Engineering a New Career Path: Sheldon Baikie Moves on from Kinesiology Led by Curiosity
“Try to find what makes you curious, what really gets you going,” says civil engineer Sheldon Baikie. He’s a beneficiary of the Nunatsiavut land claim, originally from Northwest River, Labrador who now lives in St. John's, Newfoundland. Baikie does asset management work with Newfoundland’s power utility and it’s his second career, one that sprung from his curiosity.
For his first career, Baikie took kinesiology in university and went to work with the Nunatsiavut government and the Labrador provincial government working in administrative capacities. He was working on a project building a museum when he started seeing engineering reports and started to get curious. Reaching out within his network, he started to learn more about engineering until he decided it might be a good path to pursue. His family moved to their current community so he could go back to school at the age of 37 while raising a four year old. Six years later, he became an engineer.
Going back to school at that age was a challenge, given Baikie no longer had good study habits, forgot how to write tests and found he had to put a lot of work into addressing both areas. He failed his first two midterms and getting the right school-life balance was tricky, too. Trying to balance relationships with his son and his wife while getting everything done was hard.
Moving away from their home community where his parents lived and where they had cultural and family support was tough. His first semester was lonely and he wanted to give up but he kept trying. His perseverance paid off in the end.
To get through those difficulties, Baikie found community through the Indigenous Resource Centre at the university where he could find people who shared his background. He set aside weekly gaming time with his son and made an effort to spend time with his wife. It took a lot of effort but he rose to the occasion.
Before university, Baikie wasn’t really a fan of school though he did fairly well without much studying. A lot came to him naturally and helped him through his first degree but when it came time for his second he really had to invest a lot more energy into things. “When you go to post secondary, you need to have those habits in place, no matter how easy it happens for you,” he shares.
If he could give advice to his younger self, it would be about nurturing curiosity. Baikie would suggest exploring the things that he is curious about, the things that spark interest and some fire inside. He recommends asking social connections for advice and information and seeing who can support the journey under consideration. Curiosity is something he looks for when interviewing prospective work term students at his work. He has found curiosity can lead to a new career, new opportunities or a new way to enrich your life. Baikie is still looking at what has him curious and asking more questions, something he didn’t do enough when he was younger and was facing a lot of challenges.
To keep his mental health in check, he takes time away from work to pursue his hobbies, like golf, boating, snowmobiling, fishing and hunting. In the city, he likes walking, biking and spending time outside to boost his energy. Transitioning from hectic school life to the workplace triggered anxiety for Baikie and he found a therapist to talk to. “We all have challenges with our mental health. You really need to go and ask for help when you need it,” he explains. After having no time for anything for five years while he was in school, he found himself lying on the couch while his brain wouldn’t slow down. Scaling back his activity level was tricky to navigate but therapy helped.
Inspiring him in his daily work is the way he didn’t know any engineers so never considered a career in engineering. He wants to take part in initiatives that ensure youth in Labrador know about all the options that are available to them in science and construction. To that end, he participates in STEM outreach activities with Engineers Canada and WISE NL, a group that focuses on women in science and engineering and also with Indigenous youth conferences. That volunteer work brings a lot of motivation to do what he does because he loves advancing Indigenous STEM career knowledge.
The practice of asset management is something else that inspires him. He sees it as a holistic approach that considers organizational values and communications and that resonates given his experience working in Indigenous government and community. It reminds him of the way he was so involved in his home community and gives him a way to experience that now that he lives in the city.
Curiosity helped move Sheldon Baikie from working in government with a kinesiology degree to a new life becoming a civil engineer. Following the threads of his passion, he’s leaving a trail for Indigenous youth to follow and lighting the way to career choices they may have never dreamed of. Asking more questions has found him more answers and new ways to give back in his new role.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.