Liam Totten

Liam Totten HeadshotCan you tell us about your academic background? What were your undergraduate and graduate paths?

I did my undergraduate degree at Western in Biology, and I did the internship program after third-year. As of September 2020, I will be starting my Masters of Public Health at UofT.  

What was your career aspiration in first-year and why? 

It seemed as if everyone in first-year science wanted medicine or to go into med school, so naturally, that’s what I wanted to do too. 

Were you aware of any of the job options your degrees could lead to?

After second-year, I saw everyone in business and other majors getting professional summer experience with different banks and etc. while I was working at a summer camp. It made me wonder what I was doing. The internship allowed me to meet different people with different backgrounds and allowed me insight into all the different career paths out there. 

What challenges did you face throughout your undergraduate degree? 

I never really liked the lab work in science, which is one of the most acknowledged aspects of science. Another difficulty I faced was finding an academic reference when I was applying to jobs and my Master's program. The class sizes are very large, especially in first- and second-year, so it was difficult to approach and establish relationships with them. 

How did you overcome the challenges you faced? 

During my undergraduate degree, I took a course called Business Basics for Science Students. It took all of the Bachelors of Sciences (from biology to comp sci) and put them in a business class environment. The class was a lot smaller (around 40 students) and there were marks awarded for participation. By the end of the class, I got to know the prof and was able to ask her for an academic reference. 

What skills did you take away from your undergraduate years and internship that you find valuable today, in the work you do and in life? 

Having a basic understanding of science/general understanding goes a long way, especially in an office setting. It’s a niche background in a lot of professional settings. As a science student, our knowledge is not really something we see as an asset, we take it for granted. 

When I was working at the Ontario Ministry of Environment for my internship, I was tasked with creating a PowerPoint to summarize news events relating to our department and would perform a brief the next morning. I put the term “REDOX” in the brief but was immediately told to take it out, no one knew what it was. It made me realize the value of my science background. The people you work with are going to all come from different backgrounds and have different areas of expertise, science will differentiate you. 

What is your current occupation, what was your path to get here? 

I just finished working with the United Nations in Ukraine. I referred to this position through connections I made during my internship, they helped me pursue it. The program I was working with was Health Reform, I was a Junior Policy Consultant, a similar position I had at the Ministry of the Environment. My internship definitely helped me secure this job.

What core values do you require to find career fulfillment, do you have these within your current job? What do you value in a job to make you feel fulfilled?

I wasn’t all that passionate about the environment before, but my experiences help open my eyes. The UN was really cool, especially with their sustainability goals. It’s nice to do work that has value and will benefit the entire world.  Helping people will always be something I value now. 

If your current occupation was not the same as your career aspiration, when was the moment these aspirations changed and why? 

While completing the internship, I didn’t know it was a possibility to work halfway across the world doing health reform with my Biology degree. There is so much more you can do with your degree than what I was initially aware of. It was through experiences that I realized this. 

What advice would you give current undergraduate students/ or to your undergraduate self?

For a science student, I didn’t have a great average, and that’s pretty much just not getting a 4.0 for med school. Don’t stress so much about that, grades don’t mean everything. I would also say be patient when seeking a job or internship, a single email can change where you were only moments ago. Your life can change in seconds, and you don’t know how it will play out.