From a PHD in Genetics to a career in public Policy with Val Walker

portrait of Val Walker
Val Walker Val Walker leads the Business + Higher Education Roundtable (BHER), a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that brings together some of Canada’s largest companies and leading post-secondary institutions. As CEO, Val drives BHER’s strategic direction, member and stakeholder relations, and a high-performing team committed to creating opportunity through collaboration in Canada’s skills, talent, and innovation ecosystems.

Following Your Passion

  • Always follow your passion but don’t assume you only have one passion at 20, and that it will continue to be your passion for the rest of your life. Your passions should dictate where you go, but if other interests come up, be flexible to exploring them.
  • Find work experience before you finish school so that you know whether what you had in mind is something you actually like. A good outcome might be that you find out you hate it. You may have wanted to be a doctor your whole life, and then you volunteer and pass out at the sight of blood.
  • Be aware of this while you’re still in school. It’s better than thinking you’re going to go on to be a doctor and then realizing part way through medical school that’s not going to be your path.

Common piece of career advice that you disagree with

  • “Fake till you make it.’ Especially these days, with more emphasis around being your authentic self, or being willing to be vulnerable, that advice just doesn’t make sense.
  • It’s important to act a bit more confident than you feel on the inside, but it’s more important to be your authentic self. Don’t fake it because that means that you don’t think well of who you are. It will be good enough for the right fit.
  • Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know the answer to a question. Or that a specific task isn’t on par with your skill set. It’s easy to say, it’s really hard to do. It’s really hard to show vulnerability, especially earlier in your career.

What are the skills employers look out for in recent grads?

  • Employers are looking for human skills – social and emotional skills. Being resilient, for example. They’re looking for how well you can handle challenges and overcome them. Communication skills and critical thinking are also important. Are you a good listener or a good communicator (or both)? The two together are important.
  • In order to be a good salesperson, you need to figure out what your customer wants, what they have to spend, and how you need to empathize with them. Social and emotional skills are what employers recognize.