Meet the ON-Cats is a recurring interview series profiling ONCAT’s A-team of transfer experts and aficionados. Grab a beverage, pull up a chair, and get to know the team that’s helping to reduce barriers for students looking to transfer between colleges, universities, and Indigenous Institutes across Ontario.
What’s your role at ONCAT?
I am the Quantitative Researcher at ONCAT, which means that I perform the statistical analyses on data that we collect and have shared with us.
What did you do before joining the organization? And what experience did you have with postsecondary transfer prior to working here?
What didn’t I do. I have been all over the place. I have worked in wastewater technology, health sciences research, and most recently research on entrepreneurship and diversity. Prior to ONCAT, I only had experience second hand from classmates and colleagues who had transferred.
How does your work advance ONCAT’s mission to improve transfer students’ experiences in Ontario? And why does ONCAT’s mission resonate with you?
The research that we are doing looks into the reasons that students choose transfer, as well as the factors that can affect their performance (grades and graduation rate). By better understanding transfer students, we hope to be able to find ways to improve their transfer experience. The only problem is that a lot of our data comes either second hand from surveys at the time of application or is heavily fragmented.
To try to remedy this, we have the Data Pilot Project where we work with institutional partners to help them analyze their data, so that they can better understand how their transfer students are performing, and to help them discover any potential bottlenecks in their own data collection systems.
Here is a little teaser from the DataPilot: Our research is showing that transfer students (taking sociodemographic differences into account) often perform as well as or sometimes even better than direct-entry students, but this is affected by a number of factors. For example: if you increase the number of transfer credits that a student receives by 50% (for their previous education), it can increase the likelihood of them graduating by nearly 8 percentage points.
I feel that ONCAT’s mission resonates with me because I, like so many other people, am working in a field totally separated from my education (I did Chemical Engineering in Undergrad). If I can move from field to field in my career, can’t we help students do the same?
Transfer students make up a relatively small amount of the Ontario postsecondary student population—approximately 6-9%. Why do you think postsecondary institutions should still focus on improving transfer student experiences?
6-9% is a lot of students! That represents 45,000-70,000 students every year in the province. Not only that, but transfer students generally don’t have the same supports that students on more traditional pathways enjoy. They don’t have high school guidance counsellors or their parents (usually) helping them, but they have to navigate a more complex set of hurdles than other students.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned about postsecondary education—or student transfer—since starting your work at ONCAT?
Probably the most interesting thing I have learned is about how many students transfer from universities to colleges. While I knew that it was a thing, I really had not expected so many students to follow that pathway.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
That would probably be knowing when good enough is good enough. When you are cleaning a dataset with hundreds of thousands of records, it is far too easy to get lost in fixing all of the little details.
If you could give any advice to yourself as a student, what would you say?
Extracurriculars. Do them. It will be a lot harder (not to mention a lot more expensive) to get a chance to do anything like them after you graduate.
Just for fun …
What’s your go-to restaurant or recipe?
Pizza. My pizza routine starts 2-4 days ahead of time.
What’s the first place you would want to travel to in a post-pandemic world?
Portugal. I would eat an unhealthy amount of pastéis de nata (custard tarts) and then wander around with my mom (she went to school in Lisbon).
Cats or dogs?
Any great books or movies you’ve enjoyed recently and want to recommend?
Redshirts by John Scalzi. It’s a fun take on the old Star Trek redshirts trope and what happens when they figure out what’s happening.
Stay tuned for more interviews in our upcoming newsletters. To learn more about our team and how we’re working to remove barriers to postsecondary transfer in Ontario, visit https://oncat.ca/en/about-us.