So here we are with our first co-op position using the advice given by my previous MECH ambassadors! Like anything else, being able to put your best foot forward always helps. Over my five co-op terms, I’ve noticed that the mindset to make the most of your co-op more or less remains the same.
Keeping an open mind
It rarely happens that we get our dream job as our first co-op, and that’s perfectly alright. Any experience is helpful even if we can’t figure out how immediately – “Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”
My very first co-op was with a client-facing software position. As a second-year Mechanical engineer, I didn’t know how working in software would help. But the experience I got working with clients here was essential to my ability to negotiate and collaborate with other engineering teams and suppliers. Similarly, there were always tasks that needed to be completed to keep the lights on, like tabulating data or creating operating procedure documents. Working on processing the raw data usually gave me an insight into the workings of processes that I wouldn’t have been able to get otherwise. In the majority of my co-ops, I found my term project by identifying quirks in data that would have been unattended otherwise.
Dress like the person you want to be
Most engineering jobs do not have a set dress code, but being appropriately dressed never goes unnoticed. It might be a bit clichéd, but first impressions make a difference! Sometimes being dressed for the job you want is the easiest way to show that you’re interested in the work that you’re doing.
Don’t be afraid to take initiatives
I think this was one of my more revolutionary revelations – our supervisors and mentors are human too.
Till that realization dawned upon me, I was always a bit more nervous than I should have been and second-guessed myself before contributing to discussions. It might take a week or so to settle into the team, but it’s helpful to remember that they wanted you on the team, so you shouldn’t second guess yourself in a position that you’ve earned!
There are always more things that need to be done at a workplace than there is time to do them. If something catches your eye and you want to look into it, do it! It’s a valuable experience to identify potential projects and see them through. I’ve always found supervisors supportive of projects you want to undertake provided your regular responsibilities are looked after.
Connecting with People
One of the most exciting things about co-op is meeting several individuals with similar engineering interests. Apart from gaining friends and getting to know people from all over the company, learning more about the various departments and the types of challenges they undertake is always helpful.
Co-op is an opportunity to try out different types of positions and industries at a lower risk compared to a full-time job. Starting it’s hard to know where you’d be four to five years down the road. So trying to make the most out of the opportunities that come to you might help you eventually decide where you want to be and where you don’t.