Asian Studies Spotlight: Danielle Barkley

Interested in what you can do with a degree in Asian Studies? In this issue’s Spotlight Interview Series, we have gone slightly rogue and interviewed Danielle Barkley, Graduate Career Educator with UBC’s Centre for Student Involvement & Careers (CSIC). Danielle holds a PhD from the Department of English at McGill University, has taught writing, rhetoric, and critical analysis, and currently works with current and new graduate students to advise on “life after graduation” if they are looking for guidance after completing their thesis.

You’ve come from an academic background yourself – how do you feel this background assists you in your current role?

Like many people who undertake graduate study, it’s not so much the subject matter or thesis topic, as it’s the competencies, research skills and view of the world that I found has particularly assisted me. You learn how to ask the questions that will bring a conversation forward (or deeper), and of course you greatly hone your writing skills; handy when many roles, including my current one, have a lot of information constantly coming in and going out! And so while that information might not necessarily be specifically related to 19th-century British novels (my PhD topic), being able to quickly decipher an email to find important information, or to write something and feel confident it will be clear and coherent to readers, is obviously very beneficial.

Throughout my PhD, I was also a teaching assistant, and so taught a number of courses, which helped me to feel confident being in front of a room, answering questions and thinking on my feet, which again, all comes in handy for many roles!

What was one of the biggest obstacles you faced when deciding your career path and how did you overcome it?

Yes, I think it’s really important that we talk about challenges as well as successes. One obstacle was trying to understand what it would be like to have a career path that was “different” to what I had initially expected, and exactly what that career path was going to be. When I was pursuing graduate study, I was very interested in a faculty career path, and understood the steps that needed to be taken to move towards that; however, it was less clear to me what the steps toward an alternate career path would look like.

I questioned, when I started to explore other career paths, how I could best bring the skills and knowledge I had gained through my study into other types of work. I’m so grateful for the opportunities that have come my way, through this role, and the variety of things I get to learn: I get to work with scientists and engineers now! Which I likely would not have done if I’d remained in faculty study. But the transition definitely wasn’t easy and takes time, so there was a short period after I graduated in which I was doing a lot of different types of work. That actually gave me a good chance to interact with lots of different students and figure out where I wanted to work, but it can also get exhausting, wondering exactly when it will “end”…I like to have a sense of control, so factors such as when and where I would get a job, were not under my control, and so I didn’t find that easy.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought a lot of confusion and stress into everyone’s lives. How do you like to stress relief?

It’s not original, but, going outside definitely helps me! I live in Vancouver’s West End, just off of Stanley Park and the seawall, so even while being very close to home, I’ve been able to get outside and see some of that natural beauty. Also, as someone who has friends and family in different parts of Canada and the world, in some ways it’s been a bit easier to connect with them across different time zones. Some friends and I have gone back to the old-fashioned method of sending cards and letters in the mail! Of course I would also say taking it one day at a time, and focusing on the areas where you can make decisions, greatly helps.

What’s the most common questions or scenarios that UBC grad students have come to you with? What have you advised?

I feel like it’s usually one of two categories: either “I’ve decided I want *this* job, so how do I get there / I think I could do this job, but I’m not the textbook candidate and am not sure if I have the required skills” or, “How do I figure out what’s out there, and out what I’m going to like, or what might be a good fit?” Which I think is all very normal and part of the transition period from study to work. Many of the factors in the way that work is set up are not the same as the way that the academic experience is set up, so it can be hard to map one on to the other. I tend to advise students to understand that their academic discipline may not necessarily be what leads them to a job, but that their skills gained will likely do so. In particular, I also encourage them to think about the types of problems that they may want to solve in job, which can help lead them toward what jobs or areas could be a good fit.

Do you find that women tend to feel less confident about applying for a job than men, after graduate study?

I’ve heard this statistic when applied to the workforce, but I haven’t seen this specifically in the grad student population, because I think on the whole they tend to under-apply! Often academic jobs will be quite niche (in terms of the PhD area or topic you may need in order to apply), but as a population, grad students can tend to screen themselves out too early, or not feel confident articulating their skills, which is where I also come in.

Do you have advice for graduate students who are unsure of their career path after their graduate program? What do you think are the important factors to consider when career planning for graduate students, particularly in today’s environment?

Just try *something*! Even if you don’t know if it’s the perfect first step or job: if there is something you feel curious about, is there one event you can attend (even virtually right now), or one person you can talk to who is working in that industry? In exploring that, you’ve at least felt a sense of agency around it, and may discover if it’s something you want to know more about. So I think starting with something that has caught your attention is a good way to begin.

Tied up in that, I think relationship building and talking to people is a must: you can only get so far by reading. Probably the best thing you can do is find someone who works/has worked in that area, and send them an email to ask if they might have ten minutes to talk to you about their background. I think relationship building and personal connections always play a part in career building and transition. I also think this helps you to get an idea of if that’s the type of job you want to do – would I feel happy? Would I feel well supported?

Is there anything particular coming up at UBC for the end of Term 1/beginning of Term 2, that you feel could be useful to draw our grad students’ attention to?

December is often slightly quieter in terms of events, as people are wrapping up the term, but one-to-one advising through the Centre for Student Involvement and Careers is available all throughout December, and then starting in Term 2, there are plenty of workshops each week on different topics. If you’d like to connect with an advisor over Zoom, you can. We also have the Pathways to Success workshops for grad students, which is such a rich opportunity you have access to. For anyone who might be coming up to graduating soon, the Your Next Step series is presented in collaboration with Alumni UBC and another great initiative to check out.

Thank you for your time, Danielle! Danielle can also be contacted anytime by email at