Social Media

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

From #PhDToGov: Iain Grant's Story

Iain Grant, Director, International Energy Policy Branch, Alberta Energy

Brief Bio

Originally from Guelph ON, I did an IR BA at Waterloo, MA in International Development at Guelph, Master of Marine Management at Dalhousie, and a PhD in the IR of Natural Gas between Russia and the EU at Dal. After an 8 year stint as Manager of Special Projects at Athabasca University, I joined Alberta Energy in February 2013. I work as a Director in the International Energy Policy Branch, the unit set up in 2012 to establish and consolidate energy relationships for Alberta outside the longstanding one with the United States. Our work now focuses on Europe and Asia, comprising advocacy work, negotiation of memoranda, mission planning, policy and market analysis, and generally developing strategy for the province for the day when pipeline access to tidewater is achieved. I am married with a wonderful four-child, two-pet circus.   

What did you hope for in terms of employment as you completed your PhD?

I deliberately chose my PhD topic to create flexibility, i.e., providing potential footholds in academia, government and industry. My path is unusual – or maybe not – in that I was working full-time for the latter 4 years of my doctoral work, so the question of employment upon completion was already addressed. The larger question was, and remains, where I could take it? This is a question we should never stop asking. That’s the beauty of a PhD – it infuses that potential for creativity into our career paths, creates options, and gives us a leg up (even in work cultures where academic credentials are viewed with skepticism). I draw on my PhD experience every single day.

What was your first post-PhD job?

Manager, Special Projects in the Office of the VP Academic, Athabasca University. Essentially Manager of International Relations.

Why did you choose an alternative-academic (alt-ac) career path?

It was an ideal melding of my academic and professional aspirations – I needed (and still do!) the international dimension, mainly because it’s been a life-long fascination; it was a cutting-edge opportunity; and it tied directly to my academic work, which allows me to come to the table with insights I’d not otherwise have had. I also needed the element of creativity which, ironically, I feel I very much have here.

What do you do now?

I lead a small team in our Branch that combines market intelligence, policy analysis and recommendation, strategy development and international liaison work. It’s a pretty regular thing to be planning a mission to China or Europe or India for the Premier, our Minister or Deputy Minister. It’s also pretty standard stuff to brief visiting ministers or ambassadors. A lot of it is the regular machinery of government – briefing notes, meetings, reports – but the content is still exciting and generally there is a lot of room for creativity and for advancing your ideas up the chain.

What’s the most challenging part about a pracademic career?

People almost assume that PhD’s will be (a) hopelessly theoretical or (b) putting on airs. You can’t do either, certainly not at Energy, which is a no-nonsense environment. If someone requests info, they need it pointed, accurate and usually SOON. So while you should always draw on the skills you acquired as a doctoral student – and you did acquire them – it’s important not to inflate the importance of your credential. If you can balance your knowledge and skills with the need to be part of a team, you’ll be fine. The respect for your credential will follow. But it might not necessarily be there at the start! Few will understand what you went through to get the PhD – it’s like being a parent or surviving an air disaster: you have to live it to understand it.  

What most surprises you about your job?

Two things. First, I’ve been surprised by the extent to which I am able to put a personal stamp on things. It’s funny when you express an idea in a briefing note and then a few days later hear it coming out of a Minister’s mouth during a speech or a press conference. If your ideas are good and the culture is conducive, you can have an impact in government, even a small one. Second, the culture is very advanced. That was a surprise. We can infer a lot about working in the Energy sector, even on the government side. Most notably, it’s a no-nonsense business that’s built on getting things done no matter how demanding the conditions. There’s some of that here, but what surprised me was how highly developed – dare I say enlightened – the professional culture is at Alberta Energy. The emphasis on work-life balance, on respect in the workplace, on teamwork, on taking a sincere interest in the development of staff and in their personal well-being is very strong. It is an exceptional place to work.

What advice or thoughts do you have for graduate students and post-doc students in transition now?

Consider government. It’s a great option. It will give you suites of skills that you can apply in any number of environments beyond those skills you’ve acquired in your doctoral work. Doing a senior academic degree is a massive achievement but it’s not the be-all end-all – it’s one dimension of knowledge, one dimension of yourself, but there are others. It can’t help but make you a more complete professional package.  

No comments:

Post a Comment