While not traditionally part of the Simon Fraser University (SFU) Philosophy MA program, grad student Damien Chen found that a summer co-op placement helped consolidate and extend his philosophy skills into the workplace. A federal internship with CIRNAC (Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada) gave insight into an alternative to the traditional PhD route. Back on campus, Damien explored this further, taking an evaluation certificate and joining student activities at the university. This led to a team win at the Canadian Evaluation Society (CES) case competition. Damien is now working with Fisheries and Oceans Canada in Ottawa starting this November.
"The Philosophy Masters co-op program is a new pilot program that began this year following on from Damien as the first MA Philosophy co-op student, in summer 2018. The program runs as a trial over the summer of 2020, with the hope that it will continue on after the pilot concludes.
The program offers work terms throughout the year with the summer semester being the most popular. If you are interested, attend an info-session held during the first few weeks of each semester – you’ll need to apply at least two terms before you want to work. As co-op is an accredited education program, you will return to SFU for at least one term before you graduate."
Working in Government Evaluation
After a series of interviews, Damien landed in the Evaluation and Audit branch of CIRNAC tasked with research design and implementation for various evaluation projects. Alongside both evaluations officers and a small team of interns, he learned about the evaluations projects in progress and also worked on internal research initiatives.
Following initial training, research and familiarization, the team developed email and phone call interview guides, then prepared for and conducted interviews with stakeholders including government staff, external evaluators, Indigenous organizations and community members. This included travelling to a Saskatchewan community where Damien learned more about ways in which the government could provide meaningful support through policymaking.
Damien and his team then coded the data collected for analysis, making it available to future researchers and policymakers.
Philosophy in Action during Co-op
In his Work Term Report, Damien notes that he learned many different skills at both the professional and personal level. This included workplace communication and writing, collaboration and teamwork, and time management. However, he also values skills brought from his philosophy training, noting that in general they are very transferable as well as highly relevant to evaluation.
“For example, the ability to communicate complex information is important. My teaching experience as a TA really helped cultivate this,” he explains before admitting that it took quite a bit of work to transition from writing academic papers to writing memos and briefing notes.
But the placement was highly valuable; since completing co-op, Damien built on the experience to find out more about evaluation as a career and adding to his résumé.
“Almost the entire first page of my resume was built with things since Co-op,” he says. But that’s not all. Co-op has had a much deeper influence on Damien.
“On a personal level, it has had a significant impact on how I think about reconciliation.”
Q: Did the co-op experience influence your career plans?
DC: The co-op experience has definitely influenced my career plans; before the internship I had only a very vague idea. During my co-op, I conducted many informational interviews to learn more about different kinds of government work and gain a more concrete sense of what is the best fit. These also helped me see what I need to do to prepare myself for the career path. For example, I took an Essential Skills Series certificate in Evaluation, joined the CES BC council, and took part in the student case competition.
Q: Did you find co-op valuable to you as a grad student? And for a Philosophy MA grad student? Would you encourage others to take this path?
DC: Absolutely yes to all three questions. The academic path is not for everyone. It is very important to at least consider other possibilities. Co-op is the best way to explore the non-academic world.
For me, co-op was super valuable. It introduced me to evaluation and gave me direction. Since then, I have done more training, networking, and competition to build up my evaluation competency. Almost the entire first page of my resume was built with evaluation experience since my co-op placement.
“If you are 100% sure PhD is what you want, that is great and go for it! If you are having second thoughts, then Co-op is very beneficial.”