Around the Quads

Niamh O’Brien, Senior Associate Dean, Alumni and Undergraduate Career Development, Center for Career Education

Niamh O'Brien

KILLIAN YOUNG / COLUMBIA COLLEGE

You’ve been with the University since 2003, starting at SIPA, but transitioned to the Center for Career Education 12-plus years ago. What drew you to the role?

I was drawn to and continue to love working with undergraduates as they embark on their career journeys; explore their identities, interests and career opportunities; and pursue and reflect upon their experiences with us at CCE. The joy continues as we
work with alumni to help them progress in their career journeys beyond Columbia.

What’s your typical day?

My day starts very early, with the sunrise. Over breakfast, I check the University website for the latest news and the events page for pop-up concerts, lectures or yoga classes that I can join. My work day also starts very early, with email catch-up and a review of my calendar. I typically have meetings with students and collaborative work with my team members and/or colleagues around the University. I’ll also deal with unexpected needs as they arise.

How have students’ attitudes and approaches to “career” shifted in your time as associate dean, and what are some of the ways that CCE is meeting students’ needs today?

Rapid changes in technology have shifted how students prepare for the future of work. We want them to be ready for and optimistic about jobs that might not yet be defined, so we emphasize exploration through counseling, tools and programming, to build self-awareness around interests and their sense of agency in deciding their futures. Career resilience is also a skill that we foster through our individual and group work with students. We also keep them abreast of recruitment trends through our programming and our “In the Know” blog posts. We are also lucky to have incredible alumni who collaborate with us to share their stories and advice with students.

What resource(s) do you wish more alumni would take advantage of, and why?

Making and maintaining connections are key pursuits whether you are launching or progressing in your career. We encourage alumni to reach out to other alumni, and to join alumni clubs, our Columbia Career Connections group and/or the Columbia University group on LinkedIn.

What’s one thing about yourself that would surprise readers?

Many people struggle with my name and are surprised that the “mh” is pronounced “v” so my name sounds like Neave and is spelled Niamh. The name Niamh is from Irish mythology. She was daughter of the god of the sea and one of the queens of
Tír na nÓg, the land of eternal youth.