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Beedie School of Business
SFU Co-op Student

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The author and colleagues
For the largest biotech company in Canada, it is no surprise that STEM CELL is packed with wickedly smart and innovative people, people who go from studying cells and tissues to creating a kidney in a petri dish, and probably one day will cure cancer.

“You’re making popcorn at 8:45 in the morning?”

“Yeah, it’s Friday, snack first, movie later!”

Friday morning, the sun is shining, and the sky is clear. I’m walking across the floor carrying a giant bowl and a red carpet, leaving behind me a trail of mesmerizing hot, freshly popped corn smell. The two most important tasks of my morning: make perfect popcorn (an art I’m still mastering), and roll out the wrinkle-less, walk-worthy red carpet.

It’s for a movie premiere but not of a Hollywood blockbuster. It’s better than that. It’s the Video Premiere for another cohort of new employees.

For the largest biotech company in Canada, it is no surprise that STEM CELL is packed with wickedly smart and innovative people, people who go from studying cells and tissues to creating a kidney in a petri dish, and probably one day will cure cancer (excuse the over-simplification of a non-scientific brain). The surprise, though, is that in the process they have way more fun than I ever imagined.

As the HR Training Coordinator, a large part of my role was to host the company’s bi-weekly Corporate Orientation. That means setting up the schedule, preparing the rooms, making sure all presenters and guests are good to go, welcoming new employees, walking them through their first week and offering all the support they need during their onboarding process. The program takes place over three mornings, with the purpose to meet, inform, and immerse new employees in several aspects of the company, the science behind products and the teams they will be working with, as well as to mingle, make connections, and experience “Scientists Helping Scientists” for themselves. How do we do that? Through a secret mix of snack-centered activities (guess who is in charge of the bags of Smarties and jars of peanut butter?). And on top of that, they get to make a video about one of the company’s massive range of products and screen it at the video premiere.

My first time hosting Orientation by myself? Sinking into the oversized boardroom chair with a nervous smile on my face and making tons of awkward jokes I’d rather not recall. I was a little over a month into my new job, and already sitting in front of these groups of people (most are a PhD of this or a MSc of that) trying to help them navigate through the new environment, as if I was not a squeaky newbie myself!

A lot of corn-popping and carpet-rolling later, I am now used to people curiously peeking into the room and wondering about all the setup. “It’s my job. I got the fun one!” – I’d say. Indeed, I did.

Through Orientation, I got to meet new employees from different departments and locations, got to know them, their backgrounds, what they do, and had a ton of fun at the same time. What better way to start a Friday than watching awesome, creative videos, having some good laughs, and seeing how your work helped people quickly become part of the company and get up to speed in their new roles?

During my eight months, I also learned so much about myself. I now know a bit about dozens of different, cool products, and how they work to help advance life-science research (a huge achievement for a non-scientific brain). I no longer panic at the idea of speaking in front of 30 new hires coming in for an orientation, or a room full of brilliant, experienced, world-leading scientists, all looking at me (the tiny, tiny co-op pea) for instructions. Nor the unexpected crises, like when the projector breaks down half-way through a training session. I’m also a lot more comfortable breaking the ice with a new group, and able to bring them together with much less awkward jokes!

Most of all, I gained new understanding of the amazing ways all the units in a large organization work smoothly to collaborate and communicate, and the role of the HR department in this process of constant changes. In a company that is at the cutting edge of science and innovation, it really all starts with people.

A memorable moment? The other day, the SCOOP, our internal quarterly newspaper came out. It always includes the list of all new employees who started in the last four months. And as I looked through the two-page long list of names, it suddenly came to me: Hey, I know all these people! They all went through Orientation! How amazing is that!

SFU Co-op Student
Linh Nguyen worked in the HR department of a biotech firm as a HR Training Coordinator during her Co-op term. 

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