Co-op Q&A: Jessy Tam

Geography Co-op Questionnaire

1.    Where did you work?

I worked at Culex Environmental Ltd., a company contracted by Metro Vancouver to control nuisance mosquito populations. They also do research regarding different mosquito species and the diseases associated, such as West Nile and Dengue. I worked out of an office based in Burnaby.

2.    What was your role (what type of work did you do)? What were some of your responsibilities?

My role was “Field Technician”. My job was mainly going out into the field to specified field sites to take water samples and check for mosquito larvae. If I found larvae, I took a sample back to the office for the Lab Technician to identify and treated the water with an environmentally-friendly larvicide. These sites included parks, properties, farms, and ditches in: Township of Langley, Surrey, Pitt Meadows, Coquitlam, and Maple Ridge. It was my responsibility to make sure I got to all the field sites I was assigned for the day. Closer to the end of my work term, I worked on GIS-based predictive mapping research project for the company. Throughout the term, I also participated in various outreach events, where I educated children (and adults) on different types of mosquitoes and how to avoid them.

Resident ducks in a pond I regularly sample.
A baby deer sleeping on a bed of grass.
A beautiful blue heron fishing for lunch in Pitt Meadows.
Surrey Canada Day outreach event; we educated kids (and adults) about mosquitoes!

3.    How did the skills/knowledge developed in the classroom apply to your job? What did you learn?

I would never have been able to finish the research project the way they wanted me to if I hadn’t taken GEOG 253 and 353 (Remote Sensing and Advanced Remote Sensing). They were some of the best courses I’ve ever taken, and I’m so glad to have been able to apply this to my job.

Being able to identify different species of vegetation proved extremely helpful. I have experience with this from taking GEOG 215 (Biogeography) in first year, and surprisingly remembered many species. It was important to get this correct because the data may be used in the future for GIS analysis.

4.    Can you share a challenge you faced in your Co-op and how you overcame it?

The research project I was handed with was quite a challenge! I had to map the floodplain areas for the Metro Vancouver region and create false colour composites from scratch. Initially, I had a lot of trouble looking for the appropriate satellite imagery and figuring out how to start. It was hard because there was no one else in the company who was familiar with remote sensing. So, I contacted my old professor for advice, which helped a lot! Make the best use of your resources!

5.    What was your most memorable Co-op experience?

The most memorable experience was being able to work from a helicopter. The mosquito situation in one of the municipalities got so bad that we had to drop larvicide out from a helicopter! I was very lucky my manager let me go.

I got to do and see a lot of cool stuff because of this field position! We sampled on golf courses, which meant I got to drive golf carts for work – how awesome is that! I saw tons of wildlife almost everyday. Such as deer (there was a baby deer sleeping in a bed of grass… it was like a scene straight out of Bambi), frog eggs, frogs, blue herons, hawks, eagles, bunnies, ducks, geese, sandhill cranes, bears, coyotes, robins, and lots of cool bugs.

The view from the helicopter I got to go on in Fort Langley! What you see below is the Fraser River.
Goats on a farm I regularly visited. By the looks of it, they want a treat.
A bumpy road I got to drive on. And yes, that is a Yaris, and I made it through. I still ask myself why I didn’t take the truck that day.
Perfect day for a field job! This was taken at Mud Bay Park in Surrey.

6.    What have you learned through your Co-op experience?

I learned that GIS is an extremely valuable skill in the workplace. Everything I did related back to GIS one way or another. I didn’t realize how important mapping is to everything!

Naturally, I learned a lot about mosquito behaviour and why they bite people. I think this was interesting because nobody likes mosquito bites! So, wear light colours and avoid wearing black in the summer time. Also, layer up if you can; repellent without DEET doesn’t work!

7.    What advice do you have for future Co-op students?

Do not skip out on co-op, I had tons of fun! It may seem hard at first, and it is. I submitted close to 30 applications before I got my first interview and then position. It gets easier as more related experience is added onto your resume.

Because of co-op, I realized that I love being in the field. I always thought I’d end up in some sort of lab or GIS office, but I was wrong! I want to use my next couple work terms to try new things, but this is definitely not the last time I will be working in the field!