GoAbroad Interview

Heather Riddoch - Canada Student Advisor

Heather Riddoch - Canada Student Advisor

Heather completed her bachelor’s degree in health science at the University of Ottawa in 2012. Unable to find suitable master’s options in Canada in her areas of interest, Heather contacted Across the Pond. With the help of her advisor, Leah, Heather identified the perfect program, a masters degree in the history of medicine at Oxford Brookes University. Following completion of her master’s, Heather began working for Across the Pond as a recruitment assistant before transitioning into her current role.

Cycling through Oxfordshire, England

Cycling to Blenheim Palace through the Oxfordshire countryside

What is your background in international education and how did you get connected to Across the Pond?

I completed my undergraduate degree in health science at the University of Ottawa in 2012 and despite some research into various options, I hadn’t been able to find a postgraduate program in Ontario that really suited my interests. I decided to take a year off from school so that I could take my time finding a program that was perfect for me. I was interested in further studies in the history of medicine but was finding it difficult to find master’s programmes in Canada that would cater to this specialized area of interest.

Through further research online, I stumbled upon Across the Pond’s website and the promise of more specialized (or niche) master’s available in the UK. I signed up with an advisor and the rest is history. I applied through Across the Pond and completed my master’s in history of medicine at Oxford Brookes University in Oxford, UK. My Across the Poind advisor, Leah, got in touch with me as I was finishing up my degree to let me know of job openings at Across the Pond, and it seemed like a great way to follow-up my time overseas and re-acclimate to living in Canada. I worked as a part-time recruitment assistant and administration assistant before I became a full-time student advisor.

What does your day-to-day schedule look like as Canada Student Advisor?

Personally, I like to start my days early. Since we all work from home, advisors are more or less free to set their own work schedule. My preference is to get started early in the morning so that I can get through the bulk of my emails before any scheduled meetings for that day. Across the Pond’s advisors are located all over North America and the UK, so our meetings often need to accommodate various time zones. For me, this means I will often be in meetings for an hour or two each afternoon. By mid-afternoon I am usually ready to take care of any remaining emails that need to be sent and to follow-up with phone calls to any students who have requested a phone chat.

What is the most challenging part of advising Canadian students?

One of the most challenging parts of advising Canadian students is the numerous different grading scales that are used by Canadian universities. While all American universities is a standard 4.0-scale for calculating a student’s Grade Point Average (GPA), at times it seems like every university we deal with in Canada has their own scale (ranging from 4.33 to 9.0 to 10.0 to 12!). Understandably, this can create a point of confusion for both Canadian students and UK universities during the application process.

So while these grading scales make Canadian applications a bit more challenging, I think this is one of the great advantages that students have in applying through Across the Pond versus on their own. Our Canadian advisors are familiar with the variety of grading scales so we are able to not only help students understand how they measure up to the entry requirements listed by a British university, we are also able to serve as a point-of-contact or liaison for British admissions teams to help them understand Canadian applicants’ qualifications.

Hiking in Snowdonia National Park, Wales

Climbing to the Peak of Mount Snowdon in Snowdonia National Park, Wales

What advice would you give a Canadian student headed abroad for the first time?

It is quite common for Canadian students to have previously visited the UK or even to have British parents or relatives still living in the UK. I, myself, have spent summers in the UK regularly since I was a child. Therefore, it can be easy to forget the excitement and nerves that some Canadians may have when embarking on their first trip abroad. However, we do our best to develop pre-departure guidelines, webinars, and packing lists to help alleviate some of the stress that all students may feel before setting off to begin their studies overseas. I think if we are able to support students with the more practical aspects of their preparations, then we will be able to free them up to just enjoy the excitement of going abroad for the first time.

What makes England such an incredible location for an international learning experience?

The United Kingdom has been an international hub for academia since the University of Oxford was founded. Beyond the realm of education, The United Kingdom is also a major international centre for law, scientific research, business development, media and communication, and international relations and development. With a far greater number of universities in the UK than there are across Canada, many Canadians find they are better able to find courses that really match their specific interests and career goals. Furthermore, employers are increasingly conscious of the role that international experience plays in both personal and career development.

What is a frequently asked question you receive from Canadian students, and what is your response?

In Canada, our market is primarily made up of students interested in pursuing their law degree in the UK. British universities offer a great opportunity for future lawyers, as students are able to apply directly from high school and essentially fast-track their education and career path. Furthermore, students who have previously completed an undergraduate degree in Canada are also able to fast-track their law studies by pursuing a graduate-entry law degree in the UK.

Since these options can seem too good to be true compared to the alternative of applying to the highly competitive law schools in Canada, I often have students asking what the “catch”is. Most often, their questions are focused on whether a British law degree is actually recognized by employers back in Canada and what steps they would need to take in order to have their degree “accredited”.

As advisors, we are very familiar with these questions and how to dispel students’ concerns by explaining, in detail, the well-trodden path that students will need to take when they return home following their degree.

Oxford Brookes University graduation ceremony

Receiving the Detlef Muhlburger Memorial Prize at my Oxford Brookes University graduation

What makes Across the Pond unique?

I think what makes Across the Pond unique in our market is the way we approach our students. Because we are not a fee-for-service provider, we are truly invested in the best interests of both the universities and the students. We work hard to maintain a strong working relationship with our university partners so that we can provide accurate information and personal insight into various aspects of study at each school.

To the same extent, we try to get to know our students as well as possible so that we can have a clear understanding of their career aims and educational background. By building strong relationships on both sides we are able to act as a type of match-maker service and assist students in identifying and applying to universities that are best suited to their study needs.

This also helps to ensure that once our students arrive on campus they will have a positive experience during the course of their studies and become a great asset and ambassador for the university.

You’ve been with Across the Pond for almost a year, what has been your greatest achievement in the last year?

I would say my greatest achievement in the last year is the transition I made from a recruitment assistant to an administrative assistant to a full-time student advisor. By starting out with part-time recruiting and administrative roles, I was introduced slowly to the company and was able to familiarize myself with some of the inner workings before taking on any students myself.

However, even with my background with the company, the transition to an advisor was a steep learning curve. Of course, beyond internal training, we have a close network of advisors who all work closely together, so I always had many people I could turn to with questions or for support. To that end, I think my biggest accomplishment would be when I reached the stage where I began confidently answering student enquiries on my own.

Punting under the Magdalen Bridge in Oxford, England

Punting under Magdalen Bridge in Oxford

What are your goals for 2015?

Since I transitioned into an advisor role mid-cycle, I have yet to complete a full year of student advising. During a standard recruitment cycle, we have a few key dates and periods, such as the fall fair and travel season and an important January undergraduate application deadline, so my goal for the upcoming academic year is to progress through these key periods in the recruitment cycle in a positive way, and therefore to have experience of the full cycle under my belt.

Furthermore, with all of the new experiences coming my way, I want to ensure that I am still maintaining a healhy work-life balance. I have always been an active and athletic person so it is important to me that I still find time to play hockey, ride, and keep active.

What makes your position rewarding?

For me, the most rewarding part of my role as a student advisor is being able to help students in finding the “perfect” program for them to be applying to. Many of our students come to us with very specific and niche subject interests that they haven’t been able to find suitable study options for in Canada. The UK has a lot of these hidden gem-type programs and I take great pride in assisting students in their search for that elusive “perfect” program.