what I did at Memorial, my graduate work definitely helped with that. More generally, writing a thesis is a lot like managing a big project at work. In my case, I think my professional experience made the thesis easier, but it definitely goes both ways!
How did Memorial help to get you where you are today?
I had a lot of one-on-one support from faculty and staff on the various competitions and scholarship applications that I always seemed to be doing. When you’re pitching for big things, you do really feel like you have a lot of people behind you. As I get more involved in community leadership here in St. John’s, those experiences have definitely played a big role.
Do you have any advice for current and/or future grad students?
Lots! But I’ll narrow it down to two things:
1. You need to drive the bus. You’ll get a ton of support when you want to do something interesting, but it’s up to you to figure out what that interesting thing might be, and to make sure that all the pieces come together for you. If you can find a project that you can take on that will make an impact out in the community, all the better – it’ll be more fun for the people you work with and more engaging for you.
2. Let yourself fall in love with St. John’s. It has a lot going for it. Don’t lock yourself up with your books all the time. If staying out late for shows is your thing, you’ll have plenty of chances. If getting up early for hikes is, same goes. If doing both is your thing you can join the many bleary-eyed hikers you see on a Sunday morning!
3. Memorial University is a great place to pursue graduate studies. It has a unique commitment to social and economic development in the province, which means for students, that there are some really great opportunities to get involved in. There are lots of chances to do work that makes a difference. There are lots of opportunities for building relationships with your colleagues, both students and faculty, and there are lots of staff who will go above and beyond for you if you're pursuing something interesting. It doesn't hurt that St. John's is an incredible place to live - a vibrant culture, incredible scenery, fantastic food, the works.
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