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Pawandeep Kaur

SFU Student Undergraduate
Science › Data Science

Experience Faculty
Being part of the co-op job has shown me what I'm good at and where I can improve. Now, I feel more confident about my skills.
Experience Details
Application and Interview Tips

I submitted my application for the job through myExperience. After that, I received an email from their supervisor inviting me to talk. During our chat, he explained the project they had in mind and asked if I was interested. I was excited and immediately agreed to take part.

Introduction + Preparation
Previous Experience

Before this co-op, I hadn't worked in a professional job before. However, I had learned R programming in my classes, and it turned out to be helpful. I used R programming to make things work better and faster in different projects. I also completed an online Google Data Analyst certification along with my SFU courses. This helped me learn a lot about data analysis and gave me a good overall picture of the field.

Preparation Tips for Future Students

1. Initiate Your First Co-op Hunt Ahead of Time: Kickstart your journey towards securing your initial co-op job by commencing your search well in advance. Dedicate a portion of your daily or weekly routine to exploring opportunities that resonate with your interests. If a co-op position isn't secured early in the semester, maintain your persistence by continuing to submit applications until the semester's conclusion. 

2. Strategic Approach to First Co-op Selection: While pursuing your first co-op, it's common for students to feel compelled to accept any available role. However, opt for positions that align with your academic degree or personal preferences. By focusing your endeavors on opportunities closely related to your field, you'll unlock prospects for profound learning and personal development.

3. Elevate Your Interview Preparedness: Prior to facing interviews, invest time in researching both the company and the specific job role. This preparation will empower you to converse confidently and pose insightful questions, enabling you to establish a more engaging connection with the interview panel. In co-op interviews, your character and interpersonal skills often hold more weight than exhaustive technical examinations.

4. Deciding Between Multiple Job Offers: If you're fortunate enough to receive multiple job offers, it's wise to consult with your co-op coordinator prior to making a decision. Leverage their expertise to aid in your selection process, or to evaluate the outcomes of other interviews you've participated in. This collaborative approach ensures that you make an informed and advantageous choice.

A Flow Cytometry Plot with different Gated Cell Populations
A Flow Cytometry Plot with different Gated Cell Populations
During my Experience
Orientation and First Weeks

Starting a New Job Journey: Beginning a new job can feel a bit tricky at first. The things you do might be different from what you learned in school. When I started my co-op in bioinformatics, it was kind of tough for me because I didn't know much about biology or Flow Cytometry. Luckily, my coworkers were nice. They came from different backgrounds and helped me learn about this new job step by step.

My First Day and Learning Stuff: On my very first day, I met everyone who works in the lab and got to know what they do. In the first week, I did some training online about how to stay safe and follow the rules. I also took a workshop to learn about Flow Cytometry R libraries. Then, a senior team member showed me how to use R scripts to do Flow Cytometry Analysis, which is important for our research work. 

Embarking on a Big Task: In just two weeks, I was given the opportunity to work with three other team members on a large project for my 8-month co-op. Our manager shared the idea and reasons behind this project. From there, I began to learn about the basics of biological protein markers, which is a very important part of this project.

Learning and Adaptation

In the realm of learning and adapting, I've achieved something important – getting good at using special R libraries made for looking closely at flow cytometry data. I read and studied the libraries' instructions deeply, trying to understand all the details about how they work. But my journey didn't stop there.

I realized how helpful talking and sharing ideas with my colleagues could be. They gave me new ways to think about things and helped me when things got tough. I also tried out some sample programs to see how the ideas work in practice. I wasn't afraid of making mistakes – they were just steps on my path to learning.

Besides that, I also learned to use something called Docker images in RStudio. In a group project where we all had to work on data scripts, these Docker images made sure we were all using the same setup in RStudio. This made our results consistent even though we were using different computers.

I also learned to work with a MySQL database to get out data. It was my first time doing this kind of thing. I could write my own queries to get the data I needed. Doing this boosted my understanding of how to use MySQL in my work.

My journey is all about being open to learning and trying new things. It's proof that learning comes from studying, talking to others, trying things out, and never stopping in the quest to understand more.

Accomplishments and Challenges

Learning about flow cytometry was tough, especially when dealing with tricky words, and it got even trickier because I was working from home. Sometimes, it felt like they were speaking a whole different language! Luckily, my teammates and online resources came to my rescue. They helped me a lot, and in just a few weeks, I learned a bunch. Our weekly lab meetings gave me a chance to share my progress, and the advice they gave me really made a difference in getting better.

I'm proud of a project I worked on called the "Flow Cytometry ATLAS Map." Think of it like a map, but instead of showing places, it shows different groups of cells in Flow Cytometry plots. This map is super helpful for scientists because it shows where cells are and helps confirm if they're there. This project is a big deal because it makes things way simpler.

To make this project happen, our team works with a gaming company. They gave gamers Flow Cytometry plots to draw shapes around the data groups (they call it "Gating"). Right now, we're busy collecting data from different databases to figure out where popular groups of cells are in the plots. This shows that when we work together and think creatively, amazing things can come to life.

Cultural and Environmental Observations

In the lab, there are people with a lot of experience and others who are just starting. But the team is always ready to help with the same enthusiasm. They never make you feel like you don't know anything. Instead, they explain things and help you fix problems.

Reflection & Tips

This co-op journey taught me various aspects of data science, which was quite a surprise. Initially, I didn't think that a biology-related co-op would involve much data work. However, as I immersed myself in my role, I was amazed by the sheer amount of data produced through flow cytometry and the crucial role of cleaning and analyzing it effectively. This initially worried me since it was new territory, but I soon realized that the methods had similarities. While the tools and functions for handling data were somewhat different, they weren't too far from what I knew.

Being part of this co-op boosted my confidence in tackling challenges. Engaging in diverse tasks honed my problem-solving skills. I noticed growth in my ability to handle issues as they arose. Throughout this journey, my colleagues' support played a significant role. Their guidance helped me navigate both the highs and lows of my job.

The co-op experience has truly been an eye-opener, revealing how adaptable skills are and how the camaraderie of a supportive team can make a considerable impact.

Most Valuable Aspects of This Experience

This experience will always have a special place in my heart. It's my very first Data job, and it's introduced me to the world of data and how to navigate it. I've learned how to succeed when you're starting from scratch. The team is wonderful, with experienced people who patiently explain things. I'm grateful to my supervisor, Ryan Brinkman, for trusting me with a big project. I'm working with people who've done a lot of research and published papers. They've also made R libraries for analyzing flow cytometry.

This journey has been a treasure trove of learning. It has taught me about teamwork, mentorship, and seizing opportunities. It's shown me how to grow and explore new things.

Connection to Academic Studies or Career Goals

This Co-op experience has beautifully bridged the gap between what I've learned in my studies and its real-world applications. It's like putting puzzle pieces together; my academic knowledge has found a meaningful purpose in solving work-related challenges. It's fascinating how this experience has expanded my comprehension of those concepts. In school, my exposure was often confined to limited and small datasets within labs and assignments. Yet, surprisingly, the strategies employed for those analyses share common threads with tackling larger datasets.

The skills cultivated from collaborating on school team projects have seamlessly transitioned to my co-op team efforts. The ability to work harmoniously and contribute effectively in a team setting has been a rewarding carryover.

Bioinformatics data analysis was never on my radar before this co-op opportunity. However, this journey has swung open a door to an entirely new realm, filled with abundant growth possibilities. This revelation has kindled a spark of curiosity and excitement within me, propelling me to explore uncharted territories.

Advice for Future Students

Entering a fresh work environment can bring a mix of feelings, including uncertainty. Remember, though, that questions are your allies. Don't hesitate to ask for help when things seem unclear.

Starting in a different work setting can be a bit overwhelming, especially when everything seems so new. But don't forget, everyone once started from scratch. Instead of letting the unknown scare you, see it as a chance to learn and become better.

Asking questions isn't a weakness; it's a sign that you're eager to understand and learn. It's like taking the first step towards getting better. Your coworkers and bosses will appreciate your interest in understanding what's happening. Not only will this help you, but it'll also make your work environment friendlier and more connected.

If you're working from home, make sure your space is peaceful. Keep an eye on your deadlines so you're not caught off guard. And even when your co-op starts, don't stop learning on your own. There will be lots of new things, and it's okay if they feel strange at first.

Lastly, if you're interested in data science, Bioinformatics is a great area to explore. Give it a try and see where it takes you!


Pawandeep Kaur

SFU Student Undergraduate
Science › Data Science
visibility  568
Aug 15, 2023

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An image of Pawandeep sitting at a home work station
Navigating the Waves of Data: A Journey of Growth and Learning

I learned many things in my co-op journey but some of the most important lessons that I learnt came from those working alongside me. Here are a few of those things that I learned from others, shared with you.