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Public servant-in-residence guiding graduate students

By Janet Harron | Jan. 13, 2016

What sort of academic background does it take to work in the senior ranks of the Government of Canada? An MBA? An engineering degree?

Try an undergraduate degree in English followed by a PhD thesis on Canadian feminist poetry.

While not your typical start to a career in government, it certainly laid a solid foundation for Memorial alumnus Dr. Susan Drodge. As the director general of policy, advocacy and co-ordination at the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) in Newfoundland and Labrador, Dr. Drodge provides strategic intelligence to inform federal approaches to regional economic development; manages a robust agenda of research and analysis on the province’s economy; and oversees the region’s priority-setting and business planning process.

And throughout the 2015-16 academic year, she will also be sharing her valuable career experience and insight with Memorial’s graduate students. As the first-ever professional associate in the School of Graduate Studies, Dr. Drodge spends a half-day per week on campus as a public servant-in-residence. In this role, Dr. Drodge meets primarily with graduate students who are interested in career opportunities with the government of Canada.

“It’s difficult to understand your potential to fit in an organization when you’re on the outside looking in,” said Dr. Drodge, who, during her first semester, has met with graduate students across many disciplines but has focused primarily on those in the Faculty of Arts. “Having access to someone like me who can give the lay of the land helps students target where they might have a future … they are very eager to have the conversation.”

During her time at Memorial, Dr. Drodge wants to help graduate students see the multitude of career paths outside of academia where they can still conduct research, use their analytical skills and continue to learn as a professional.

With her academic credentials and a background in teaching at Memorial and at the College of the North Atlantic, Dr. Drodge knows she has a story to share.

“I never would have thought it when I was studying, but now I can clearly see how my degree prepared me for this. Every single day I engage in advanced research and analysis, strategic thinking, teamwork, consensus building―all skills and competencies that came from my academic training. There are many twists and turns to how I ended up where I am. It would have been wonderful to have someone to talk to at the beginning of my professional journey.”

She believes that many students focus on the content knowledge and expertise they gain through graduate studies opposed to the full set of abilities they develop. She hopes her work will change that.

“When students consider employment options or go to promote themselves to an employer, they might look for matching content expertise, which can get very specific and therefore employment options can seemingly decrease,” she said. “I’m helping students to recognize the skills and competencies they have developed so they can see more possibilities.”

In her role at Memorial, Dr. Drodge uses a three-tiered approach in her role to enhance knowledge of how the Government of Canada works. She visits classes, brokers relationships where appropriate and works directly with students on how they prepare and position themselves to transition into a career outside of academia.

Dr. Drodge acknowledges the next step is to work with employers so they can fully appreciate the expertise that graduate students can bring to their organizations. For now, however, she’s focused on the students.

“I tell students that my lessons learned are like hand-me-downs … maybe not of use to them right now but hopefully they will pull them out in the future to see how they fit.”

Dr. Drodge is available for consultation on Wednesday mornings until Aug. 31, 2016. She can be reached at sdrodge@mun.ca or 709-864-6774.