Updated: Sep 28, 2022
As part of our community spotlight series you might have seen on LinkedIn and our other socials we interviewed Andrea Mendoza about her transition from graduate school at McGill to an educator and creator in the non-profit sector.
What is your current position and how did you start here?
I am currently the Programs and Operations Manager at V1 Studio. Our mission is to give every researcher in Canada a touchpoint with entrepreneurship. I started this job in January 2022, after my first experience in the nonprofit education sector. It was truly a network effect. I interned for three months at an incubator right after getting my Master's degree, and that’s where I met the person who later connected me to this job (thank you, Agnieszka!). It was the perfect fit; at the intersection of my love for research, my interest in entrepreneurship and running programs, I get to grow as a professional and learn daily. I never thought the nonprofit sector would be the stepping stone of my career, but it has been the most wonderful experience. You get to work with very passionate people in small teams, try new things every day, and develop exciting projects.
What do you like most about your job?
We’re a small team and also a young organization, so there are many things we are doing for the first time. I love bringing new things to the table and being heard. In many ways, we’re building the foundations of the organization. We get to create a lot(...and then iterate a lot) and that’s very exciting. I love helping others, and the mission is very close to my heart. During my academic career, I had my own career and academic system frustrations, so I relate very well to the audience we are reaching with our programs. It wasn’t that long ago that I sought answers myself while doing my Masters. Now I get to discuss those same issues with researchers and students that are still part of academia, and now I have different tools, perspectives, and something to offer. I love being a small piece of the puzzle in the success of our scientific founders and anyone who comes across our programming, even if they decide that entrepreneurship is not for them. We invest ourselves in following the journeys of the people we work with, whatever that may be. Lastly, I love my team, the team is everything, and we got the best team!
What are 3 skills you use on a daily basis?
Organizational skills, there is usually more than one project running at a time so staying organized and prioritizing is extremely important. Communication, of course, is key to working effectively and communicating internally with the team and with external stakeholders. And adaptability, the projects and tasks I work on vary a lot in a day, and there’s always a new challenge to overcome. Some may require close attention to detail, while others are more strategy-oriented, so you need to be able to change gears depending on what you’re doing or what’s coming up.
Name a recent achievement that makes you proud.
I guess… getting promoted =). It is amazing to feel that your work is recognized and that there’s space to grow in the organization. I will now be able to challenge myself in different ways, and I love the change of pace. It is very important for me to know that I can set new goals for myself and my professional development. That makes me very proud.
What was the best piece of advice you got in your career journey?
The best piece of advice I got in my career, I've heard it from different people at different times, but the first time I remember hearing this was from my tío Paco during a trip to the beach. In short, it is to be kind to people and nurture good relationships with those you come across in your journey. I feel that hearing those words early on has been a compass throughout my academic and professional career. For those of you feeling lost career-wise, my friend Patricia put this book in my hand and I will be forever grateful. Grab a cup of tea, pen and paper and sit down with “What Colour Is Your Parachute.” I hope it helps you as much as it helped me!
What’s something you didn’t expect from leaving academia?
For me, it was discovering that the non-profit sector was an option. That caught me off guard. When I was leaving academia, the only option was industry–but I lacked a lot of clarity of what that even meant–a job in some type of retail industry or consulting. Towards the end of my degree, I spent a lot of time exploring consulting and the startup ecosystem. But the nonprofit sector never even crossed my mind. I simply didn’t know I could do it. There’s a lot of work to be done around the options available for graduate students outside of academia. That’s why I am so excited about the work that Milieux is doing right now. I wish Milieux was around during my transition out of academia. It would’ve helped me so much!
I’ll go ahead and recommend the nonprofit sector for academics. As a first experience outside of academia, it will allow you to grow and discover who you are outside the lab and the institution. Resources are often limited in the nonprofit sector, so you’ll probably try many different things alongside passionate people. Try to find a mission you deeply care about or a role that you resonate with within the nonprofit sector and test it out. It is a great stepping stone. For me, it started with volunteering, and that’s how I ended up getting my first job out of academia, so it can be as simple as that - go volunteer!
What’s one thing that always puts a smile on your face?
I love it when we go to a conference or an event and hear from researchers and academics. Especially when we provide a workshop or an information session, and after the session, they approach us telling us that they didn’t even know entrepreneurship could be for them until that day. It goes something like this: “I never knew entrepreneurship could be for me but now, thanks to you, I know it is something I could consider and I will start exploring it” or “I didn’t know entrepreneurship was an option” or “I am going to start looking at my research differently from now on.” That just warms my heart and makes me extremely happy. It is one of my favourite-FAVOURITE-things.
I certainly relate to that feeling because I had that same breakthrough during my Master's degree at an event where I saw graduate students talking about the startups they were developing, some of which are still active today. It blew my mind! Looking back on it now, I realize that my amazement came from a place where I’d never seen those role models before. Seeing others do it makes you realize it is also possible for you. So I know we need more academics considering entrepreneurship. It is time to put that work into action and change gears after all those years of studying and experimenting!
What advice do you have for people wanting to explore careers beyond academia?
Explore, explore, explore. When in doubt, EXPLORE. Try many different things and give yourself the opportunity to explore. You’re way more prepared than you give yourself credit for. Change your internal narrative. You’re ready for that leap 1000%.