The Academic-Career Connection: Transferable Skills by Jen Davies, Manager, Career Development

When you apply to university, you are asked to choose a program of study centred around a body of knowledge that you would like to learn. Arguably, at the same time you are being asked to choose a broad set of skills that you want to develop as well, although nobody phrases it that way. Your field(s) of study will affect the kinds of transferable skills you learn through your courses, and in turn these could have an impact on your career options when your degree is finished.

In a science like biology, you tend to acquire the ability to learn large amounts of information quickly, and to follow detailed guidelines carefully. Along with the knowledge base you develop, that makes you most useful in industries like medical research, manufacturing involving anything organic, food processing, and many more, if you were to go straight into the workforce after graduation. Read more here:

In an art like history, you tend to acquire the ability to analyze large amounts of (con)textual information, and to (re)present in a variety of ways to understand the meaning behind it. With the kind of knowledge base you develop as well, this makes you most useful in industries like social research and policy development, marketing, sales, and many more, if you were to go straight into the workforce after graduation. Read more here:

I said there are few direct paths to specific careers, and that is true because there are almost always alternate routes to a career destination. Bachelor degrees are mostly foundations of your education, not the ends. You might realize that you would like work in law, but you were studying biology. That is not a problem: you can still become a lawyer or paralegal through a relevant university or college degree/diploma, and the procedure-following skills you learned in school are a fit for the field! You might have been studying history, and you realize that you would like to work in accounting: your analytical skills will still serve you and you can become an accountant through the courses offered by colleges, continuing education departments, and organizations like the Chartered Professional Accountants of Ontario (CPA Ontario). Biology grads can also become accountants, and history grads can also become legal professionals! Both could become immigration officers, or executive assistants, or financial planners!

Your program is important, but it certainly will not determine the career path you take, and you do not have to choose a specific career direction in your first year – but you should start finding out what your options could be, especially in terms of the skills you could develop while you are here. The best advice I can offer you is in two parts:

  1. Academics: Take something that you enjoy learning about and that you seem to be good at academically, because a strong GPA will open more doors if you decide you need or want further education later on.
  2. Careers: Take the opportunities that are available at UTSC, like the Extern Job Shadowing Program, In the Field industry visits, the Service Learning course, and the many paid and volunteer jobs on campus (see and to explore what kinds of work are ‘out there’ and what additional skills you might like to learn through experiences here. You might be amazed at the variety!

Would you like to learn more about the connection between academics and careers? The most interesting work I know is being done by Dr. Rob Shea’s team at the Memorial University of Newfoundland. A sample of their recent work can be found here: