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Michelle Chan on Graduating Into a Pandemic

Michelle Picture e1605646193711

By Perrin Grauer

Posted on April 01, 2021 | Updated April 08, 2021, 12:48PM

The designer and 2020 ECU alum reflects on job hunting during a roller-coaster year, and on the value of staying focused even in despair.

Designer and recent ECU grad Michelle Chan (BDes 2020) appeared in a recent Frontier magazine article exploring her experience of graduating and searching for work during the pandemic.

In conversation with Frontier media director Brian Sholis, the Interaction Design alum recounts a scattershot ending to her final year at ECU — a period where anxiety resolved partly into something resembling serendipity.

“I wouldn’t have gotten the jobs that I’ve had this past year without the pandemic,” Michelle says. “I know that Nexxt Intelligence, with whom I worked last fall, wasn’t planning to hire anyone outside of Toronto. ‘But that’s become a non-issue,’ they said when they offered me a role.”

Michelle also says she kept her portfolio tight and focused — a bit of a gamble that ended up paying off.

“I have always been drawn to real issues, to research, to focusing on children and healthcare as subjects,” she says. “I know [the portfolio] I put together isn’t super diverse; I could have taken another direction. But it worked in that people see me as an ‘expert’ in this one area, that I’ve investigated the space thoroughly.”

Like many 2020 grads, Michelle says she wondered whether she’d be able to find a job at all in an uncertain, pandemic-era job market. She’d studied professional development, and felt like she understood how to pursue work. But the pandemic destabilized every expectation. She even admits to moments of pessimism, if not despair.

“Up until August last year, no one contacted me,” she says. “Right out of university, I thought, I’m screwed.”

But even in doubt, Michelle kept pushing herself to apply for work. She kept applying even when it felt like “tossing a bottle into the sea.” And her perseverance paid off.

Since completing a stint with Nexxt Intelligence, she's landed a job with the BC government. She hopes the role will become more permanent, so she can take on a broader range of public-service work.

“My mom was skeptical, and we were all worried about how I would fit into my industry, especially during these difficult times,” she says. “I’m happy — and relieved — that I defied that stereotype, and so did a lot of my colleagues. We’re young, we’re people of colour, and we graduated together into a pandemic. It’s certainly a surprising turn of events.”

You can read Michelle’s excellent article now, online, at frontier.is.