Hey Guys! Today I am going to write about my experience with the engineering coop program.
I am only familiar with the engineering programs in Canada and most are generally the same layout at a high level. There are some minor differences in the length of programs, types of disciplines offered and finally the coop option but basically not much else differs logistically. Lets talk about the last thing, coop!!
So. My undergraduate degree was completed at a university where this wasn’t an option. Whether you wanted to or not you were going to do the coop stream. There are many pros and cons to this mandatory stream. And I have to say the over the course of my degree the faculty, many times, debated offering a stream that didn’t include coop. Bottom line is that there wasn’t enough people (professors and students) to offer a choice at my university, if you get a choice, that’s amazing and you should consider what’s best for you!
First ill discuss the cons because I personally don’t think there are a whole lot! To start, a coop stream will undoubtedly make your program longer. Mine was five years, most other eng degrees are 4, so not a huge deal, especially for me right out of high school with lots of growing and learning left to do, however, some of my classmates already had related diplomas, other degrees and industry experience from other life choices and they found an extra year frustrating because they didn’t need the experience and assurance that coop offers (more on this later). Next, Because our coop is mandatory and there is little room for flexibility in our schooling schedule (i.e. courses are only offered once per year) we could only take 4 month workterms, because we had to get back for our courses or we would be behind an entire year. This strict schedule also made school a little stressful because if you were unsuccessful in a course, you would be behind an entire year, also you will quickly learn that 4 months is mearly enough time to get your feet wet at a job. This wasn’t a problem for me but I know of classmates that turned down some really big work terms at life changing companies such as Apple and Tesla because they only offered 8-month and year long work terms. This wont be the same for every school so do some research because you should understand the schedule impacts the coop stream will have on your life! Finally, the only other con I have was that possibility of getting a ‘bad’ work term. The coop program is competitive and there is an expectation to reach a minimum number of work terms to be able to graduate with that designation. Therefore if you fall on a hard time to get a job (oil and gas crash in 2014, covid in 2019, etc) or you have a bad semester and you are not as competitive against your peers then you may get a work term in an industry, program or location that you just don’t like. Then you end up thinking, well what was the point of this! But I choose to think of this as a pro. Read on to find out how....
The pros!! I think there are many! Can you tell im pro coop stream? Haha. In the cons I mentioned having a bad work term. I personally think that it just weeds out places you don’t want to end up long term. It also allows you to leave after a short period of time without any bad blood! Believe me, I had 5 work terms. 3 of them I hated and I didn’t even think I would hate them going in, but boy did I ever make some realizations while I was there. I also heavily avoided applying for jobs like those dreadful positions after I graduated. From my other posts you’ve also seen that coop helped me decide a discipline. One work term in civil and I knew I wasn’t going to be a civil engineer! Next a MAJOR pro, is that you get paid. You will get paid for being in school. It helps a lot with tuition, it helps to graduate almost debt free and it helps with stress levels. Another pro, every 4 months I got a ‘break’ from school. The late nights, assignments, frustration of having a midterm or final every two seconds, that disappears for four months. If you asked me I don’t know how I would have gotten through this pretty intense program without those short breaks. Another huge pro is the fact that you get, one, to decide if this is the life you see yourself in and two, real life experience for when you graduate. I know people who went out on a work term and the was the last straw, they didn’t want to be an engineer or they went out on a work term and was surprised to find out the 'thats what an engineer does'. Supplemental to this pro is that it's a fact that a large number of students in my graduating class were hired where they once did one or more work terms. Being in the industry, making a name for yourself and having contacts when you graduate is so so helpful. Weirdest thing is that at the time you may not think your being useful or making an impact or even meeting people that will remember you long term, but you are! I have been surprised.
So in conclusion, if my pros cant convince you, I will state it: If you can do coop, do coop. The only time I wouldn’t recommend it is if you already had experience and contacts in the field you were entering, already knew this is what you wanted to do, or have a family or some other life obligation (because they do happen) that requires you to be in school for a shorter period of time and get out working.
Maybe your thinking about the coop office. Every school has one and from personal experience and talking to many an engineering student from many a university across campus, i'm here to ensure you that your paying for very subpar service and you can do better work yourself. I encourage you to use them since you are paying for their service but what advice they give you and what they tell you I would take with a grain of salt and use them as a stepping stone.
When looking into your placements you should at the beginning be open to all kinds of work and as you go through the system pick work more towards what you are specializing in. For example, after my general year I tried work in civil and mechanical but later I choose companies that do ocean and naval work because I did ocean and naval engineering. I would also recommended trying different organizations. So I did work terms with small private companies, large organizations recognized worldwide and government work, all very different atmospheres and really important to experience them all!
As a student, especially early on, don’t expect much responsibility. I found most of my learning was through being around, attending meetings and more absorbing information over doing the work myself. I did a lot of photocopying and lot of meeting minuets, a lot of nothing because really you’re a student and you will get little projects but they aren’t going to be as exciting and involved as you would have probably thought. That being said make sure you continuously ask for work if your bored and the work that you are given do it well! I asked so many questions and worked, probably harder then I had to, at the simplest tasks, such as the weekly newsletter I was responsible for. Gaining trust with your supervisor and showing that you are trying will gain you more work, and get you better references in the future!
I learned that many of my employers were busy, had families at home and the novelty of being an engineer had worn off for them. Im telling you this because I felt early on that I was being forgotten, I wasn't given work, and that I deserved more praise for the work I delivered. I never felt anybody was as driven or working as hard as I could. Some employers/supervisors will be responsive and give you that feedback you will desire, some may even ask you to return for another term. BUT. most supervisors in my experience will do their job and go home to not think about it until the next day. They are not fresh out of school, they dont want to prove themselves anymore and I learned not to take that personally. My supervisors were generally more interested in their weekend plans then looking to seek me our for the next term. If your interested and you do your job/work well I encourage you to ask your supervisors or have the conversation that explains to them that you are interested in returning. Furthermore, ask multiple times and keep your name around because they'll probably forget. This goes for anything you want out of your work term. Make it known if you want more work, make it known you would like to go to site for a visit. ASK ASK ASK!
My last note for this blog is a quick note on placements. The coop programs are really competitive and it can be a real mental test, it was for me. Its like a full time job making cover letters and applying to everything that comes up just to be rejected over and over again. What's worse is when you see everyone else getting positions that you would have loved to have. My advice is to not be to picky about your placements and apply to everything, you can learn something from any job you have. Also don’t compare yourself to others and give yourself grace. You don’t know who they know, what they said, or exactly why they got that job. Just know that you didn’t get it so pick yourself up and move onto the next, there is no reason to dwell. And, last thing I promise, do your best to have an open mind. Apply for the positions that you don’t think your qualified for, take the job that may not pay very much, and use your family/contacts because you’ll be surprised the experience’s you can stumble upon and the positions you can be offered.
So that’s it from me! I hope this is insightful or at least eases your mind. Work hard, do your best (even if you hate what your doing) and keep chugging because you got to do the boring ‘useless’ work before you can get to the good stuff.
NEXT UP: My up and coming posts will include:
➢ What I do as an Ocean and Naval Architectural Engineer
➢ Why I am currently looking at applying to medschool
➢ Cover Letter, Resume, Interview!