Co-op spotlight: Work terms helped this UTS grad transition from school to the real world

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Co-operative education provides students with an amazing opportunity to gain work experience while still in school.

Brian Chung, a recent sociology graduate from the University of Toronto Scarborough, used his co-op experiences to land a prestigious internship at the United Nations in Switzerland, as well as to secure himself a spot in law school.

Q. What were your positions and where did you complete your work terms?
A. I completed my first work term as a research assistant at Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC) in January 2008, for four months. Later on, in September 2009, I worked at the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) as a policy analyst for another four months in Ottawa.

Q. What were you looking for when applying to jobs for your work term?
A. When I was researching for my work terms, I was very focused on gaining more practical research skills.  I had previously worked for a professor as a research assistant and was interested in applying these skills to real-world issues.  The federal government was an obvious choice given the nature and scope of their mandates.

Q. How did you come about these jobs and why did you end up choosing to complete your second work term at the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS)?
A. For my second work term, I chose to work at the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) because of my interest in policy development.  I had learned about this department through my experience at Human Resources and Social Development Canada.  I chose to work at TBS because of the incredible opportunity to participate in the shaping of policy for a wide variety of national and international issues.

Q. What were some of your main responsibilities while on work term?
A. Some of my main responsibilities included supporting various projects in the implementation of government-wide regulatory reform, monitoring relevant legislative and policy proposals across the country, undertaking socio-economic research and writing literature reviews, and reviewing and writing briefing notes on regulatory submissions.

Q. Could you describe the work environment for us?
A. The work environment at TBS was very fast-paced and professional.  There were time and politically-sensitive pressures present on a daily basis.

Q. How did you adjust to working life? Did your work offer any training, orientation, etc. for new employees?
A. The support I received from my peers made adjusting to such a fast-paced working environment easier.  I was also able to build upon my previous experiences in the federal government.  Although formal training opportunities were limited, I was able to access many external training opportunities available through other departments and from various NGOs in Ottawa.

Q. What was the coolest thing you did while on work term?
A. One of the most interesting things that I did while on work term was participating in policy discussions with representatives from across the country.  I was able to draw upon my research background in immigration-related issues and contribute to the on-going dialogue.

Q. Did you develop or strengthen any new skills while on work term?
A. I was able to strengthen my knowledge of governmental policy development processes as well as my written communication skills.  More than anything else, this work term helped me to understand the regulatory processes in Canada and I was able to apply my academic knowledge to many real-world issues.

Q. How did this work term help you in choosing a career path?
A. This work term helped prepare me for a professional, fast-paced work environment.  It also allowed me to further investigate some of the legal aspects of many social issues.  Rather than helping me choose a career path, this work term helped me to better prepare for my next opportunity.

Q. Do you think that your experiences have helped prepare you for seeking work in the real world?
A. These work terms have definitely helped to prepare me for the ‘real world’ and, in a sense, acted as an intermediary between the real world and student life.  They have opened up many opportunities for me and continue to offer invaluable lessons for me to draw upon.

Q. If you’ve graduated, what are you doing now and how did your co-op experience help them? If you’re still in school, where do you see yourself after graduation? What are your plans for the future?
A. Shortly after graduation, I was contacted by the United Nations for an internship opportunity in Geneva, Switzerland.  I applied while I was still in university and emphasized the research and life skills I gained from my co-op experiences.  Some of the work that I did with the Canadian federal government is directly relevant to my duties at the UN; it was mainly these experiences that helped set me apart from the other candidates.

This fall, I will also be starting law school.  As I pursue my legal career, I know that my co-op work terms and time with the United Nations will continue to help me.

For more information about the co-operative arts and science program at the University of Toronto Scarborough, click here.

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