Co-op is a learning experience. Learning experiences aren’t about the “Aha!” moments. They’re about how you get there – and carry yourself through awkward growing pains. So here are a few tips to remember when it’s your turn to be a newbie.
1. You Shouldn’t Feel Comfortable.
If you are, you aren’t being put in a position that is going to force you to learn. Being uncomfortable sucks. Not knowing anything and having to constantly ask questions – or not even knowing what questions to ask (yet) – is uncomfortable. Unfortunately, this is the best way to grow and is what co-op is all about. When in the midst of these growing pains, just try to remember that it is better to do this now. It is somewhat acceptable to be a total noob now, whereas a degree later, we are all expected to know everything (and have several years of experience).
You need to do it. I found that I was thrown into things and I felt I had TOO many questions. I was somewhat surprised that I wasn’t getting more training, partially embarrassed to keep asking questions, and mostly unsure of how to make decisions on all the responsibilities that were thrown on my desk. To sum up my situation and probably everybody else’s, just ask. Just spit it out. If you feel that you shouldn’t be asking questions, that’s probably in your head. If it’s not in your head, then just ask anyway. It’s fine. Don’t get discouraged and don’t forget that a lack of training might as well be your invitation to ask away. And then ask for clarification if you’re still fuzzy on what you’re supposed to be getting.
Just ask works most of the time. In general, stick to it the best you can. I tried, yet, I found that I encountered what seemed like a bit of a question bottleneck in my work when I had questions that I NEEDED answering to be able to move on with my work. If I moved on to something else, I encountered another question. And at the beginning, this went on and on until I had lots of questions and a long list of incomplete tasks. My only advice here is to try to make a list as you move through what’s due. There are going to be times where everyone you can ask for help is busy, so just stick a pin in it and move on. Remember not to stress about it; you will probably be okay. If you don’t meet expectations this week, that’s just part of your co-op experience and you can keep trying.
4. For Those of You in the Long Game:
Like many others, I took an eight-month placement. I didn’t start feeling comfortable until maybe the end of the third month. A thousand questions later, I can actually get through a day without needing to break the silence with an awkward, “Hey boss, you have a sec?!” I’m sure I’ll encounter new challenges going forward, but the past four months have paid off with some confidence. So, in my case, It was a long wait to get comfortable. If you’re in the same boat and also signed up for eight months, my advice to you is don’t be shocked. And again, don’t get discouraged by feeling like a noob.