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Hannah Berry

SFU Student Undergraduate
Environment › Environmental Science
Co-operative Education › Local Co-op

Experience Faculty
My First hybrid work term with Environment and Climate Change Canada has opened me up to a world of new perspectives and knowledge surrounding Species at Risk in Canada.
Experience Details
Application and Interview Tips

When I came across the job posting for my position as the Species At Risk Consultation & Engagement Support Assistant with Environment and Climate Change Canada’s (ECCC) Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS), I was unsure about whether I should even apply. As a 3rd year Undergraduate student on my first work term with no prior relevant experience, I thought that there was no way I would even be considered for a position meant for a postgraduate student. Furthermore, after my failed attempts to obtain an offer for a Fall 2023 Work Term, I felt very discouraged. Nevertheless, I went out on a limb and applied anyway, highlighting my skills in my cover letter that I felt made me a strong candidate for the job. Much to my surprise, I was contacted for an interview.

Tips for During the interview:

  • Maintain your Composure. Be cheerful, kind and thoughtful in your responses. If you are comfortable in a high-stakes environment such as an interview, it gives the impression that you will be comfortable and level-headed when you face challenges in your role.
  • Answer questions honestly and thoughtfully: I believe that what benefitted me the most, not just catering to what I thought the interviewers would want to hear.
  • During the interview, think up some insightful questions based on topics you are discussing or information that the interviewer is sharing. Ask 1 of these questions along with your prepared questions so the interviewer knows that you were paying attention and interested in what they said.
Introduction + Preparation
Preparation Tips for Future Students

Since this was a position within the federal government, there were many steps to go through before even beginning my term, such as getting the appropriate security clearance. Some preparation tips I have for future students in this role are:

  • Find out where to get your fingerprints taken and do it as soon as possible as there can be delays when information is transferred from the fingerprinting service provider to your organization.
  • Turn in your security clearance forms as soon as possible to ensure they are processed in time.
  • Since the team handles Species at Risk Act (SARA) related work, research the most common SAR in the area and how they are being protected/managed.
  • Become familiar with local indigenous groups and their histories.
  • Read any current/past news stories you can find about SARA work in Canada.
  • Since it is a hybrid position, create a comfortable workspace in your home that is free of distractions. Consider things such as ergonomics, privacy from others in your home, and anything that will improve your work experience. You should have a comfortable chair and desk or table. Other helpful tools are a monitor, a computer mouse, a keyboard, etc. Equipment can be provided by the organization if you request them.
During my Experience
Orientation and First Weeks

My first few weeks with ECCC were slow, which was nice as it allowed me to ease in and become more comfortable in my role. There were quite a few online training modules to complete, which could be considered the “orientation”. These modules were more generalized and mostly did not pertain to the work I would be doing, but were more about creating a safe, open, and inviting workspace. They ranged from what to do in case of an emergency, to the benefits of a diverse workforce, to understanding how to use the pay and leave applications. These modules filled my first week at ECCC, as well as a few team meetings where I was able to meet the team and learn about their current projects. I will admit, I was lost for the first few team meetings. They were filled with acronyms I didn’t know, projects I was unaware of, and a lot of information! What helped me through was making notes of the things that confused me so I could research them. I also wrote down acronyms on Post-it notes and stuck them to the edge of my monitor so that I could refer to them in future meetings. I had plenty of opportunities to ask questions, and my supervisor (as well as the rest of the team) was great at reaching out to see if I needed help, which made my first few weeks less daunting than I anticipated.

Learning and Adaptation

Learning and adapting in this role included reviewing past work, seeking feedback, and a bit of trial-and-error. Since the training modules were more generalized, it was not clear to me exactly how to excel in my role going into this work term. Luckily, the previous co-op student, whose role I filled, stayed with our team as a “casual” part-time employee. They were extremely helpful, able to point me in the right direction for information and resources and were always there to answer questions when I had them. On my own, I spent time exploring the shared drives to find where important documents were housed and filed. I also reviewed the work of previous co-op students, including emails sent, templates created, etc. to gain a better understanding of my tasks and how I can succeed. I definitely made a few mistakes, but from these, I was able to create a set of steps for that task for myself to ensure that I did not make these mistakes again. For example, I created a checklist-style set of steps for sending emails after making a mistake on the first important email I was tasked with sending. Now, before I send any emails from the team inbox, I go through this list. The most important thing I’ve learned is that learning is a process, and making mistakes is part of that process - it helps you grow and adapt.

Accomplishments and Challenges

The biggest challenges to me so far were becoming confident in my ability to communicate effectively (whether that be in emails, meetings, or phone calls), and dealing with distractions while working from home. Being able to confidently handle phone and video calls has always been a struggle of mine, and I knew this going into my work term, so I decided to make it one of my learning objectives. I focused on reviewing previous communications that were sent through our team inbox, observing the communication skills of my colleagues, and managing my time so that I could prioritize important communications. I had to handle quite a few “big send” emails during my term (to 500+ recipients), which was very daunting. After making a mistake on my first big send, I was even more nervous. With time and practice, I developed a system to ensure that I don’t do it again, so I have gotten much more confident with this task. I also developed a system to help me manage distractions: I set a timer for 30 minutes of distraction-free work time, and then take a 5-minute break where I can check my phone, grab a quick snack, etc.

Other than overcoming these challenges, my biggest accomplishment during my term so far was my contribution to a virtual workshop held by my team. I took on the responsibility of creating the slide presentation and managing these slides, as well as the Zoom meeting. I ensured that the workshop went smoothly and my supervisors were very happy with my work.

Reflection & Tips

Looking back on my first 4 months with ECCC, I'm grateful for everything I have learned so far, and that I will be able to apply it all as I enter the 2nd half of my co-op term with them. Being able to witness and aid in the consultation process with Indigenous communities in B.C. has been rewarding and educational. It is an important step within the implementation of SARA and I feel lucky to have participated in it. I know that what I have learned in this position will be useful throughout my life as it highlights the importance of Indigenous Peoples and Knowledge within the Environmental Science discipline. I am happy with my work at ECCC so far, however, I know that there are certain things that I can improve upon. As I am now more comfortable in my role, I hope that I can speak up more and share my ideas with my team. Not only have I been gaining knowledge, but also the confidence to be able to achieve this goal. I also want to become more involved within the office culture, as this is somewhat difficult with a hybrid work arrangement. I am joining a lunchtime walking group in hopes of achieving this. My first work term with ECCC is invaluable and I am excited to get to experience another term with them.

Most Valuable Aspects of This Experience

One of the most rewarding and valuable aspects of my role is witnessing firsthand the meaningful engagement and collaboration with Indigenous peoples in environmental decision-making processes. One example of these engagements I get to experience is being able to hear and read the feedback given to ECCC about the listing of a species under SARA. It is an amazing opportunity to learn about different perspectives and cultures. Since many Species at Risk are culturally important to different Indigenous groups, it is extremely informative to hear how the potential listing/de-listing of a species could affect them. Furthermore, learning about the existing Indigenous knowledge surrounding these species and processes for protecting wildlife has been eye-opening. Through my involvement with the SARA-CCA (Species at Risk Act – Consultation, Cooperation and Accommodation) Project, I’ve had the opportunity to learn about numerous projects from different Nations that are underway to preserve this knowledge and have played a part in ensuring these Nations receive the proper funding to complete these projects. This knowledge, and these experiences, are invaluable to me.

Connection to Academic Studies or Career Goals

This position with ECCC is filled with countless learning opportunities that I will carry with me throughout my future at SFU and in my chosen career path. Learning about the process for protecting Species at risk, more specifically the Management Plans, Recovery Strategies, and Action Plans that aim to protect them has broadened my knowledge of Biology and Ecology in action. These documents are real projects that will be conducted to protect the Species at Risk that my team is consulting on, so it is fascinating to learn about. Reading about real work such as this is not common in the lower-level courses I have taken so far at SFU; therefore, I am glad I have been exposed to them in this role. It has allowed me to learn about different practices such as culling, habitat management, breeding, and more. I have also been able to build upon my knowledge of the Microsoft suite, including Excel, Access, Word, and Outlook, which is a skill that is good to have in today’s workforce. I know that the new perspectives and Indigenous knowledge that I have been exposed to in this role will positively influence my work, both in school and in my chosen career, and have inspired me to seek out as many perspectives as possible in my future research.

Advice for Future Students

If you are thinking about applying for a job that you feel unqualified for, my advice is to go for it anyway. There's no harm in trying - worst-case scenario, you don't get the job. But best case? You land the job and gain valuable experience in a role that challenges you. If you are lucky enough to earn this role with ECCC, seek out every opportunity you can to learn about the consultation process with Species at Risk. You will learn key information, and experience real discussions and problem-solving lessons that you can’t learn in any way other than participating. By experiencing new perspectives, you will develop skills that can help you as a student, and in whichever career path you choose. Stay organized - it is easy to fall off track in this role if you are not on top of your work and getting important tasks done. If you are ever unsure about something, do not be afraid to reach out to your coworkers and supervisors, they want to help! Also, as a student at ECCC, you are automatically a part of the National Youth Network, which is a great resource. I wish I had participated in more meetings and webinars early in my term. Take advantage of every opportunity to get involved, and don’t forget to enjoy it!