Practical Learning: Alumni Interviews

“I think that the students have this very linear idea of what a career looks like, and it’s good to hear from alumni who are doing jobs and have careers that look quite different to their education… by interviewing the alumni, the students get to know about life post-graduation, and about how certain other aspects, and even serendipity, shape what alumni do.”

–Neil Armitage, Lecturer (SOCI)


First-year students are provided the opportunity to use concrete research skills such as designing and conducting a research interview and demonstrating their capacity to analyze and present data through a sociological lens. Additionally, students build collaborative relationships with each other throughout the term by participating in discussion groups and a shared experience outside of the classroom, and eventually analyzing the alumni interview as a group before submitting individual essays.


Providing students an opportunity to not only learn a particular concept, but use it as a lens to understand, interpret, and place themselves in the world. This assignment is one way that the instructor ensures students will be able to experience how learning is holistic and can be applicable in their own lives in the sense that the students can think through and use it for their own understanding.


  • Allow students to experience the complexity of the research process, beginning with planning and designing a research interview, and then learning and applying ethical considerations in data collection, collation, and analysis.
  • Provide students an opportunity to apply sociological concepts that relate to an individual’s education and work experience in order to interpret the interviewee/alumnus’s career and journey.


  • Level of Difficulty: Medium
  • Course: SOCI 102 (“Inequality and Social Change”)
  • Number of Students: Large lectures (100-250 students)
  • Delivery: Students have a two-week window to conduct the interview
  • Time: planning takes place at the start of course, however, students only work on this activity in the last 4-5 weeks of course
  • Keywords: research skills, student engagement, peer learning, community building

Learning Activities

Group Alumni Interview


Students have a two-week window to conduct the interview; students are guided by instructor from the beginning of the term in planning, coordination, organization, communication, and accountability for the interview, and the analysis and presentation of findings after the interview.

Prep Work

  • Students create their own groups of 3-4 members. Each group member assigns themselves to one of three roles:
    • Liaison – corresponds with the alumni to finalize the date and location of the interview, in-person or online.
    • Ethics – ensures all members have completed TCPS2 Core online tutorial (BREB requirement) prior to interview and gets verbal or written consent from alumni prior to via email or at the start of the interview.
    • Interview Planner(s) – responsible for the interview schedule / questions and that the organization of the group in terms of data collection. Groups not permitted to record their interviews
  • Groups will be connected to Arts Alumni Engagement; Arts Alumni Engagement will begin process of matching group to alumni for interview
  • Students complete the Canadian TCPS2 Core online research ethics tutorial and submit their certificate of completion
  • Arts Alumni Engagement provide contact details for alumni to be interviewed; students set up communication to determine logistics and finalize date, time and place for interview
  • Students design and plan interview focus, format, structure, and questions


Students are provided guidelines and instructions by instructor on how to approach and set up interviews. Students are given freedom to tailor interview questions and format. In groups of three or four, the students interview with an alumnus.

Groups deconstruct the data that they have gathered from the interview, think through it, discuss it, use concepts from the course to analyse it, and present it. At the end, individual students write and submit an essay.


The logistics of the assignment is graded 5%, and the overall essay constitutes 20% of the course grade.

The essay is graded on the strength of student analysis and insights, and the use of sociological ideas and concepts to frame their essays.

Through group and individual analysis of the interview data, students are encouraged to create their own titles for their essay. They are prompted with ‘What we learned from the interview from a sociological perspective’ as a working title.

Discussion & Reflection

What other activities did the students do to develop Practical Learning skills?

Apart from the interview activity, I do multiple small things. One activity that I have done in the past in terms of looking around Truth and Reconciliation is asking the students to read the history of the Musqueam house posts, possibly incorporating walking around campus. I ask the students to look at the Musqueam material culture that is on campus and see how it reflects the existing relationship of UBC and the Musqueam, as well as the changes in that relationship. Instead of teaching the history again in the class, I try to get them to visit sites, monuments, and other things such as the house posts, and to study and see how those reflect the relationship between UBC and the Musqueam at a certain time. Interacting with something more tangible helps them to build concrete connections.

What did students share about their experience?

I have evaluated the work both at the first and the third level, and the students had a positive outlook. These activities, such as interviewing the alumni and getting acquainted with the career complexities, and working in the field with the community partners, provide a good learning experience to the students, and they are generally excited about gaining this kind of knowledge and experience. I also get the feedback from the students that they would like to return as alumni.

What are some changes or improvements which you wish to include in the future?

I have thought about potentially doing the interviews at the start of the term, and then spending the rest of the term with the students sharing about their respective interviews. Every year, we have thirty to fifty interviews, the data gets analyzed by each respective group, and they produce the essays, using a significant number of hours of work, so I am also considering how I could use all these interviews to create a course. A lot of elements are obviously connected with such a project, analysing the information from the interviews, the ethics of using that information towards demonstration of concepts in class, and similar factors.

Do you have any suggestions for instructors considering Practical Learning for their course?

Keep it simple. Try to find support within staff units and others that can help and assist you. I would not be able to do this without the help from our alumni engagement team and my relationship with staff such as Christine Lee and Reshaad Ali.