October 7th: My convocation date. I graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Biomedical Physiology (First Class Honours) and was privileged to speak at my convocation ceremony. It was an honour to provide insight and perspective on how students evolve intellectually, academically and personally with all the inherent barriers that are overcome in attaining a university degree. In addition, it made me reflect on my 5-year journey at Simon Fraser University.
Choosing Simon Fraser University
In the final year of high school, students are presented with an overwhelming number of options: Choosing which university or college to attend, or whether to work, or volunteer, or travel. It had always been my dream to travel before attending university, so I got jobs as a traffic control person and as a cashier, then I independently travelled Australia for four months. I had the time of my life; I learned to scuba dive, surf, and sky dive. It also was a great opportunity to develop my passion for adventure, become self-aware and get a bit of the ‘party bug’ out of my system prior to starting university.
I chose to attend Simon Fraser University for numerous reasons. I heard that the Kinesiology department would be a good fit for my inquisitive nature, my love for adventure and athletics, and most importantly my interest in physiology. Consistent with the amazing reviews, the department has professors who care for their students and are devoted to their research. More specifically, professors like Dr. VE Claydon and Dr. G. Tibbits, who went above and beyond what you would normally expect, by providing the tools to excel as well as ongoing support throughout my years here. Furthermore, the classes were smaller and interactive and the co-operative education program was superb. Reflecting back, I could not have made a better choice.
Jumping Into University
I started my university career like most other first year students; shy and nervous, yet I had a concrete plan to finish my undergraduate degree in 4 years. Furthermore, I was set on becoming a physiotherapist, a goal I developed in high school. To say the least, that concrete plan crumbled once I actually started at SFU.
Initially, I was enrolled in Kinesiology’s Active Rehabilitation program but as I was exposed to professors, research and other opportunities, I ended up switching streams several times until I finally decided on the Biomedical Physiology concentration with hopes of attending medical school.
Upon embarking on such a large goal, I entered the co-operative education office and it was one of the best decisions of my university career. Darleen Bemister, my co-op coordinator, helped me organize future semesters to incorporate co-op, fine tuned my resume and cover letter, as well as with finding placements that fit my interests.
Learning the Ropes with Co-operative Education
Like most students starting co-operative education, I found applying to multiple co-op positions with limited experience in the field challenging. However, applying to positions was a great experience because co-op provides an opportunity to get assistance to prepare cover letters and resumes, practice interview skills, and reflect on why you were not the chosen candidate for certain positions. For example, two years in a row I applied to the Divers Alert Network for an international internship program, which would have involved a project on dive medicine, safety research, or underwater physiology. Despite my experience diving around the world and my passion for scuba diving, I failed receive the position. It was hard to not take the defeat personally, but reflecting back it was an important lesson to learn and luckily it was in a supportive environment. It was a great way to prepare myself for joining the real work force, where competition will be harsh. Thankfully, opportunities in co-op are overwhelming and I was able to find placements, which I enjoyed and gained valuable work experiences from.
Joining the Work Force
My first two co-op placements involved working as a caregiver and companion for a lady with Rett Syndrome. I assisted her with a full spectrum of daily living, augmentative communication and community integration. I learned how attention to detail can make patient care extraordinary, how a reliable support network is the foundation in attaining a great quality of life for an individual with disabilities, and to appreciate aspects in life most of us take for granted. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to continue with this position since April 2009, which is one of the great bonus’s that comes with co-op; the ability to continue with a position that you enjoy.
For my final placement, I received a Vice President Research Undergraduate Student Research Award (VPR USRA), which Darleen suggested I apply for. With the award, I worked as a research assistant for Dr. Glen Tibbits in the Molecular Cardiac Physiology group. I contributed to an overall research goal, evolved as a presenter during laboratory meetings, and learned about the research and cardiology field, along with accomplishing many laboratory skills and molecular techniques. After the completion of my final co-op work term, I continued on the same project and did a directed research project. Under the same supervisor, I joined another research project, which contributed to my Honours thesis, and have continued to be involved with through a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Undergraduate Student Research Award (NSERC USRA).
As you can probably tell, one of my favorite features of co-op is that if you enjoy your placement, there typically is an opportunity to continue in the area. On the flip side, if you discover that the position you thought was your passion wasn’t what you anticipated, then your commitment is only four months. Either way, co-op is the best place to discover this.
Furthermore, co-op is a great way to network with other students, professors and employers, who can provide insight and advice on how to achieve your goals and provide or suggest opportunities you didn’t know existed. If I hadn’t joined co-op I would not have met professors to do research or directed projects with, volunteered at health facilities or shadowed doctors. By joining co-op, not only was I able to experience different work environments, but I was able to create connections and build relationships that cascaded into a world of exciting opportunities.
To say I’ve really enjoyed participating in co-operative education and the opportunities that have come with it is an understatement. Not only was I able to put wonderful opportunities on my CV, but it has provided me with valuable skills that I can use in all aspects of life.
Furthermore, I feel the experiences and people I met along the way have truly helped me mold into the individual I am today. My suggestion for other students is to take every opportunity you are presented with because you never know who you may meet or what opportunities may arise. With only a finite amount of time available, focus on your passion and doing what you love and make sure to have fun in the process. Work hard and make opportunities happen for yourself, no one is going to hand it to you. The only person standing between you and your goals is yourself. And most of all, when failure is looking at you head on, know that you can overcome it by taking an alternate route, and will either end up where you intended to go, or where you were meant to be.