Julie Bélanger is taking her psychology degree to international heights

Julie Bélanger

Combining her research skills with a passion for education, alumna Julie Bélanger is working to improve the frameworks of educational systems on an international level.

Bélanger received her MA and PhD in Developmental Psychology from UBC in 2006. After graduating, Bélanger continued her pursuit in the area of research. She worked as an analyst at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and as a senior researcher at the Canadian Council on Learning. These experiences sparked her interest in educational issues and ultimately led her to become a research leader at RAND Europe.

RAND is a non-profit research organization focused on enhancing communities worldwide by designing solutions to public policy challenges. Bélanger’s current work with RAND Europe focuses on the fields of education and social policy. In this role, she provides leadership for research projects ranging from early childhood education and care to higher education.

In 2017, Bélanger developed a commentary piece “Why a Lack of STEM Teachers Could Jeopardise the Canada 2067 Vision” that parallels the challenges found in England’s STEM teaching workforce with Canada’s STEM education approaches. This commentary was featured in Canada 2067, a national initiative to shape the future of STEM in the student education system.

In this Q&A, Bélanger shares and reflects on her journey from studying psychology to working for an international research organization.

WHERE AND WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT POSITION?

I lead multiple research projects in the education, children and families policy domains internationally. I engage with senior policy makers in many countries and collaborate with academics and researchers world-wide. I write analytic reports for expert and non-expert audiences. I represent my organization through external speeches and conference presentations, external publications and opinion pieces and respond to media requests.

IS YOUR CURRENT CAREER PATH AS YOU ORIGINALLY INTENDED?

Not at all! I never thought my career would have brought me to work at an international organization in Paris (OECD), followed by a not-for-profit research organization in London, UK (RAND). I have travelled to 30+ countries thanks to my career and have developed an impressive professional network, which I very much enjoy.

HOW DOES THIS JOB RELATE TO YOUR GRADUATE DEGREE?

In my work, I rely on a number of skills I have developed as part of my graduate degree: research design, statistic analyses of research data, writing skills, project management, team leadership, mentoring of young researchers, presentation skills.

WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO PURSUE GRADUATE WORK AT UBC?

A good match between my research interest and the faculty at UBC and a strong desire to live in Vancouver were my main motivations, though the good reputation of the university was also a reason.

WHAT DID YOU ENJOY THE MOST ABOUT YOUR TIME AS A GRADUATE STUDENT AT UBC?

The ability to teach undergraduate classes, the good relationships with the other graduate students, the swimming facilities.

WHAT ARE KEY THINGS YOU DID THAT CONTRIBUTED TO YOUR SUCCESS?

Keeping an open mind, being flexible, understand the importance of networking and of leveraging current contacts.

WHAT IS YOUR BEST PIECE OF ADVICE FOR CURRENT GRADUATE STUDENTS PREPARING FOR THEIR FUTURE CAREERS?

Keep an open mind because you never know where your career will bring you, don’t close any doors too early. Take advantage of the students who are ahead of you by a few years – keep in touch with them to learn from their experience.

WHAT CHALLENGES DID YOU FACE IN YOUR GRADUATE DEGREE, OR IN LAUNCHING YOUR CAREER?

Work visas – these are bureaucratically challenging and take time. When planning to work abroad, it is important to consider the limitations these bring. I also would have tried to engage more with policy while in academia.

WHAT DO YOU LIKE AND WHAT DO YOU FIND CHALLENGING ABOUT YOUR CURRENT POSITION?

The pace of the work is much faster than in academia – I am involved in several projects at any one time with very strict and tight timelines. There is less time for contemplating research questions, reading academic literature, etc.

Learn more about Julie Bélanger’s work at Rand Corporation or get in touch with Julie on LinkedIn.