Co-op advice: don’t take a backseat to your life

Kaitlyn Neustaedter (she/her) is a fourth year Faculty of Health student, minoring in psychology with an option in aging studies. She discusses her growth as a new professional through co-op and the importance of self-advocacy and intentionality during the application process.

Work term one: Kaitlyn assumed the role of student engagement and retention specialist at the University of Waterloo. This included planning, co-ordinating and evaluating student initiatives. Kaitlyn was also responsible for developing guidance documents for health career options.

Work term two: For her second work term, Kaitlyn was the marketing outreach events associate at the University of Waterloo where she created multiple program-specific marketing campaigns and event summaries. She also measured and analyzed the campaign outcomes for students.

An image of Kaitlyn smiling


Work term three: Kaitlyn was the associate co-ordinator for volunteer resources at Peel Region. In this role she assisted in program planning, volunteer recruitment, training, managing program statistics and creating schedules for mass vaccination clinics.

Work terms four and five: As an analyst on the health planning and performance team at Peel Region, she consulted with Peel Region’s Long-Term Care, Paramedics, Public Health, and Health Analytics teams on various initiatives. She assisted in the creation of new dashboards, designed performance measurement frameworks and assisted with project planning documentation to improve the quality of health services received by the population.

What is something you looked forward to everyday during your co-op term?

“Of course, everyone likes some jobs better than others, but what I liked about the co-op experience as a whole was the opportunity to try new things and a variety of roles. I liked that you were never stuck in something for too long. If you wanted to try something new and it did not go well, it’s completely fine because you have five different opportunities to explore and try new things.”

“Looking back at the tail end of my degree, it’s amazing to see my personal development and the development of my peers. Five years later, we are capable young professionals, we have a wealth of interview experience and our résumés look fantastic! Co-op has given us the ability to be far better prepared to tackle the job application process after university.”

What challenges did you face during your co-op?

“Asking for work, figuring out new teams and getting used to my role. A benefit of co-op is the variety, but a downfall is that you can never really get comfortable because you’re constantly changing positions. A month into my co-op term I would get settled into the role, two months in I would start to feel confident about the work I was producing, but then I would have to leave after four months.”

“During onboarding, I would find myself waiting to receive work. What I learned was to advocate for myself and realize I am managing my own schedule. Most of the time your managers are busy and may not have the time to supervise you closely, so it is up to you to advocate for your development. Learning how to stand up for myself, knowing when to ask for help and communicating effectively were the hardest parts of co-op.”

How did you like the hybrid model of working?

A headshot of Kaitlyn

“Personally, I love it. One of the best things about co-op is you learn who you are as a young professional. I know some friends who hate online school or working remotely and love going into the office. I enjoy going into the office, attending team meetings in person, and having lunch together with everyone. However, I find that when I’m working from home, I save so much time on commuting, my anxiety is reduced and I am overall more efficient.”

“It all comes down to good communication. Using Microsoft Outlook applications such as Teams as our primary form of communication was a big change, especially during my first co-op, but now we are all comfortable communicating online in today’s world.”


What advice do you have for first-time co-op students?

“Trust the process and relax, but also don’t take a backseat to your life. What Waterloo offers is the opportunity to become a capable working professional, but you also must put in the time and have the intentionality to improve and learn about yourself, develop workplace skills and set goals. If you don’t know what you want yet, that’s okay because that is exactly what we are here to learn.”

“Make sure that when you’re engaging in the application process or going to work, you’re not just going through the motions. Intentionally check-in with yourself to see what you’re learning, how you’re doing, what your likes and dislikes are and adjust accordingly.”

“In my experience, more is not better when it comes to the application process. I know as a first-time co-op student you want to get as many applications as possible out there, but I think a lot of students spend time mass applying and not hearing back. It’s more about reading the job description to see what the employer is seeking and using those key words in your application, so they know what skills you have. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember, if you’re working hard and doing your best, it’s going to work out for you! Be patient.”

What’s next for you?

“Since my co-op terms with the Region of Peel, I have been very fortunate to receive a full-time analyst position on the Health Planning and Performance team. I’m lucky that I get to support a lot of innovative projects within Health Services. We work on project planning, metrics evaluation, quality improvement and overall process efficiency."

"My work portfolio is largely focused on long term care and senior services, with the goal of improving quality of care. I hope to develop new and innovative programs to combat the current aging population concerns. I’ve also applied to do my master’s in public health which is a course-based program. I hope to study part-time while I work.” 

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