Throughout the initial years of my degree, I have been focusing on achieving good grades, at times, getting stressed about maintaining my GPA and avoiding being below average in my class. All of this got overwhelming as if I was running a race. I didn’t realize the need to acquire skills apart from the knowledge and what part they play in uplifting my career until the third year of my degree.
During my second year, I applied to Co-operative Education and completed the resume and cover letter workshops. From the beginning, I was clear that I love science, it intrigued me even as a kid, so I decided to pursue my career in the field of research. However, I always used to ponder that since I have absolutely no experience of working in a lab since I did my first-year chemistry courses remotely, what are the chances of landing on my first co-op and that too in a research lab setup? By the end of my second year, I got released to seek jobs and for the initial months, I relied on my average grades and struggled to find a co-op position.
Time passed by and I was in the third year of my degree. I was still seeking co-op jobs besides running the race to finish my degree. I got interview calls for a few positions but did not end up getting job offers. Due to academic stress and burden, the number of jobs I applied to was decreasing and I started to feel disheartened at times for not being able to secure a co-op. With each passing semester, I was checking off my course list pinned on the board in my room, and I didn’t realize that I was setting my focus just on that pinned list. Learning skills was not an area of my focus anymore. Since I was not able to secure a co-op position, I almost dropped the idea to gain work experience during my university years.
My third year was nearly over when I learnt about the Work-Study program at SFU. I was fortunate enough to get my application approved and was released to seek a work-study position. I reviewed various projects and positions, and that is when I realized what I was missing till now. I came across positions which are lab-based and would give me research experience while being a full-time student! Thankfully I was placed in a lab position where I first experienced hands-on research work. It introduced me to the real-life experience of this industry and prepared me to work in a research lab. But above all, it taught me troubleshooting, a skill which is so valuable in the professional world. Undoubtedly a lab course provides a student with the practicality of the concepts but does not necessarily teach how to fix an issue. Work-study allows you to learn how to encounter and tackle work complications independently. It is supervised like a lab course and at the same time gives a student a margin to work independently and self-learn the techniques.
After spending two semesters in work-study, I thought that since I have gained work experience in my desired field, working as a full employee in a company wouldn’t make much of a difference. However, I did not close that option for myself fully and was passively applying and interviewing for co-op positions. I was in my fourth year when I secured my first co-op at the BC Cancer Research Centre. It was an 8-month position which was definitely worth doing. My project involved me studying genetic mechanisms in cancerous tissues. It helped me to increase my skill level and expand my work experience as I learnt new techniques. It not only gave me an opportunity to build on my pre-existing knowledge and skills but also made me realize the meaning of working as a full-time employee. I was a bit anxious to work with an employer outside SFU, as for me it was going out of my cocoon to which I adapted as if I need to take off my cozy blanket and overcome my mousy instincts. However, my workplace was welcoming as I was surrounded by friendly and helpful employees. In no time, I found myself well-acclimatized and attuned to my new workplace. My project involved me working with tissue culture and operating new equipment.
As time passed by, I encountered new challenges, and I could see myself grow in my new work environment. My job responsibilities were not very diverse but the majority of them were new to me and so they kept me motivated. I learned so much each time I performed a particular protocol and self-introspected the areas I needed to work on. I was well-supported by my colleagues and supervisors who made sure I not only performed the tasks but also understood the underlying knowledge of those tasks. Once I had the liberty to ask my supervisor about what made them select me for this position, as there were other candidates competing for it as well, they told me that it was my lab skills that made me stand out from the other applicants. It reinforced that my university years and degree are not just about completing courses and receiving credits. It is about building my skill set which makes me out of the ordinary. By the end of my second co-op term, I felt confident in my skills and ability to work in a research lab. I am proud of my accomplishments and realize how important it was it for me to step out of my comfort zone and live this invaluable experience.