Co-op students find own jobs

Mar 21, 2002, vol. 23, no. 6
By Julie Ovenell-Carter



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Aidan Maxted is laughing when he says that for most of his student life, he's had “the kind of jobs that are good for building character, or maybe just building blisters:” shoveling asphalt on a paving crew; washing dishes on a military base; humping lumber in a sawmill.

The fourth-year contemporary arts student never had a job that he could imagine sticking with for a lifetime until two summers ago when he hustled up his own co-op placement as festival co-ordinator for the Comox Valley music centre on Vancouver Island.

“It was a big realization for me that arts administration was actually something I might like to do for a living,” says Maxted. “That's the great thing about finding your own co-op placement. You can tailor it to your own interests.”

Maxted is one of a growing number of SFU's 2,300 co-op education students who are taking a proactive approach to finding work placements, says Paulette Johnston, program manager of the faculty of arts co-op program.

“Every year there are a few more students who go out and find a work term that suits their career goals instead of limiting themselves to the positions found by the co-op staff.”

For recent co-op history graduate Erin Fitzpatrick, “it's the way of the future. That's how the real world works. You can't rely on someone to find a job for you. As a co-op student you have the chance to custom design the co-op experience you want. And it doesn't even have to be a paid position to count. The beauty of a volunteer co-op term is that you get a lot of valuable experience that you might never get anywhere else, and it can open the door to a really good paid co-op placement, or even a full-time job.”

Fitzpatrick piggybacked two co-op work terms onto the volunteer community service she was required to do as a Canada World Youth participant. She worked for a Russian newspaper in the summer of 1997, and for a women's shelter in Ontario the following fall.

Though those two experiences didn't earn Fitzpatrick a penny, they demonstrated to future employers her “flexibility and willingness to embrace new learning opportunities.” She credits the communications experience gleaned in the two volunteer positions with helping her land a plum, paid public relations co-op placement at Richmond hospital the following year.

Today, she says she is “exactly where a lot of history graduates would want to be,” working as program co-ordinator for the Delta Museum and Archives.

Like Maxted and Fitzpatrick, second-year cognitive science and psychology student Katia Dilkina found a job first, and then worked with co-op staff to have it formally recognized as a co-op placement.

While on holiday in London, England, she saw a posting on the Internet for a research assistant to an electrical engineering professor at Imperial College. On her return to Canada, she began corresponding with the supervising professor, forwarding her transcripts and references. She has now worked two semesters in London.

“The advantages [to arranging your own placement] are pretty obvious. One doesn't need to go through all the hustle of applying for co-op the usual way. I know other people who have arranged their own co-op semesters and actually none of them found it to be very difficult. What might make people frustrated is trying to find their own job at any cost - that is, it has to be this semester that they will work, at exactly that job. It doesn't work like that.”

For more information on self-directed co-op terms, visit our htti://www.sfu.ca/coop (web site).

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