Tag Archives: Co-op

My summer research program with MECH CREATE-U

Walking past the closed doors of research labs felt like taking a peek into a vault of unfound knowledge with students and mentors huddled around what oftentimes looked like a sci-fi device. The sight has always fascinated me, and I wanted to try it out and see what research is without committing my entire Master’s degree to it. The CREATE-U project was helpful in addressing this, where I could get a taste of what research is like so that I could figure out if I wanted it or not in the future.

CREATE-U_S22

Poster presentation at the end of the CREATE-U program

One of the biggest questions I had starting off is how a research project is different from the numerous design projects we’ve undertaken during our regular coursework. We’ve all had a taste of what an engineering project is like starting with the cardboard chair – we have a known deliverable and we try to make our way to it through a defined process – but my research experience was quite different.

Unlike a design project, the final deliverable is left to us to choose. I initially thought that would make it simpler – what I didn’t expect was the number of rabbit holes it would open up during the first few weeks as I tried to figure out what direction I wanted my project to take. It was an exciting, overwhelming feeling when every new paper I read gave me a new idea of what I could do as a part of my project. I ended up deciding on studying the flow characteristics of aerosolized powder drugs flowing through a catheter under the overarching project that my faculty supervisor had given me and the Master’s student mentoring me. Okay, that sounds like a lot of words that probably doesn’t make too much sense. Well, it didn’t to me either, but that’s part of the fun and the process! Starting off and learning something new that you haven’t seen before and then trying to ask and answer questions that might not have been covered. Over a few weeks, I’d taken my basic knowledge of fluid mechanics and used those basic building blocks to learn about multiphase flow and a few other things to be able to take this problem head-on.

We also had regularly scheduled classes where we talked about research practices and writing styles, and initially I thought that would just be adding more to my plate of responsibilities. However, getting some context around my research work was immensely helpful in orienting myself through the process, as well as knowing I wasn’t alone in it with the nine of us in the cohort getting to bounce ideas off each other. There were quite a few weeks where it was busier than I thought it would be with both coursework and research work picking up pace simultaneously. It all paid off with excitement of designing my own experimental setup, assembling it and then running experiments to answer a question that I found worth investigating! It was also a very weird and proud feeling when I had to present my findings in front of research faculty members – and for once I knew a little bit more about the topic than they did.

How you plan your degree vs how it goes

When you begin your degree at this university or any university, like any first-year student, you walk in with a solid plan on how your academic development is going to go for the next four years. You will start first year strong achieve amazing grades in first year, get into your preferred program, then another three years of pure academic dedication and then walk out of this university with a smile on your face and a graduation photo on your dad’s desk of you in your graduation gown. A lot of us start our university careers with these thoughts in our heads. But ask anyone and they will all tell you the same thing: things did not go according to plan. And for the majority of them, things took a turn for the better!

Of course, the very first thing that will change your degree plans is when you receive your offers into the various engineering programs. For some students it goes exactly like planned, they get their first choice and for other students, they get put into a program they were not that excited to get into. It happens to a fair number of students, many of my friends too.

Then the second change in your four-year academic plan comes. Co-ops. Being an international student, I wasn’t aware this was something that we could do in the middle of our degrees. Work with amazing companies across Canada, gain invaluable experience, and graduate with a good understanding of engineering principles. However, it adds a year to your degree and requires you to move some courses here and there which the faculty and co-op offices help to navigate very well.

And to be honest, if you are passing all your courses, those are the only two major 2 changes you have to account for unless a major unprecedented global pandemic that will collapse the economy takes over the world.

COVID-19 was the wild card that graduates of 2020, 2021, and 2022 could not have planned for at all. Even the Canadian government couldn’t see this one coming, so you can’t expect a student running on caffeine and pizza to predict it either. I was caught in this pandemic towards the almost beginning of my final year at university.

My initial plans were to start working for a company in May 2021 which I had built a profile in through my coops. But as the pandemic unfolded, that sector went under, and people started getting fired, and hiring freezes started. A future in that sector no longer looked promising. And then within three hours, I changed my entire plan for the next two years. I decided to extend my co-op with the company I was working for that summer till December and do another eight-month co-op in a different sector the following year and finish off my degree in May 2022.

My reasoning? The industry I was working in was Oil and Gas and was all set to work full time in that sector. Once hiring freezes began, a PEng at the company advised me to not bank on the full-time opportunity anymore. He also advised me to look if I could push my degree out by another year to make sure I graduate in a better market. Because May 2021 was not a hot time for recent graduates. The market was still struggling to recover. So I decided that during that extra gap I would take, I had the prime opportunity to diversify my portfolio a bit more. So I decided to do an eight-month term in the renewable energy sector. And then in September 2021, we started in-person classes again.

What I wanted to get across from this post is this. When you start university, its good to have a plan for the next four to six years. It will help guide a lot of your decisions. But also make sure you keep the flexibility to alter those plans as situations change, opportunities arise, economies fall. Because we live in a world that changes literally every day and for an engineer of today, you need to learn to adapt to it.

Taking a Break: Extended Degrees and COVID-19

Last year was definitely a year of extenuating circumstance and I am not one to enjoy uncertainty.  I did however, take a leap and decide to extend my degree instead of graduating in 2021 as I had expected back in 2016 when I started my bachelors degree.  In this post I plan to go over my experience in taking an extra year including my reasons, my feelings, and recommendations for anyone thinking about extending their Mech degree.

My reasons for extending my degree

  1. Burnout and Mental Health – I’m sure this is a shared experience within Mech, but by the end of my 3.5 year I was very burnt out.  By this point 2 years ago, I was struggling to keep up with my studies.  My grades were declining and instead of being worried or scrambling to catch up, I felt an unnatural apathy.  During this period of time, I felt a loss of the enjoyment of studying and learning that once came natural to me, even though the topics we discussed in class were interesting, I felt detached and robotic.  Though this was the one of the main reason I extended, it was also a big reason I did not want to extend.  Part of me just wanted to push through, but today I am glad I did, I am in much higher spirits and have regained my passion for learning.
  2. Online Classes – Though the professors tried their best to accommodate and make class as engaging and useful as in-person, there are limitations to online communication.  For one, it made  comradery, group work and design projects harder. As I was going into my last year and was finally taking the technical electives and courses of interest that I had been waiting my whole degree to take, I wanted to make sure I got the full experience.  For example, courses like Orthopaedic Biomechanics (Mech 435) which normally lets students go watch surgeries or Capstone (Mech 45X) were limited in opportunities because of the pandemic.
  3. Loss of Facilities – One of the biggest advantages of being a Mech student is access to the great facilities available such as the student machine shop and student team spaces.  Spaces that I did not have access to last year and I am very excited now that I’m back in school to finish the projects I had planned for my last year.
  4. Opportunity to Try a New Industry – While deciding whether or not to extend, I did some co-op applications.  At the time I had already fulfilled all my term requirements for co-op but extra work experience never hurt anyone.  One of my goals during my schooling was to try out as many different industries while I was still a student.  Mechanical engineering is a degree which provides a great variety of industries and I wanted to take advantage of the short term internships to try new things.  I luckily got an 8 month internship at a great biomedical engineering company which broadened my portfolio.

Emotional Experience of Extending

When I started university in 2016, I worried about things like being able to finish “on-time” and graduating with all my friends.  To be honest, now I’m not sure what “on-time” means.  It turns out that half my friend group and my fellow Mech Ambassador Hamayun did the exact thing as me.  In a way, I still am graduating with a good number of my friends.  Some even decided after I did, knowing that someone else would be around for the extra year.  Considering that my career will be ~40 years long, will one more year in school matter.¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I am enjoying this year a lot more.  My course load is lower, I am taking super interesting courses and my grades are much higher than before.  I am more productive, the burnout has significantly improved and even though I was very worried about whether I made a good decision initially, I have no regrets today and would encourage those who relate to any of the reasons I extended, to explore the opportunity.

Recommendations

Here are some things to consider if you are thinking of extending your degree based on my experience:

  1. Consider your financial situation – I worked co-op for 8 months of my extension and I am also a local student.  Unfortunately, scholarship or other financial limitations may limit your ability to follow in my footsteps.  If you are an international student, consider the price of staying around UBC for the extra time if you plan to stay in Vancouver during the extension.
  2. Check your course requirements when you come back to school – One of my necessary courses to graduate was Mech 429 which this year was moved to a 3rd year course and became Mech 329.  This meant that the course wasn’t in the fourth year standard time table.  The Mech Student Services Advisors are super friendly and helped me register smoothly (and easily) into the course with a simple email.  They can help you to navigate any changes in course requirements.
  3. Make friends in your classes – Group projects can run a lot smoother when you know people in your classes.  Unfortunately one of the bi-products of extending is knowing less people in your classes.  That being said, I have group projects in all but one of my classes this term and have been able to find great team mates.
  4. Have some fun – Burnout won’t go away without some real relaxation – SO RELAX.  I spent a lot of time playing video games, hanging out with friends (pandemic permitting) and exercising.

 

Finding a Summer Co-op Job

I’d forgotten how stressful looking for a Co-op summer placement can be. It’s my second time looking for a placement so I thought it would be easier, but it’s turning out to be just as difficult as the first time.  That being said, I’ve learned some things along the way.

Job applications take time and effort, so it’s easy to procrastinate at the beginning of the term.  Finding a job for the summer can feel like a midterm that’s a couple of months away.  You know you should be working on it, but there’s quite a bit of time right?  If you’re like me, a month can feel like an eternity away when you’re just trying to survive the week.

If you start early enough, there’s usually not much competition.  There will be quite a few job posting with relative low number of applicants.  As the term goes on, the number of job postings will start to go down and the number of applicants per post will start to shoot up.  50, 60, sometimes even 100 applicants per post will start to become the norm.  As the term goes on, school also ramps up with midterms and projects, making life a lot harder.

My advice is to not try to cram job applications.  It’s not impossible to find a job later in the term; it’s just harder and more stressful, so start early.

That’s my first point.

I was in this situation last year.  It was getting late in the term, and I still hadn’t found anything. So, I widened my search.  I’m personally interested in clean energy and it just so happens that UBC has a Clean Energy Research Centre.  I contacted the professor in the research area I was interested in, and managed to secure a 4-month position which was later extended to 8-months.

This brings me to my point second point: research opportunities on campus.

As I’m sure you know, a large part of what professors do is research.  If you’re interested in the research area they’re in, talk to them.  They are a really great source of knowledge, and if they don’t have a job for you, they might be able to push you in the right direction.

Not only will research give you valuable experience, but you can see if research is something you would like to purse in the future.  I personally had a blast in my position.   I got to work with hydrogen fuel cells, which was a technology I had always been interested in. I even managed to attend a fuel cell conference here in Vancouver which had presentations from industry leaders from all over the world.   Because of that, I now have a comprehensive layout of the fuel cell industry and know what companies are based here in Vancouver.  This will be extremely useful if I decide to pursue a career in the industry.  All of this happened because I talked to a professor.

So be proactive; you would be surprised about what you can find at UBC.

Good luck,

Rigoberto