What are your thoughts on the co-op program? Pros? Cons?
I am a 3rd year Molecular Biology Co-op Specialist student, who recently completed two work terms. The Molecular Biology co-op program is an exciting opportunity to explore the real world of jobs and get to know various opportunities available with your degree. When I was in first year, I thought that biology majors go to medical school or research; however, while job hunting, and while being on work-term, I learned that there are many more pathways than just these two. Some pros of the co-op program are that there are some exciting opportunities, which might not be available outside the program. Moreover, since these positions are usually outside of UTSC, it allows you to develop the mindset required when going for a job in an unfamiliar environment. Lastly, the whole application and interview process prepares us to present ourselves to the interviewers, either through resume or interviews. Some cons associated with the program are that it is a competitive program, meaning you must put effort into applying for jobs. This can get tough sometimes while having to study for course materials.
How did you go about finding your first co-op placement?
My program has two co-op work-terms. I did both of my terms together at SickKids (The Hospital for Sick Children), in the Molecular Pathology clinical laboratory, where I worked as a Research Associate in developing clinical tests for pediatric tumours. I found my position using CSM (UTSC co-op’s internal database). However, I did apply to a few positions from outside through various UofT’s research programs. Before my interview, my co-op advisor (Joanna) offered to do a mock interview, which further prepared me in answering some of the questions. A tip: Later during the work-term, I was told by my supervisor that I received the position mostly because I sent a Thank-you letter after my interview (a letter thanking supervisor and summarizing your skills). The co-op department highly recommends you do this and I guess it does give you an edge. Other than that, GPA, extracurricular and your experience with some basic research techniques are the assets that you could use. Don’t be afraid to say that you learned these techniques in a course environment, as long as you can prove to them that you have some knowledge of the technique.
What did you expect VS what you encountered?
After the interview, I was a bit scared because I thought that the interviewers were a bit harsh. However, once I started working, I realized how easy-going and helpful they were to me. Also, I did not understand much about the task and research by looking at the offer letter and listening to interviewers talk about their research. However, what I did know was that I will be working on some very cool new technologies. Once I started the position, I realized that they actually didn’t expect me to understand anything from interview. My supervisor thoroughly trained me on the technology, applications, and background within first few days. Something that I did not realize at first was that the work could become repetitive at times. But, on a brighter side, when I accepted the position, I did not realize that I will be creating clinical assays which will be used on patients to provide patient reports (and they are still being used at SickKids). This was a nice feeling.
Do you think it helped you improve as a person?
Yes! It definitely improved my biological knowledge; however, it also helped me improve as a person. My position involved interacting with many people and collaborating with them on projects. This allowed me to develop new connections and improve my social and professional skills. I was able to get out of my comfort zone and approach new people more easily.
Any advice for other co-op students?
One of the strongest advice I got when I was in first year was to try and join extracurricular activities. However, I got busy with courses and did not take the advice seriously. Soon, I realized that academics are not everything. It’s important to maintain good grades; however, the extracurriculars, including joining clubs, volunteering, working, or anything else that you like to do, will help improve you as a person and show the interviewer that you are more than just your grades. Moreover, during the job search process, it is important to keep applying to as many positions as possible and take it seriously. Make sure to tailor your resume and interview answers towards the job posting.