Alice Cassidy, Ph.D., is an educational developer and science educator. She also is a writer, editor and photographer. During all three academic degrees (at the University of Victoria, McGill University and the University of British Columbia) she was involved in teaching and facilitating, in leading many educational events and projects, and in conducting ecological field research.

Her Top5 from the CliftonStrengths Assessment are:

  • Maximizer
  • Woo
  • Activator
  • Positivity
  • Communication

You recently transitioned out of university positions after a long career at the University of British Columbia (UBC), a research-intensive university. What has helped you make that transition?

I like that you used plural (positions), as I had various roles at UBC and they were sometimes concurrent!  My job titles were Teaching Assistant, Lecturer, Director, Supervisor, Faculty Associate, Director pro tem, Associate Director, Network Coordinator, Leader and Course Coordinator over the 23 years I was there, and in six different departments or units.

For me, it has always been ‘second nature’  to be on the lookout for various opportunities  – whether I found them or someone alerted me to them.

In addition, I would say that I have responded or reacted to some setbacks by asking myself questions such as:

  • What’s next?
  • What might come next?
  • What do I need to do?
  • What do I want to do?

When a course ended, a program changed, or a job position was eliminated, I haven’t been inclined to wallow, even though often I felt very sad. Instead, I’ve tended to take action, guided by my consideration of the questions above.

Nevertheless, I can see that leaving an institution I worked for so long and stepping into the ‘unknown’ is quite the challenge!

Photo of Alice Cassidy and Collegue


What do you enjoy most about your ‘new’ career/life situation?

I would say the flexibility. I never really liked the idea of a 9-5 job and, in fact, have never had one. I like being able to pick and choose what I do; and, I’m fortunate at this stage in my life that I can also choose not to do any paid work  – though I am always at the ready!

I also like being able to respond to opportunities that I find or that  ‘drop into my lap’. I’ve had several of these since I retired from UBC, such as course design consulting work and co-facilitating the 3M National Teaching Fellowship retreat, which arose through keeping in touch with colleagues in my network.

I am also enjoying doing volunteer work, something I have always fit into my schedule. For example, right now, I am doing field work in an endangered ecosystem in a national park and helping plan a reunion of my high school class.

A big part of moving from Vancouver to Victoria (where I grew up) was to visit family and some close friends more frequently, and to travel a lot with my husband – check, check and check – and to exercise more – still working on that one!

I am also writing. Some of it is ‘finishing up’ writing based on when I was at UBC, for journals, books, or posting to my own website. And some of it is what you and I, in our coaching session, called ‘fun writing’, which includes natural history articles, fiction and, soon, a story about my grandfather.

Alice Cassidy with her community


You’ve mentioned that you don’t create explicit goals. Yet, you are very driven and are involved in many projects that require significant commitment. How do your StrengthsFinder themes help you?

A mentor, Dennis Chitty, Professor Emeritus, UBC Zoology, said:

“Those who succeed in life are smart enough to make the best use of serendipity”.

I have always liked that, and, though I am not sure how smart I am, I feel that we don’t just stumble along and hope things happen. Rather, I do a mix of watching out for opportunities, making things happen, and knowing the difference between what you have no control over, like a job ending, and what you do, like working on things that make you happy and that you feel are important.

A few things that have always been important to me (are these goals?, maybe so!), that I think, relate to certain of those strengths:

Make a difference
In my previous work and in my current projects, I have aimed to make people’s lives just a bit better in any ways that I can. I want to help students learn in meaningful ways that are interesting to them. I want to help educators be energized and confident. I do this through facilitation, online and in person, and through my website (see Legacy below). I want to help educate people about the value of the natural world. I do this by leading nature tours, and by writing about nature. I want to make contributions that are helpful. That’s why I worked on the Educational Developers Caucus Executive for four years, for those who support teachers, and why I coordinated the first three years of the 3M National Student Fellowship, for undergraduate student leaders.

I’ve had many terrific mentors. I try my best to be a mentor to others, be they newbies at a conference, graduate students who worked on projects with me, Teaching Assistants, with whom I have had the honour of co-publishing some papers, and recently, a high school student and a recent university graduate who are interested in biology and asked for assistance in finding opportunities.

Make connections
Whether it is at a conference, standing in the line at a grocery store, or walking around our new neighbourhood, I like networking, be it making what some call ‘small talk’, but what I call civil behaviour; introducing someone I know to someone they don’t; or starting up a conversation and seeing what we have in common, or what I might learn from them.

I want to share the work that I have done such that others can use or adapt it in their own practices; so, I have posted material, such as templates, step by step instructions, publications, and many other resources, to my website.  It just makes me feel better knowing it is ‘out there’ and not tucked away in folders on my desktop.

Alice Cassidy and group of student


How my Top5 CliftonStrengths help me in the above projects:

  • I draw on my themes of Communicator and Activator for my writing projects.
  • Networking is my WOO in action!
  • My Positivity theme plays out in many of my interactions.
  • (Isabeau’s note: Though Alice didn’t mention her Maximizer specifically, I know that Alice is always taking things from Good to Great, which is a ‘classic’ characteristic of someone who has Maximizer in their top 5).



You can find out more about Alice and read her work at her website.

She wrote about when one long-time job, and two others, ended and what to ‘do next’, in Build your own Rainbow, posted to a 2016 EDC resource review in a themed issue about Learning from Failure and Challenges:

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