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Jessie Moon

SFU Student Undergraduate
Science › Biological Sciences
Co-operative Education › Out-of-Town Co-op

Position Title
Experience Faculty
Working at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has been the biggest step I have made towards my academic goals. I was able to work with amazing people and learn a lot!
Experience Details
Semester
Spring
Year
2023
Application and Interview Tips

Entering the seeking semester of co-op can be quite overwhelming. Glancing over the long list of jobs that you may feel like you won't qualify for can sometimes be difficult to take the initial step and apply. But it is important to remember that most employers are aware that co-op students tend to not have a great amount of experience. They look for those who have the basic skills, such as: communication, teamwork, punctuality, but most importantly the desire to learn. For those who are about to enter their seeking semester, be prepared to dedicate many hours to applying for jobs. It is critical to apply for jobs consistently throughout the semester until you have landed a position. I would suggest applying for at least 5-8  jobs per week and reflect on the responses you receive as the semester progresses. For example, if you were not offered an interview during the first month then I would suggest looking over your resume and cover letter again to make slight adjustments as you go. Applying for many jobs during your first week can be disadvantageous because you will not have the time and opportunity to learn that there may be certain improvements that can be made on your resume. The quality of your resume and cover letter will greatly increase your chances of landing a position.

Introduction + Preparation
Previous Experience

Before I began my co-op journey, I worked part-time at Starbucks while attending SFU. I had no previous knowledge or experience in working with insects. Due to my lack of experience, this made me quite doubtful of my capability to be able to get the position. However, due to my skills from Starbucks and other experiences, I was able to present my ability to adapt and willingness to learn, which is one of the most important traits looked for in an employee. I displayed my willingness to learn by looking into the researcher’s experiments prior to the interview. Learning the general idea of the species and techniques, allowed me to have something to discuss about during the interview that highlighted my genuine interest in this position. I was honest and straightforward with my lack of experience with handling insects; however, I emphasized that I was interested to expand my skills and learn about different fields.

During my Experience
Orientation and First Weeks

During the first week at the Agassiz Research Developmental Centre, there were many resources that were handed out to the new students to aid with our process of settling into the workplace. Some of these resources that were offered included guided tours of the centre and zoom meetings to teach and give students the opportunity to ask questions. As a student who was quite intimidated with starting at a new workplace, the extent the staffs of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada went through to offer these extra resources has made my transition into the workplace much smoother. Nonetheless, the first couple weeks in the lab would get quite overwhelming. The considerable number of new terms and techniques that I learned was a struggle to keep up with, especially as a student that had no prior experience in entomology. However, my supervisors and colleagues consistently supported me to take my time with learning this new information and to take it at my own pace. As time passed, I eventually was able to use these new terms daily. Even to this day, I am continuing to expand my vocabulary in the lab and learn new terms every day.

Day to Day

My day-to-day routine in the lab differs every day, depending on what is on my to-do list. My day typically begins with emails and connecting with my colleagues and supervisor. It is important to make sure everyone is always on the same page to prevent any miscommunications, especially because this is an independent workplace environment. I prioritize the tasks that I am responsible for before I ask if there is anything I can assist others on. To go into more detail, my day starts with rearing the flies and wasps. It is important to maintain these colonies and have them ready for our own experiments or in case we must send off the species to other labs that may need to study them. Rearing takes a minimum of 48 hours a week to complete since the flies needs time to lay eggs and for the wasps to have enough time to parasitize those eggs. When the rearing is completed, I continue with my other long-term tasks, such as: counting data, cleaning equipment for future use, or writing a manuscript for my experiment.

Learning and Adaptation

At Starbucks, the environment is heavily teamwork based. Every shift would consist of a fast-paced environment, communicating with your coworkers and the customers, and multitasking. The transition between this busy team focused environment to an independent self-pace job was the biggest adaptation I had to make. As a research assistant in the biocontrol lab, you are given one main duty with small tasks on the side. It is up to you to plan and decide on which tasks should be more of a priority over another task. Some tasks will also have to be completed by a certain deadline. Therefore, it is your responsibility to plan on which tasks must be completed to meet all your deadlines and expectations. During my first month on the job, I had a difficult time estimating how much time each task would take to complete. To overcome this obstacle, I began to take a half an hour in the beginning of the week to plan out my schedule and to-do list in advance for the rest of the week. Allowing me to organize my thoughts and focus on those that must be prioritized first and to also see which ones would be able to be pushed off to later in the week. From these new adaptions, I was able to grow independently in the workplace and organize my time well enough to finish everything that I must get done.

Accomplishments and Challenges

Since starting this co-op position, I have seen growth in my personal life and academic career. Because the research centre is a one-and-a-half-hour drive from the SFU campus, I have decided to move out for this position. Having the opportunity to move out of my hometown and experience living on my own in a new environment, has been a great way to push myself out of my comfort zone. Living alone has pushed me to prioritize my own health and maintain a healthy balance between work and self-care. I managed to find a routine that allows me to fit in work, working out, and meal prepping every week. Moreover, I have also noticed improvements in the workplace. Working full time without taking courses, allows me to be more present in the workplace and have more opportunity to learn and adapt quicker. So far during my co-op year, I managed to gain numerous skills that will be valuable to future courses and jobs. Since I am in the lab five times a week, I can ask any questions and start experiments that requires many hours a week. In other words, there is no time restraint. From when I began this co-op position, to now, I have found myself a lot more confident with the species I work with and the general tasks around the lab.

Reflection & Tips
Most Valuable Aspects of This Experience

Being able to apply your knowledge from courses to hands on work has been the most valuable aspect of this experience. Learning the process of planning, conducting, and analyzing the results of an experiment has brought a new perspective on the material and theories I learned in class. The number of hours and labour that is dedicated to these new findings to expand the field of knowledge is eye opening. To be able to be a part of the process has been truly inspiring. My supervisor gives me the freedom to find answers to my questions with small tests and allows me to be creative on how to carry out an experiment. Having the chance to have these trial and errors is an effective way to learn hands on. Another valuable aspect of this experience are the connections I have made with numerous people. Being able to build relationships and hear others’ academic journeys has allowed me to view different possible paths and gain valuable advice for my future steps. Learning each unique advice and perspective on the field has made me more confident with my decision on pursuing a career in research. Building this network of relationships with people in the field is critical to your career and can help open new opportunities. The skills I have learned and developed during my time at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada will be beneficial for my future career and research. Designing and conducting experiments, practising the basic language of R to analyze data, and writing a scientific presentation or manuscript. These are all skills that were taught to the students so far, and we are still learning more every day. Furthermore, these valuable skills are critical to anyone who is planning to continue their education and pursue a master’s degree, like myself. The information that I learned will also help me with my future courses at SFU. For example, since my minor is in statistics, I will now return to my statistics courses confidently because I have been working with it the past year. Whereas, if I did not practice R in the lab then I would have forgotten my previous basic R knowledge. Another example is the insect biology course that is offered in SFU. Now having a better foundation of entomology, will benefit me when returning back in the fall.

Advice for Future Students

My advice for future students is to be willing to step out of your comfort box and be comfortable with rejection. When looking at a job posting, do not let the requirements scare you away. Remind yourself that the employers are aware that you are a student and that you may not have a lot of previous experience in the field. However, that is the point of co-op, to gain those first initial experience. Secondly, if you find a job that is far from where you are currently living but is well-suited for you, then push yourself to make that big change. The process of finding new housing and routine takes time to adapt to; however, the experience you gain in those 4 to 8 months is always valuable. Although moving away to a new city that you are not familiar with can be quite overwhelming, be prepared to jump at any opportunity that comes your way. If it happens that the position is not what you are passionate about, then that is also a valuable lesson that you could learn from the experience. Despite of the outcome, the whole experience is what the co-op program is meant for. Personally, without my decision on moving away for this position, I would not have been able to say that I am confident that I would like to pursue a career in research.

Author

Jessie Moon

SFU Student Undergraduate
Science › Biological Sciences
Co-operative Education › Out-of-Town Co-op
visibility  250
May 24, 2023