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Selma Babiker

SFU Student Undergraduate
Environment › Environmental Science
Co-operative Education

Experience Faculty
Exploring outreach initiatives has enhanced my skills as a scientist. Gaining insight into the agricultural community, including its traditions and methodologies, has equipped me with the tools and knowledge necessary to develop solutions for the challenges they face.
Experience Details
Application and Interview Tips
  • Be confident 
  • Take a moment to think about the questions 
  • Have Fun
Introduction + Preparation
Preparation Tips for Future Students

To future students preparing for a co-op, do everything you can, but realize that it’s okay for things to be out of your control. To prepare for my interview and work experience, I thought of courses that I did at SFU that intersect with my job. I reflected on biology courses, environmental and land courses, and electives such as sociology and global justice. I even thought of the interconnectedness of those courses. For example, when learning about a topic like climate change, I was able to use my scientific understanding of that topic to help me understand the societal implications of it. Not only did I prepare using my SFU courses, but I also thought of my previous volunteer and work experiences. I was fortunate enough to have worked in leadership and also with Youth. I revisited my old work re-reading workshop plans and leader trainer guides. Re-visiting those allowed me to ask myself what went wrong, and what I could have done to be a better leader. A lot of questions I asked myself I didn’t know the answer to. I wasn’t yet sure how I could improve when working with youth, especially since I haven’t worked with 4-H kids before. Embrace the uncertainty of entering a new job; part of the preparation process is being okay with not knowing everything and trusting that you'll learn as you go.

During my Experience
Orientation and First Weeks

At first, working in government wasn’t easy. There were so many acronyms, several different branches, and a lot of staff in various positions. On the first day, my supervisor explained everything to me clearly providing me with a work plan for the next 4 months, a list of all the branches and units in the ministry, and a copy of the minister of agriculture’s mandate letter which we reviewed together. I learned how my position as a Youth Development assistant reflected the mandate and the importance of always aligning my work with the mandate. The next few weeks consisted of several general introductory meetings. I had coffee chats with supervisors of different units, met with other co-op students, and even joined other team meetings to observe their workflow. During those meetings, I realized that there's often a lot of back and forth in government work. Teams frequently have to adapt, whether it's because something didn't go as planned and they need to change direction, or due to sudden changes like new fund announcements or budget cuts. Part of my training included taking mandatory government courses where I learned about fraud and prevention, capacity in Indigenous relations, WHIMS, Information management, and so much more. These courses were intense but highly effective. They quickly gave me insight into what it's like to work within a government structure. Since my job works closely with 4-H, a youth organization, I took youth safety courses and training which allowed me to develop the foundation of skills needed for tasks in the future of my co-op. During the first few weeks even though I was doing a lot of training, I had autonomy in what I was learning and even took a few extra government courses such as taking briefing notes, and diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Learning and Adaptation

When I started my role as a Youth Development assistant, I knew little about 4-H. 4-H is a Youth leadership organization that has more than 100 years of roots. It is much more than an agriculture organization. Participants learn public speaking, problem-solving, teamwork, and so much more. To this day, I am still learning about 4-H and it’s been challenging to adapt and understand everything that this amazing program has to offer. Another learning curve was my writing. Coming from academia my writing tends to be detailed and intricate. For my audience of parents, youth, and colleagues, it wasn’t the appropriate writing style. In this role, I've learned to streamline my writing, moving from the detailed style I used for academic papers to a more concise, yet still professional, approach. Another adjustment I've made is using my breaks more effectively. In my job, most of the time, you are sitting down at your desk. During lunches, I would continue to just sit at my desk however, it left me more tired and less motivated. As time went on, I forced myself to take my breaks, to go on walks, and to not eat lunch at my desk. Because of that, forcing myself to get up, I met a lot of different people around my office and made new connections and friends.

Accomplishments and Challenges

Throughout my term, one of my greatest accomplishments was also my biggest challenge. I delivered a workshop at the national 4-H leadership summit on the topic of integrating climate awareness in your 4-H clubs. The most challenging part in creating this workshop was organizing it. It was a 90-minute session with a diverse age group, so I was not exactly sure how to have an interactive but educational workshop, especially since I was so new to the 4-H scene. Even creating the layout of the workshop was harder than I imagined as I was not exactly sure how long it would take for me to cover each section. To address this, I sought a lot of advice and feedback. I had several meetings with coworkers where we reviewed my plan, slides, and speech, making changes and adaptations to ensure a smoother flow. Throughout the process, I developed key skills such as organizing, problem-solving, and time management. On the day of the workshop, I was so nervous. I didn't have much public speaking experience, especially to a crowd of this magnitude and at an event of this size. In the end, the workshop went well. I had an amazing audience; people were interactive and listening.   However, my workshop didn’t go perfectly; There is so much that I could have done better such as more engaging activities, going into further detail, and working on my stage presence instead of focusing as much on a script.

Throughout the term, I also accomplished working on resources such as debate packages rooted in agriculture themes which required skills such as attention to detail, critical thinking, and problem-solving. When creating those packages, it took a lot of pivoting and changing the structure multiple times but the end product was something that ended up being useful to many.

Cultural and Environmental Observations

Working at the Ministry of Agriculture in Abbotsford has been amazing. I've discovered that most people are open to chatting if you just reach out. I've had conversations with many amazing individuals and learned about their career paths and journeys. In the office staff always say hello or gather in common areas for lunch and chat with you. They are also supportive of any personal accommodation that is needed. Whenever I need space whether it may be for mental or religious obligations, I know I’m more than welcome to use any spare room or space. Not only to just use it but to also feel safe in it. One of my favourite things about working at my job is the kindness and the willingness that people have to learn about your cultural identity. It has been amazing meeting so many new people and has made my co-op experience even more rewarding.

Reflection & Tips

Looking back, this first term at my co-op showed me how important communication is. For instance, one thing that I’ve struggled with is asking for help. However, during this co-op, I’ve learned how vital it is to ask and to communicate when you’re confused or need clarification. Instead of spending hours figuring it out, all it took was a quick ask to my supervisor. Even if you’re asking multiple times, it is better to be sure and confident in the work you do than not ask for help. Gaining this confidence in asking for help has made me a more confident employee and has even affected me outside of my work life. Another reason why communication is so important is because, without it, I would not have made the connections I have today. Working in outreach and meeting many new people, I’ve learned to step out of my comfort zone. I'm confident in approaching people professionally and inviting them for a coffee chat to discuss their career paths and how they've reached where they are today. I’ve heard so many different stories of farmers and their farms in BC or throughout Canada. I’ve seen generations of farmers, or new ones, and I’ve met people in the agri world and have asked them about their innovations and businesses such as agri-tech and AI, and other engineering projects. Communicating and talking to people has shown me that there are jobs that I didn’t know existed, it has connected me to new people and has also helped me grow both professionally and personally.

Most Valuable Aspects of This Experience

The most valuable aspect of this experience was gaining confidence in my public speaking skills. Throughout the last four months, I have spoken in front of numerous groups of people including the 90-minute presentation about climate awareness at a national conference (detailed above.) Before this job, I had little experience speaking confidently in front of groups. To prepare for my presentation, I consulted with my supervisor and did some research in advance. However, what I learned about public speaking is that you can never be fully ready for it. To become better at it you need to have experience. My first public speaking experience during my co-op was for a mini workshop about climate change and to be honest, it was a complete mess. I stuttered, I missed things, and I even talked too fast during some parts. To address these issues, I asked participants to complete a short survey which informed me on what I did wrong and where I could improve. I took the constructive criticism and applied it to my next workshop. I practiced in front of friends, family, and co-workers until I was more confident in my ability to speak. The next time I did, it went a lot smoother and my overall feedback was much better. I still have a lot to work on when it comes to public speaking but this term has me a glimpse of the progress I can make with more experience.

Connection to Academic Studies or Career Goals

One thing I love about this job is how it uses science to elevate society. The premise of this position is outreach to Youth in agriculture. To further society, we need to start by educating youth by teaching them the importance of farming, science, technology, and beyond. There are numerous intersections between social development and science foundations, and during this job, you are drawing many different perspectives to make real and tangible change. This is how I feel about my Environmental Science degree. Throughout my degree, I’ve had to understand the science behind the environment but also understand the social implications of the environment and how they intersect. When coming up with solutions for key issues that we face globally, I’m not only thinking from a scientific perspective but also from a social or indigenous perspective. As a result, it has enabled me to think critically about problem-solving, diversify my perspective, and avoid relying solely on one source, instead drawing research and conclusions from various sources. This job has only furthered my experience in those areas and has brought me joy in being able to use science to make the world a better place.

Advice for Future Students

For any upcoming students who have a passion for outreach and leadership, as well as a love for science but prefer not to spend all day in a lab, there will always be jobs that intersect the many interests that you have. I love science, but personally, for me, I didn’t want to be stuck in a lab all day. I wanted to be able to do research, write, talk to different groups of people, and attend conferences but I wasn’t sure what was out there for me. This job wasn’t the only job I found that entailed leadership, outreach, and science. There were countless. When it comes to looking for meaningful work, there will always be something for you so it’s important to keep an open mind and even apply for the jobs that are catered towards students in other faculties even if you are not that major. Another piece of advice is that you won’t be able to grasp or understand something unless you try it first. There is a saying in 4-H, "Learn to do by doing." When it comes to work and its diverse aspects like public speaking, writing, and project creation, you won't feel comfortable or proficient unless you take a risk and give them a try. This semester, I've gained numerous skills simply by taking the leap, even when I felt unsure of where to start. My supervisors and colleagues have always given me a helping hand to guide me when I do need them. Do not be afraid to try, fail, and try again. You learn so much more by failing first and succeeding later.