Being able to adapt efficiently while maintaining an optimistic outlook is an important skill to have when we encounter unexpected interruptions and changes to our original plans. When I started my co-op placement at the Centre of Hip Health and Mobility in January, it never crossed my mind that the world would encounter a global pandemic that would drastically change the way we work. It meant everyone had to think fast on their feet to make adaptations and my research team was no exception. As a research assistant on the UBC Active Aging Research Team, I was a part of a project called Choose to Move (CTM). Choose to Move (CTM) is an evidence-based program designed for older adults and delivered across BC communities to promote physical activity and social connectedness. One of the key principles of CTM is that it is choice-based. This means older adults can participate by choosing activities they enjoy and are capable of doing to incorporate physical activity into their everyday life.
My role is to evaluate the impact of CTM on the health of seniors and so far, there have been extremely positive results. Some of my daily tasks to support the evaluation of the program include data entry and verification, mailing survey packages, and participant correspondence. I was also able to contribute to writing social media posts for the communications team and updating CTM program materials and resources. This was particularly insightful for understanding the breadth of working pieces coming together to create a successful program.
This was my first experience working in an academic research environment and it was a refreshing change of pace from my previous work experiences that were more clinical and patient-oriented. It allowed me to see behind the scenes and apply the research methods and skills I learnt in class. Aside from that, I was surrounded by wonderful colleagues with diverse academic and career backgrounds who were passionate and enthusiastic about the work they do. It was a supportive and collaborative atmosphere where I was encouraged to contribute my ideas and given constructive feedback to grow personally and professionally.
After finding out in March that my team and I would be working remotely from home, it turns out data collection and survey mailouts would be the most affected by this change. This was largely because the surveys are paper copies that are usually sent and received through the office mailroom. We were also not allowed to take any of the completed physical copies of the surveys home as that would violate research ethics in place to protect participant’s data. In the end, we decided to bring home stacks of surveys to mail from home and take turns heading into the office to retrieve and scan the completed surveys into a shared file that we can access from a secure private network. This took a lot of coordination and communication between my team members to ensure nothing would fall through the cracks and that the CTM participants’ responses during the pandemic were still being captured in the surveys. Our team relied on new communication tools such as Zoom and Slack to remain in touch and it was a learning experience for me to set up VPN and Remote Desktop connections for the first time.
I recognize how fortunate I am to have the option to work remotely during this pandemic and have my private workspace at home equipped with the necessary technology and supplies. It was important to remind myself not to take this for granted as I adjusted rather smoothly. Creating structure by setting myself a work schedule and organizing my workspace was the first step for me to get back into the flow of things. It helped me shift from an environment of comfort to focus, motivation, and discipline, which was crucial with my entire family staying indoors and the kitchen being only a few steps away. However, I also found the need to facilitate the transition from work mode back to relaxation to take care of my physical and mental well-being. Since the gyms were closed, I began exploring online workout videos and taking advantage of the outdoors more often instead. I also made sure to set aside time to connect with my friends virtually and finish up a long day enjoying a good TV show or listening to music. Before I knew it, the months flew by and I’m close to the end of my co-op term.
Despite all the uncertainty and continual challenges with COVID-19 in the months to come, the pandemic has brought about some meaningful changes and silver linings in the way we define work experiences and environments. The latter half of my co-op experience has placed greater emphasis on how essential clear communication skills are, especially when my team members were no longer just a few feet away in the office. It also highlighted the various online communication platforms and tools that were previously underutilized or unavailable until now. Another blessing of working remotely from home was that it took commuting out of the equation and freed up more of my time to spend with family and focus on my hobbies after a long workday.
As September approaches, I am excited to see what this means as students return to classes online or find new co-op placements. New opportunities are opening up for students to study or work from the comforts of their home while gaining valuable experiences potentially in a position across the world. Working remotely during the circumstances of a pandemic can seem very daunting and completely different from what you may have imagined, so it is understandable if you are hesitant to search for a co-op placement in the near future. However, I would encourage you to take advantage of this unique time where your skills and ideas are most needed to adapt previous work practices and overcome new challenges that no one has ever encountered before. Your work experience, your academic learning, and your personal growth are ultimately what you make of the opportunities in front of you and this opportunity just so happens to be a pandemic. So, until then, stay safe and healthy!
Beyond the Blog
For more opportunities like Sandy's, visit SFU's Health Sciences co-op page!