This article was originally published in the Arts Connect Co-op Newsletter in Spring 2012.
It is no secret why we become co-op students. Those of us that do are attracted to the program because we are itching for some real world experience outside the comfort of academia. The lingering reminder that a stable job will keep us housed, clothed, and fed after graduation is also a major push factor. If you dedicate your time and effort to it, co-op promises to expand your horizons beyond mere academic achievement and put you squarely on the road to employment, whether you have a set career in mind or not. Needless to say, my expectations going into my first co-op term with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) were high and, thankfully, the experience has been more than I could have asked for.
First of all, I can now say with great confidence, that working for the federal government is not as intimidating as some may believe. In contrast to the standard, uptight caricatures we picture in our heads when we hear the word “government”, my time at AAFC’s Burnaby office was spent working with a group of welcoming and supportive people, each with unique personalities of their own. The friendly and inviting working atmosphere meant that it was immediately easy for me to feel like a respected member of the team, which left me unafraid to seek help when needed.
At the start of my term, I was unfamiliar with AAFC, but in a short period of time, I became more acquainted with the work they do to promote international market access for Canadian agriculture and agri-food businesses and their products. Throughout the term, I worked with the Marketing and Trade, and Communications branches; this allowed me the opportunity to work with a variety of people and take on different roles on a regular basis.
With journalistic ambitions, I was attracted to this position because of the prospect of putting together a publication from start to finish. Not only did I get the chance to do this, but I was given the opportunity to strengthen my drafting and editing skills in developing promotional materials, media pieces, a monthly trade bulletin, and more. As much as I craved having these non-academic writing assignments, my experience at AAFC did not end there.
Previously daunted by new and unfamiliar software, my day-to-day duties involved regular use of Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Suite programs; I was forced to conquer my fears quickly and accordingly. I never thought I would be capable of producing decent looking brochures and posters for public viewing, but this is now an accomplishment I can add to my growing repertoire.
Equally beneficial were a sampling of duties that included media pitching, interviewing, and responding to various inquiries. These duties kept me engaged in different forms of communication and gave me a taste of what my future could involve. Small tasks such as daily media monitoring, updating the office’s client information database, and helping out other colleagues in need, were important duties that enhanced my responsibilities and, in turn, my ability to contribute to the office as a whole.
As my first co-op term, I can think of fewer positions better than the one I was privileged to have at AAFC. Surpassing my expectations, which were focused on the prospect of more writing experience, my time here was spent gradually accumulating proficiencies that leave me better equipped for future ventures. More priceless than gaining the valuable technical skills I doubted I would ever achieve, was the experience itself. The privilege of successfully getting my feet wet alongside accomplished and encouraging professionals came as welcome evidence that my career goals lie within the realms of reality.