Go With the Flow, Opportunity Will Come

Go With the Flow, Opportunity Will Come

By: Kay Sze | Engineering Co-op Student
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As a co-op student you often get a lot of advice about the value of research based or industry based co-op.  According to Kay, sometimes we just need to sort out which one suits each indvidual best. Read on to learn about her experience with both research based and industry based co-op positions.

Meet Kay:

My name is Kay and my major is Biomedical Engineering (BME). I am graduating in a few months and I wanted to share some of my experiences of the last 5 years, with a focus on the co-op seeking experience because it is such a big challenge for engineering students. As engineering students, we have to accomplish three mandatory coop terms as one of the requirements to graduate. Some of us needed to go back to our hometowns or work away from home in order to fulfill this requirement. BME students may find it even harder to find work because we prefer to get specifically biomedical related jobs.

Co-op placements are basically defined into two types, research based and industry based. Students oten get a lot of advice when they are searching for a co-op job.  For example, "Don't get yourself into research based co-op, because you will be stuck there and no one will hire you after you are graduated." Or, "If you have your first co-op in a research field, you HAVE TO get the second and third co-op placement in the industry. It is going to be hard too because they don't like students with no industrial experience!"

People will give you different opinions for your school and work; sometimes we just need to sort out which experience is best suited for you. However, in my opinion, it is good to have both experiences for equipping yourself. 

Biomedical Engineering?

Biomedical Engineering (BME) is a relatively new program to SFU. This program is an honor degree program.  To graduate, you need a GPA of 3.0 and an undergrad thesis, and I am not a top student. When I was trying to decide if I should take the program, I had doubts about my abilities.  However, I was able to work through my doubts and demonstrated a "go with the flow” attitude.  This has really helped me find opportunities and chances to learn at my co-op positions. Now, I am very glad that I have chosen this major and I will share how this "go with the flow" mentality has helped me.

Research Based VS Industry Based

Like other engineering students, we have three mandatory co-op terms as one of the requirements for graduation. Because BME students prefer biomedical-related jobs, there is a lot of interest and competition from SFU and other institutions for a limited number of available co-op job opportunities. The first co-op I worked was on campus in the Kinesiology department as a biomedical lab assistant. My duty was to help a renal research lab change the data acquisition system into a new platform, Matlab. I was not very used to a research environment that focused on working by yourself.  In our courses we usually worked as a group for course projects. However, after the 8 month co-op, I developed an independent working attitude and I found it is beneficial to my school and future career.  

Giving up? NO! My First Co-op Position

My first co-op was a campus-based type of job, so I desperately wanted to find an industrial job for my second and third coop term. Most of my applications were BME related jobs and I was only able to apply to 7 of them. I had one interview from a Cardiac device company and I noticed that BME related companies have high standards during interviews. This is because their products are for patients with heart diseases, and they have to ensure high quality products are made by knowledgeable candidates. After about 2 months, I found myself lacking skills and experiences compared to other BME students. To solve this problem, I tried applying to electronic engineering co-op postings. Since BME is a broad topic, it is sometimes difficult for us to present it during an interview setting, and there are too many topics which makes it hard to prepare for. For example, a medical device company may want an electronic specialized student to do the electronic work, instead of a BME student as they are more expertized on circuitry works. Therefore, my goal is to strengthen one of my skills such as electronic, hands-on and documentation skills, in order to equip myself for future interviews.

Cooledge: My Second Co-op Position

Cooledge Lighting is a LED start-up company that makes flexible LED light sheets. I worked under the Quality and Reliability Team. Working at Cooledge was such an excellent experience for preparing my career in the future. Stepping out from campus and work solidified my skills because of the variety of tasks and the environment I was in. Right now it is a critical time at Cooledge because they are transforming from a start-up into a more capitalized company.This is an exciting time for the employees because everyone really wants Cooledge to succeed. I am glad to have the opportunity to work during this exciting time, both on my own projects as well as assisting other colleagues on their parts. 

Working at Cooledge was a great learning opportunity. I have been able to learn the basics of company structure, lots of hands-on skills as well as optics related materials. I have earned many opportunities to handle and manage projects. All these things would definitely contribute to my foundation and make me stronger candidate when I look for jobs in the future.

Equip Yourself by Making Opportunities Happen

In my co-op life, I have worked on campus and the industry, and each position has been very important to my own personal and career growth. First, I developed knowledge from my courses, then the research based co-op taught me how to work independently and find confidence in my work. Lastly, I was able to solidify what I have learnt and start to integrate this knowledge in an industrial setting. 

This is my last year at SFU, and a key lesson I learned is to take advantage of the opportunities you can get. I found that when you are passionate about your work and you go with the flow, everything can be an opportunity.  Because of these experiences I have been able to equip myself towards being a successful engineer. 

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Posted on June 14, 2014