Cole Mash


Cole Mash

alumni UBC’s afterwords is a digital conversation series that shares the stories of some of UBC Okanagan’s extraordinary alumni.

1. What is your current profession?

A combo of writer, Executive Director of Kelowna-based Arts non-profit Inspired Word Café, sessional lecturer at UBC Okanagan and Okanagan College, and a PhD candidate at Simon Fraser University. 

2. What education did you receive at UBC?

A BA in English and Creative Writing (2015) and an Interdisciplinary MA in English, Creative Writing, and History (2017).

3. What do you think makes UBC Okanagan great? 

Small class and faculty size compared to larger universities as well as the beauty of the surrounding area.

4. If you could start university again, would you do anything differently?

I would probably focus more on creative work and less on critical work. I think sometimes there are narratives about creative degrees being “dead ends” or yielding few job prospects. This led me to focus on critical work as I wanted a job. But I think I now know these narratives are just that: a narrative. Creative degrees are more useful than they are given credit for, and I think I could have made it to where I am today without sacrificing so much of my creative time. 

5. What was your first official job after graduation?

Teaching sessional classes at Okanagan College.

6. What is the best part of your current job?

I love teaching so being able to do that at Okanagan College and UBCO is a dream come true. Helping business students write thesis statements is my jam! 

7. What are some of the challenges you have faced in your career?

My biggest challenges have been around class. I come from a family with a lower socio-economic background, which can be alienating in the staunch, elite culture that still permeates academia. And it has been difficult for me to navigate doing my degrees and finding work with little financial help or support. As such, I have had to work while still doing my PhD, which has been challenging. 

8. What would you like to share with current students who will be graduating in the coming years who have concerns with the current work climate?

Know that academia is just one small piece of the pie. There are lots of other jobs that your skills and knowledge are very much transferable to. The gold standard doesn’t have to be tenure-track faculty at a prestigious university. If that is your thing — great! But there are many other public and private careers that can be every bit as satisfying and fulfilling, and they may ask you to give up less than an academic career likely will. It’s just a question of being creative with how your skills, experience, and degree can transfer to fields you didn’t anticipate — which is kind of exciting but can also make you feel a bit like a snake-oil salesman. 

9. What's the best advice you can give to help plan a career?

Have a backup. And a backup backup! 

10. Do you have a mentor?  How have they influenced you? 

I have had many mentors over the years who have influenced me a great deal. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the guidance and support of folks like Jake Kennedy, Karis Shearer, Anne Fleming, Constance Crompton, and many, many more. I am deeply grateful for their support and how they somehow saw past the loud-mouthed and sometimes narrow-minded kid I could be to see potential. They gave me the gift of their time, which is a special resource to give in a university setting, where most faculty are shorter on time than they might wish to be. 

11. What is something you continually find yourself saying? 

No! It took me until my PhD to learn to say no. Learn that for yourself and it will set you free (on evenings and weekends, anyway). 

12. How do you balance your work and home life?

The thing I said before! Say no. But also set boundaries. I don’t check my email after 5:00 pm for the most part. But also, I have four kids so I don’t know that it’s possible to balance work and home life — thankful for my partner Erin’s support and love. 

13. Where do you volunteer or how do you give back to your community? 

I have volunteered with Inspired Word Café (IWC) for almost 10 years now. Thousands of hours and meetings, hundreds of events, posters, costumes, banana cream pies, wrestling matches, etc., etc. I am now the Executive Director of IWC and get paid for many of my hours, but there is still volunteering to do each year. Along with Erin Scott, and the IWC collective, we have built what I think is an important facet of Kelowna’s cultural sector. This contribution to community is one of the things I am most proud of. 

14. Do you have any books that you would suggest are a must read?

Whereas by Layli Long Soldier. 

15. Who is one UBC Okanagan alum you would like to nominate for afterwords?

I would say Erin Scott — but she is already chatting with you!