In the summer of 2016 I was looking for a 4-month co-op position to meet the Mechatronic Systems Engineering (MSE) programs 4th year curriculum requirements and graduate by the end of 2017. (Note: this would have been my 3rd co-op term -- meaning that I only needed to finish a final 4-month placement to satisfy the minimum requirement set by the MSE department). I interviewed for a position in the Manufacturing Test Department at Sierra Wireless. The position was for an 8-month placement, however, I asked to sign for 4-months and they accepted. Once I passed the half way mark of my 4-month placement, however, thoughts of extending my contract began to cross my mind.
In the first few months I had the opportunity to obtain a significant amount of knowledge about wireless communications. I was given tasks such as performing software and hardware tests on different products, as well as modifying and fixing the test fixtures for products. Meanwhile, I had heard from my colleagues that my manager was pleased with my performance, and I felt that I could learn more by staying with Sierra Wireless. I began to ask myself if I should extend my term another 4-months or return to school and graduate as planned. So, what was my thought process? And how did I approach this dilemma?
Exploring the Options
My first step was to lay out the options. My first option was to finish my 4-month co-op and return to SFU. My second was to extend my position at Sierra Wireless an additional 4 months (or even eight). When deciding whether or not to extend your work-term, it is very important to consider the impact each option will have on your future. This part of the decision-making process is the most important. One thing I did was to examine all the potential outcomes of my decision and rank them based on how important they were. For instance, one of my main priorities was improving my chances of landing a job after I graduated.
Weighing the Outcomes
My first consideration was the impact my decision would have on my graduation date. If I were to finish my 4-month co-op term as planned I would graduate at the end of 2017. If I decided to extend or apply for another position, my graduation would be delayed by at least eight months. It is important to remember, if you are a fourth-year student, doing an extra term of co-op will likely affect your Capstone project -- an 8-month project only offered during the spring and summer semester. In my case, many of my close friends in MSE were older than me and on the road to graduation. Therefore, choosing to extend my placement would have meant that I would not be able to complete the Capstone project with them.
I had developed a unique relationship with some of my classmates over the four years I had spent in the MSE program, and had learned how to work with them on different projects. We all knew each other’s strength and weaknesses, and knew how they complemented each other. Thus, we had developed a good chemistry. The thought of not doing the project with them made me feel like I would be letting them down.
My second consideration was the affect my decision would have on my chances of landing a job after graduation. The clear answer was that extending my co-op would improve my chances of landing a full-time job. Staying with a company for more than 4-months means you have learned more, the manager was happy with your performance, and that you generally are more experienced. Also, I felt like the longer I stayed at my co-op with Sierra Wireless, the better my chances would be of being hired by the company after graduation.
Choosing the Best Option
Now we have reached the most difficult part of this process. One of the most effective moves I made during my decision-making process was discussing my situation with my elders. Especially the ones that are highly experienced and the ones that I respect and revere. This is very important, because they have gone through similar experiences and they are far more experienced than we are. I specifically made sure that I spoke to elders who are engineers themselves, or ones who have worked in the industry. In my case, many of my close family members are engineers, so I didn’t have to spend a lot of time looking for the right person. I ended up asking my parents, my uncle, my cousins, my dad’s close friend, and my high school tutor who had always helped me make many important decisions. It is important to choose people whom you trust and have seen succeed in their respective fields. Most of these individuals strongly recommended that I extend my co-op an additional term or two. Most told me that being in school is a once in a life time experience and that I shouldn’t be worried about graduating as soon as possible. They also highlighted the fact that once you graduate you must work for the rest of your life, and there are a lot of responsibilities that come with that. Also, they were all quick to point out that the extra work experience will benefit my career in the long run.
The two things that helped me make my final decisions were the opinions of my elders that I revered and my own gut feeling. After processing all the advice that I got, I ended up extending my contract for an additional four months. To this day I feel like that was the correct decision for my long-term future. One last thing I recommend is no matter what decision you make, once you make it, never doubt it and don’t look back. There isn’t much that you can do after the decision is made, so it’s best to make the most out of it. There are days I sit down and think what if I just went back to school and finished my degree, but in reality, it is a decision I have made and I have to live with the results.
Beyond the Blog
To learn more about opportunities like Aryan's visit the Mechatronic Systems Engineering Co-op page.