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Izzy Nicholson

SFU Student Undergraduate
Science › Biological Sciences

Position Title
Experience Faculty
My experience was valuable and enjoyable, but challenging at times due to the complexity of this job and how new the unit is. However, this created many learning opportunities and the chance to express new ideas and new perspectives. This job is applicable to my learning at SFU because it has taught me to think outside of the box, organize my tasks as efficiently as I can and it has taught me discipline when the workload gets heavy.
Experience Details
Application and Interview Tips

Within your application, you should highlight the following:

  • Experience with hybrid working - such as your experience with school during the COVID-19 Pandemic
  • Any experiences you may have with Excel, Outlook, Publisher and other Microsoft apps
  • Geographic Information System (GIS) work
  • Work or volunteering with Indigenous communities
  • Knowledge of the Species At Risk Act
  • Any previous work with the Federal Government.

When it comes to the interview, there is typically a panel of interviewers. This can be intimidating but in my experience, the two staff members who interviewed me were very kind and personable. They do ask quite a few questions and they look for you to be able to form concise and professional answers.

Be conscious of how you present yourself for the online interview:

  • Place your laptop high enough to ensure the camera is situated at eye level
  • Make sure the background is plain
  • Dress appropriately and professionally
  • Look into the camera when speaking to give the illusion that you are making eye contact
Introduction + Preparation

To prepare for my 8-month work term with Environment Canada, I took a deep dive into the Species At Risk Act (SARA) provided on the Government of Canada website. This act is crucial for working within this department but it can take many months of work to get a grasp on the complex process.

Due to this role being very busy and fast moving, I recommend ensuring this is a suitable job for you. Someone to be suitable for this role should be quite independent, organized and has great communication. Being independent is very crucial as it is a hybrid role so, when you are working from home there is nobody but yourself to keep you accountable or to guide you through what needs to be done. With everyone being busy with their own workload, being able to think ahead to what will need to be done in the near future and starting to tackle those pieces will be very appreciated by your colleagues.

Previous Experience

For this position, it is preferred for candidates to have previous experience with the federal government. I believe this is mainly to have a smoother security clearance and onboarding process and to simply understand the general idea of what it is like to work in the public service. Other experiences that are useful is to be familiar with Microsoft Software as it is used every day and working in a hybrid model.

Preparation Tips for Future Students

To prepare for this job, it is crucial to know your way around Microsoft apps especially Excel. Knowing skills and tricks within this software can make your job much easier, quicker and can be impressive to your colleagues. I took an EdX course online to learn more about the in's and out's of Excel, the course is free and I highly recommend it.

Be prepared to be confused as to what the job involves. I found the job posting confusing but the idea of working with the protection of species at risk while collaborating with Indigenous Nations sparked my interest. The Indigenous Relations and Stakeholder Consultation Unit (IRSC) is very new but the work that is being done has been ongoing for many years, so some people may have more or less experience than others. With time you will have a better understanding of the work and processes that the IRSC entails.

Regardless of whether or not you have worked in the public service, it is important to understand the structure of this branch of government, how Canadian Wildlife Service fits into Environment Canada and how the IRSC also fits in. This can help when understanding how government functions. During your first few weeks on the job you will be given mandatory training to better understand this.

During my Experience
Orientation and First Weeks

During my first week of working with Environment and Climate Change Canada - Canadian Wildlife Service (ECCC-CWS), I was in the office in downtown Vancouver and another co-op student from UBC gave me a tour of the building. Once I was settled, I prepared for my Teams meeting with my manager. Due to security purposes, personal laptops and phones are unable to connect to the buildings Wi-Fi so I had to take this call in the lobby of the building and connect to the internet of a local restaurant. During this call, I was able to choose my hours during the week which ended up being a Monday to Friday 7:40AM - 4:30PM schedule.

Since my first day didn't start until 10, for the remainder of the day I got started on my training courses. There are several mandatory trainings for the public service and each of them serve a purpose and help with understanding the do's and don'ts of working for the government and help to better understand how the government is organized and where you fit into it. I was given two weeks to finish these courses, during this time I attended my first unit meeting where I had a chance to meet the rest of my core function and the unit. 

Once I finished my training, I was included in several weekly meetings and Teams chats and my workload began to grow.

Day to Day

It is quite hard to explain the day-to-day work life as a Consultation Secretariat. However, I often am creating draft letters to announce or notify our Partners about an Amendment to Schedule 1 of the Species At Risk Act (SARA), which essentially means that a species which is at risk and therefore on Schedule 1, is either being downlisted - to a less severe status, or uplisted - to a more severe status. When this happens we must notify our Indigenous Partners and this typically opens up a commenting period for anyone to leave their concerns. This type of work is always ongoing and we, the consultation team, are the core function that is required to ensure these notifications go out.

Other common tasks that I do is monitoring our Species At Risk (SAR) email where we send all of our mass communications to our Partners, I also create slide decks - or more commonly called presentations, as well as posters for workshops that we are preparing to host.

Learning and Adaptation

As mentioned above, before starting this job, I wasn't sure as to what I was getting into due to the puzzlement I experienced from the job posting. Now that I am nearly done in this role, I can understand why there was a bit of confusion there. This then resulted in me starting a job without really knowing what the job was but, I knew what the overarching idea was - consulting with Indigenous Partners about Species At Risk. Due to this, there was a steep learning curve and a lot of adjustments to be made quite quickly. 

The transition to a hybrid model was smooth since I had experience with having school online during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, working a desk job and on a laptop all day was very new to me. It took me a long time to really feel as though I was working because of the lack of physical, hands on work that I am familiar with.

It wasn't until I attended a work barbeque at the Delta office about three or four months into my work term that the job finally felt real and I felt more motivated to express my ideas and to ask questions. 

Accomplishments and Challenges

One of my biggest challenges in this position was feeling like my job was not a real job and therefore, not being satisfied or feeling like I have accomplished anything. As I said above, I associate work with physical labour so, since most of the week I was in my bedroom typing away emails and creating endless documents while sitting in a chair for seven and a half hours of the day, I didn't feel as though I was actually working. The ripple effect of this was that I hardly felt as though I was being helpful or making a difference to the team which I believe resulted in me not putting my full effort into my work. It wasn't until I received feedback on my first evaluation from my supervisor that I felt like I had accomplished anything. Hearing the kind comments from my supervisor about my term with ECCC-CWS reiterated that this was a real job and then made me feel very accomplished and it motivated me for the rest of the work term. After this I pushed myself to step out of my comfort zone and be more helpful by being more lively and conversational in Teams meetings and chats. This then helped me understand the confusing processes that go on and improved my conversational skills.

My biggest personal accomplishment is becoming content with failure. This job has been tough and not a lot of things are straightforward so everything requires a level of trial and error. Therefore, failure is a big part of this job. Thankfully, the failures made aren't detrimental and can be fixed. Due to this being such a major part of the job, it has made failure less intimidating to me and I now see them as a way of learning. I have applied this to my personal life in many areas.

Reflection & Tips

Since this was my first desk job, I came into it open minded and ready to learn a new style of working. The reason I applied to this job was to gain experience with working alongside Indigenous Peoples and to learn about the Species At Risk Act. I am happy with the skills I have learnt and the knowledge I have gained surrounding these topics and working downtown Vancouver was very cool and not something I had expected to do for several years to come. However, I definitely am not someone who would choose a desk job or a corporate job again. I still find it quite challenging to feel accomplished and seeing my step count at the end of the work day at less than 3000 steps makes me feel very unproductive. I am glad I have realized this as it filters out many potential jobs and I am keen to work in the field in the near future.

I really loved working with all the amazing people on my team, especially my close group of three people who I really got along with and felt very comfortable to go to whenever I needed to. I am sad to leave this team but I am excited to take the skills and experiences I have had here to my future jobs and career.

Most Valuable Aspects of This Experience

I think my most valuable experience of this job was connecting with my coworkers; I am typically very independent and I carry that into my work style. For example, in a previous co-op role I typically worked alone on a farm and other research teams around me had three or four students all working together, yet I was perfectly okay working by myself.

However, with this co-op there is much more connecting and collaborating with those around you whether you are in the office or online in a Teams meeting. This helped me learn to work with others and to ask for help more often. Being with other co-op students in the office and becoming close through the term was fun and made the longer work days more enjoyable, resulting in connections that I hope to hold onto. I am happy that I had this experience and although it may not result in a career opportunity, it has magnificently increased my knowledge around the topic and policy of Species at Risk (SAR) as well as developed my communication skills in a formal business setting. I am excited for my return to school to utilize these new skills and prepare for my next work experience.

Connection to Academic Studies or Career Goals

This role will be applicable to my studies as I was required to do extensive organization, read up on several species descriptions and discover better ways to articulate my thoughts and ideas.

Since this unit is very new and continuously growing, everything moves very quickly and there are normally several different pieces moving at once. This has forced me to amp up my ability to organize my work and to distribute my workload evenly. I have a tendency to get things done as efficiently as I can, even if it extends my day tremendously. Due to there being so many things to get done and not much time to do so, I was required to allocate my tasks by priority and then make a weekly plan to tackle each one. I will definitely be integrating these into my busy school schedule this coming semester.

Throughout my work term, I was tasked with things related to specific species. Such as, drafting letters about a species at risk management plan, drafting multi-species posters, or creating species at risk slide decks. All of this required me to do background research for the particular species and then include the relevant information in those documents. This is helpful as I am a biology major and some courses require you to know certain functions or physiology of a certain animal and with this grown ability to pick out the key information, I can apply it when necessary during my studies.

Additionally, when creating conversations with others or making a suggestion, I have forced myself to be more clear when doing so and being able to elaborate in a professional manner when necessary. This can be helpful for taking examinations or communicating with a professor at SFU.

Advice for Future Students

When approaching this position, understand that every experience is a learning moment and I had a lot of those during my time here. 

As I have said several times, this unit is very new and still gathering its bearings and capacity. The subjects involved in this role are very detailed and have a lot of depth, making it quite difficult and discouraging to understand the ins and outs of the unit and department. The team is very aware of this and so they are extremely understanding of taking a lot of time to get a grasp on the role. It took me about four to five months to feel confident in my abilities to do this job and to feel comfortable making suggestions and asking questions. On the bright side, many of your coworkers are also new and learning as they go which makes the learning process for yourself slightly easier and less rushed.

There is a lot of opportunity to learn through workshops, online courses, seminars and other resources that are typically internal to ECCC-CWS. Always keep in mind that this is part of your schooling so you are here to learn and develop skills; with that, don't be afraid to ask questions or ask for more clarity. It may feel silly to ask questions about a topic after everyone else seems to have an understanding but as I said, there is a lot to learn.

And lastly, be patient. Don't put too much pressure on yourself to understand everything that is going on, it will come with time!:)

Overall, have fun, ask as many questions as you can, attend team meetings and barbeques and take any opportunity to go visit the Pacific Wildlife Research Centre (PWRC) in Delta. Please email me if you have any questions about this role :)


Izzy Nicholson

SFU Student Undergraduate
Science › Biological Sciences
visibility  319
Feb 8, 2024