By: Matthew King (he/him)

Empowering growth and self-assurance while gaining valuable work experience

Students often seek more than just knowledge—they also crave confidence. The kind of confidence that can propel them successfully into the real world of work. For graduate students, that’s where the centralized work-integrated learning (WIL) pilot course comes in. In the course, theoretical concepts meet practical application to foster both skills and self-assurance.

The centralized WIL course evolved from the WE Accelerate learning model:

  • For the first few weeks, a faculty instructor delivers the course content.
  • The remainder of the course is the project experience portion. Students work in interdisciplinary teams to approach a real-world problem for a client.
  • The course threads in critical reflection using CEE frameworks including the Future-Ready Talent Framework and Co-operative and Experiential’s (CEE) frameworks including the Future-Ready Talent Framework and meaning-making framework for purposeful work.

Ben McDonald, senior manager of WIL programs at the Centre for WIL, points out that this type of offering is beneficial to graduate students who wouldn’t normally have this type of experience in their program.

“This approach to interdisciplinary work-integrated learning creates an opportunity for graduate students to learn in unique ways and that only becomes more important at the graduate level, where they're deeper in their discipline,” says McDonald. “Breaking through that barrier to the other disciplines is meaningful and provides a unique opportunity for students to engage.”

The pilot offering of the course received plenty of interest from students with more than 500 inquiring and well over 100 signed applications for just 20 openings.

“I believe this opportunity is inherently valuable for grad students,” says McDonald. “They're seeing themselves in it. They're seeing how it can offer them value. We’re continuing to explore other ways in which we can engage graduate students in our WIL offerings.”

Fostering confidence through collaboration

The benefits of the centralized WIL course are in the delivery and in the collaboration. This is exemplified in the students’ experience with Clean Energy Canada, where they were tasked with analyzing the future of nuclear electricity in Canada. The student team, from multiple disciplines across the University, provided essential background knowledge to shape their strategy regarding nuclear electricity.

Piyush Garg headshot
Piyush Garg, a PhD student in Vision Science at the Centre for Ocular Research and Education (CORE)

Working with my peers from other faculties allowed us to identify and leverage each other’s strengths for the best result. The experience was a great representation of the real world, working with an interdisciplinary team, accepting each other's thoughts because they can differ greatly when people have different backgrounds.

Piyush Garg, a PhD student in Vision Science at the Centre for Ocular Research and Education (CORE)

Despite Garg’s extensive academic knowledge, the result that resonated the most with him was a profound shift in his confidence.

"Completing this course, I feel more confident," says Garg. “This course helped me realize I can use my experience from my area of study to benefit the entire team.”

Making the connection to the real world

Anindya Sen facilitated the pilot offering of the centralized WIL course. After serving as the acting associate dean of Co-operative Education & Planning for the Faculty of Arts and the director of the Master of Public Service program, Sen noticed a desire for graduate students to engage with others from different academic backgrounds.

“I truly believe that we have better-trained graduates if we get students from different disciplinary backgrounds to work together on a project,” says Sen. “To be able to use the great skills they’ve developed in their programs, with colleagues from different backgrounds and execute on a project, that's the real world.”

Sen also believes this interdisciplinary experience is valuable for graduate students because the opportunities to enhance their academic experience in this way are limited.

“In many cases, I think graduate students feel somewhat isolated, more so than undergraduates,” says Sen. "It's less isolating because you get a chance to meet people from other backgrounds and truly learn from each other. Equally important is the fact that many graduate students would find it difficult to take time off from an academic semester to do full-time co-op. This initiative is a way to give them a significant alternative experiential educational opportunity while also having the potential to be a strong recruiting tool for some programs.”

Interested in participating?

If you are interested in participating in the next offering of the central WIL course as a graduate student, visit the WIL 611 course website for more details and fill out the expression of interest form.