A Series of Fortunate Events

A Series of Fortunate Events

By: Guninder Malhi
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Finding your first co-op can be challenging especially if you are an international student. I remember spending endless hours applying to jobs in my first semester and waiting for replies that never came. I even dropped off hard copies of my resume by personally visiting organizations. Fast-forward a few years, and I am almost finished with my fourth co-op and writing this article to share my journey.

Back to my co-op hunting experience, after two semesters of no co-op, I started approaching professors at school and asked if they had any openings. I knew the stipend wouldn’t be a lot, but money wasn’t a factor at that point and I was desperate. I wanted to gain experience and if that meant working for free, I would’ve done it. Eventually, I was able to find a co-op as a research and development engineer with one of the department professors. The job mainly involved working with SolidWorks and troubleshooting some Pi code. Later on, I was asked to take on the responsibilities of a software co-op position as the department was unable to find another candidate, so I ended up working with Python and developing GUI (Graphical User Interface) for the project. It was not necessarily an intense experience, but I learned a few new tricks about user interface development on a Raspberry Pi.

When it was time for me to find a second co-op, the same process began again, accompanied by sleepless nights spent searching and applying for jobs. After a while, I had almost lost hope when I received a reply from MENRVA, a biomedical research laboratory located at SFU Burnaby campus. I went in for the interview (I was the last person to be interviewed) and as I was returning home, I received an email with the offer letter. I was a bit surprised but the reason I was offered the job was that I had some prior experience in GUI development, gained in my previous co-op.

So, basically, I wouldn’t have gotten the job had I not worked on GUI development in my last co-op! It started to look like my extra efforts were finally paying off. I took this co-op as an opportunity to refine my SolidWorks skills while also dipping my toes in some electrical schematic capture and PCB design and printing. I finished the co-op with some substantial experience and went back to school to complete my capstone.

In the summer of 2017, I was back on the same horse again and started to look for my final co-op. I applied to a lot of places and this time around, I even bagged a few interviews, seeing that I had gathered some experience working. I finally got a job at Echoflex Solutions as an Electro-Mechanical Engineer in the research and development department. Echoflex is more of an electrical company and the reason I got this job is because of my previous co-op where I learned to capture electrical schematics and familiarized myself with PCBs and SMD soldering -  skills that the organization needed in this position.

Now, if you were paying attention, you’d have noticed that each co-op job I landed after my first had something to do with the previous one. This rather fortunate series of events makes me wonder what would have happened had I not approached my professors like I did initially.

Moral of the story therefore is that you will have to make the extra effort if you want something - no one is going to hand you what you want on a silver platter.  Start somewhere and stay persistent in your efforts. Most importantly, do not stop until you achieve your goals, however small they may be. It does not matter how long it takes and how many times you fail. Failure is a part of life and believe me, success after failure is even more satisfying.

Beyond the Article 

  • Interested in learning about opportunities like Guninder's? Visit the Mechatronic Systems Engineering Co-op homepage.
  • Visit the Mechatronic Systems Engineering Co-op blog page to find tips from co-op students on everything from resumes to interviews. 
  • Fellow engineering student, Scott Beaupré utilized research postions available at SFU to build invaluable experience and shape a career. Read his story, here. 
Posted on May 06, 2019