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Piper French

SFU Student Undergraduate
Environment › Resource and Environmental Management
Co-operative Education

This co-op term provided me with a variety of experiences that I can use to bolster my resume, including policy analysis, preparing briefings, and conducting research. I was even able to see some on-the-ground work done by DFO at the Squamish Estuary and Capilano Hatchery.
Experience Details
Introduction + Preparation
Preparation Tips for Future Students

By preparing for your work term, you will be equipped to make a positive impression, contribute effectively, and make the most of the learning your term offers. Here are some tips that I would have found helpful starting out.

1. Complete your onboarding forms ASAP. I have heard many challenging stories from other co-op students who had delays to their start date because processing security forms does take time, or there were equipment delays, etc. To avoid these issues, complete any onboarding, security, tax, etc. forms as soon as you can and return them to your employer. Delays to your start date can be out of your control, but you can at least start your term right by completing all your paperwork in good time. 

2. Embrace the reality of trying new things and the potential to expand your comfort zone. You will have a much more rewarding co-op experience if you are willing to try new things so enter your new work term being open to new experiences and tasks. This is especially relevant if you are entering your first work term. If you start with an open mind, you might be able to make more connections and learn new things. For example, things I might have previously avoided, such as reaching out to strangers in my new workplace and asking for their time to have a discussion, ended up greatly improving my work term and helped me grow personally and professionally. 

During my Experience
Orientation and First Weeks

Since my work term was hybrid, my first day on the job was remote and I worked from home, equipped with my work-provided laptop and monitor. This day mostly involved reading a lot of documents to try and get me up to speed. I headed up to the office in downtown Vancouver the next day for an office tour and to meet the team in person. The initial weeks of my work term were a period of adjustment, discovery, and a lot of fast learning. Orientation and the first weeks on the job will never be complete without thinking at least once, “How will I ever learn all of this?" I found my position in the federal government began with an assortment of acronyms and government lingo I was unfamiliar with being tossed my way. Additionally, Fisheries and Oceans Canada is an extremely large department, and many folks who had worked there for several years still admitted to not understanding the full departmental organizational structure due to the size and diversity of work across the department. This is both a benefit and a complexity as the work that different branches and programs do is often quite varied and unique. Therefore, determining where I, as a co-op student, exactly fit into this structure took a certain level of research and dedication. Thankfully, after the first few weeks on the job I began to grasp the concepts being discussed at various meetings and began to feel grounded in the role. 

Learning and Adaptation

Learning and adapting to your work term involves absorbing new information, applying your skills, and adjusting to the dynamics of a new team. What helped me learn was to take good notes during meetings, even on topics that I did not understand or have the background information for. That way, I could refer to my notes afterward and, if needed, raise any questions with my supervisor. I also had to learn how to organize and present the results of the work tasks that I was assigned. When you first start a work term, there is a feeling of uncertainty around the work you produce and how you display it. What helped me feel more confident was to look at how other team members organized their work, and to spend a little extra time making sure I was satisfied and happy with the way I had organized and designed my research. That way, I felt more confident with my deliverable. My new team was also structured and managed differently than my previous work term, so I had to adapt to a new dynamic. Asking questions and taking risks was the best way that I supported my learning and adaptation to my new role. 

Accomplishments and Challenges

During this work term, I have been able to gain new accomplishments. The professional accomplishments I achieved during this work term included completing a federal policy review, conducting various research projects, and completing written and verbal briefings to coworkers and supervisors. Most of my accomplishments were new to me, so I was able to add new experience to my resume. However, no work term is complete without its challenges. I found there was a steeper learning curve to my new role because of the complexity of the work my new team did. Asking questions and giving myself the time to process the information helped me overcome this challenge. Further, since some of the tasks I completed were things I had never done before, I felt unsure about how well I was completing them. I found getting feedback and being open to advice effective at reducing the uncertainty I felt. Additionally, it is easy to feel overwhelmed when you have several tasks to complete at one time with various deadlines. However, creating lists and prioritizing proved effective for me to complete tasks on time. 

Reflection & Tips

My experience with Fisheries and Oceans Canada was fulfilling and provided valuable insights into how government agencies operate. One of the most notable aspects of my co-op was the diverse range of projects I was involved in. From policy analysis to reading local government planning documents to preparing briefings, I was exposed to a variety of tasks and had the opportunity to contribute to many different projects. I got to work with a team of professionals from various backgrounds who each offered their own unique expertise. Additionally, I was able to contribute to the work my team was doing to address a real-world emergency, namely the Pacific salmon decline. Participating in this work solidified my understanding of how important collaboration is when facing complex problems. Most people who have not worked in federal departments see them as a monolith. However, this experience showed me that federal departments are indeed made up of people; people who care and want to create meaningful change. This experience expanded my horizons to potential future job paths, and I gained experience that is translatable to both my academic and professional careers. 

Most Valuable Aspects of This Experience

My work term experience was valuable both professionally and personally. I made valuable connections with people in the department. I connected with knowledgeable people who were willing to share some of it. Additionally, connections I made in my previous work term led me to find my current work term. This experience also allowed me to try new things, and have a wide range of skills and experiences to add to my resume, such as policy review, writing briefings, and conducting research. Working specifically in government gave me valuable insights into how government processes work, and a glimpse into what working in government is like. On a personal level, this experience helped me build confidence in my ability to successfully complete tasks in a professional environment. Experiencing a professional workplace and its demands has prepared me for a future career and helped me feel more confident about pursuing careers post-graduation. I was also able to take ownership of tasks and responsibilities, which has led to a greater sense of independence and confidence. Overall, my experience was valuable in numerous ways, and searching for jobs in the future will be less daunting. 

Connection to Academic Studies or Career Goals

As an aspiring planner and as someone who studies resource and environmental management, taking on a position as a student environmental planner gave me a glimpse into the diverse work that planners can do. Some of my work connected directly with planning courses I had taken. For example, one of my tasks was to read the Official Community Plan for Dawson City, and any additional planning documents, such as zoning bylaws, that could be applicable to salmon, riparian areas, fish habitats, etc. One of the planning courses I took discussed OCPs and taught us how to read them, so I translated that knowledge into this experience. Further, this experience improved my academic performance because I deepened my understanding of the real-world applications that my studies have. My career goal is to work in the planning field, and now I know what planning roles in the federal government can look like. 

Advice for Future Students

Working in the federal government is an amazing and eye-opening experience, even if you choose to work elsewhere afterward. My main tip for future students is to understand that your co-op work term is about more than just a job. It's also about making connections, trying new things, and exploring your future. I would strongly encourage future students to reach out to people at your work term placement and conduct informational interviews or even informal coffee/tea chats with people whose work you’re curious about. Another tip is to make sure to document your achievements and any tasks that you have been working on. By the time you get to the end of your work term, you might struggle to remember what you worked on three months ago. Therefore, keeping a list and a short summary of all the tasks you complete, no matter how small, will make it easier for you to update your resume afterward. My final piece of advice is to make sure you take care of yourself during your work term. Try to find time after work and on weekends to relax and do things you enjoy. I found the leap to full-time work after completing an academic semester difficult at the start, so try and take it easy on yourself and enjoy.