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Emily Fun

SFU Student Undergraduate
Health Sciences

Experience Faculty
Collecting data and contributing to a large, national study has been an invaluable experience, and helped me develop critical skills as both a professional and individual.
Experience Details
Introduction + Preparation
Previous Experience

Before embarking on my co-op journey, I spent four years working part-time as a cashier at a grocery store. During this role, I operated independently and at my own pace, which closely resembled the work style that I later experienced as a research assistant for the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging. In both positions, my focus was dedicated to one individual at a time: a customer in the cashier role, and a study participant as a research assistant.

I was lacking prior knowledge or exposure to tasks like data collection and conducting interviews, I approached the new role with apprehension, fearing I might not secure the position or perform well. However, I developed strong interpersonal skills from my previous experiences. To showcase my adaptability and eagerness to learn, I took the initiative to research the organization before my interview for the position. This enabled me to engage in discussions about the study's purpose and history, highlighting my genuine interest in the role. While I openly admitted my lack of research experience, I also emphasized my enthusiasm to enhance my skills and delve into diverse fields.

During my Experience
Orientation and First Weeks

My first few days primarily revolved around paperwork and training alongside two of my colleagues. During this period, we received an overview of the study, details about the interview process, and training on the software and equipment. Once I was assigned a workspace, I engaged in mock interviews with my coworkers using the computer software. These interviews, lasting around two hours, required following a prescribed script that involved questions about medications and medical conditions I was not familiar with. This initially proved to be quite overwhelming. Fortunately, my supervisor and colleagues provided valuable support and displayed patience as I worked on adapting to reading directly from the script and correctly pronouncing complex medical terms. Following the first week of training, we were ready to begin conducting interviews with study participants as our first interview appointments were scheduled.

Day to Day

I arrive at the office, prepare a cup of tea, and settle into my cubicle. I review the daily agenda alongside my coworkers, and together we distribute appointments among ourselves. Once the tasks are divided, I start examining the notes and records of the participant assigned to me. This ensures I am aware of any specific requirements they might have or any complications which may come up before I call them. At the scheduled time, I contact the participant and begin the interview, asking questions and inputting their responses into my computer.

During periods when I am not engaged in scheduled appointments, I take the initiative to contact other participants in order to arrange future meetings.

Learning and Adaptation

In my personal experience, I found that the performance curve for this role was like a rollercoaster ride due to the number of variables influencing the effectiveness of the interviews, coupled with the great amount of information to grasp within a limited timeframe.

An important lesson I learned pertained to effective communication and comprehension of participants during telephone interactions. Most of my usual conversations occur in situations where I can visually perceive the person I am interacting with, allowing me to interpret both non-verbal cues and spoken words. However, as all the interviews were conducted solely over the phone, I lacked access to visual cues to gauge participants' responses. To address this challenge, I paid meticulous attention to their language choice, tone of voice, and any audible cues or pauses, using these indicators to assess their emotional state, discomfort with certain questions, need for a break, and more.

Accomplishments and Challenges

During my first month, I definitely felt overwhelmed and encountered challenges in completing interviews within the estimated two-hour timeframe. As I gradually acquainted myself with the interview protocols and questions, I found it progressively easier to get over this hurdle. Nevertheless, my own comfort with the interview process could only take me so far, as there was a substantial degree of variability among participants that significantly impacted the efficiency of the interviews.

One particular struggle I faced involved maintaining participants' focus, as they frequently digressed off-topic during the interviews, leading to prolonged completion times past the two-hour mark. As I gained more experience in conducting interviews and engaging with participants, I learned techniques to effectively retain their attention and steer them back on course. Seeking guidance from my supervisor and colleagues, who also encountered similar challenges, proved to be immensely beneficial as well. Through overcoming these obstacles, I managed to cultivate personal growth within the workplace and enhance my overall performance.

Reflection & Tips

Since beginning this co-op position, I have witnessed growth both in my personal life and academic journey. My ability to connect with others has expanded, and I have honed skills in managing computer-based appointment scheduling. With the luxury of dedicating almost full-time hours to work rather than simultaneously juggling coursework, I've been able to immerse myself more fully in the professional environment, allowing for accelerated learning and adaptation. Through this experience, I have acquired a multitude of skills that will prove invaluable in future courses and professional endeavours. Additionally, my curiosity in gerontology has been sparked, and I intend to delve deeper into this area in my academic pursuits. Over the course of my engagement in this co-op position, I became more confident in communication and my decision to pursue a career in research. 

Most Valuable Aspects of This Experience

The study's dedication to discovering new insights for the improvement of lives worldwide is truly astonishing. My participation in this process has been profoundly inspiring. My supervisor's encouragement of creative problem-solving was especially important to my growth in this position. I demonstrated the ability to quickly adapt and address participants' inquiries or worries, making on-the-spot decisions about how to navigate unique circumstances. 

Another significant aspect of this experience is the network of relationships I fostered. Building connections with colleagues and learning about their academic journeys has exposed me to various potential paths, offering invaluable guidance for my future. Learning their unique viewpoints has secured my confidence in navigating research and science. Establishing this web of associations within the field will undoubtedly play a critical role in my career progression, opening doors to new opportunities.

My time in this position has not only helped me shape and refine my future aspirations but has also equipped me with crucial skills to guide my personal and professional growth. The camaraderie and wisdom shared by my colleagues have been just as invaluable as the work experience, both offering me profound insights into a research-oriented career.


Emily Fun

SFU Student Undergraduate
Health Sciences
visibility  100
Aug 1, 2023

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