Driving sustainable change in STEM

Sophia Gabriel (she/her) is a fourth-year Honours Science and Business student specializing in biotechnology. Sophia discusses how her interdisciplinary degree prepared her for the world of work, shares the importance of having a presence on LinkedIn and encourages women in STEM to step out of their comfort zones.

Sophia's co-op journey

Work term one: Sophia completed her first co-op term at Flipp, a retail technology company. As a digital operations coordinator, she was contributed to content strategy and quality control initiatives for numerous brands.

Work term two: Her next co-op was as a pharma technical analyst at Hoffman LaRoche. There, she worked alongside a team of students, wearing numerous hats for cross-functional projects, related to research, commercialization, marketing, and communications.

Work term three: At Canada Pension Plan (CPP) Investments, Sophia worked as an analyst, conducting climate change research to understand the relationship between climate change and portfolio construction. She was recruited as part of the CPP Investments’ Discover Capital Markets internship, a program designed to give undergraduate women in STEM the opportunity to explore finance.

Work term four: Next, Sophia accepted a position in business analytics at WSP in Canada where she was responsible for supporting the digital solutions team through IT tasks and technical communications. Here, she was also the head of Ontario Events for the co-op committee, and hosted the first in-person, post-COVID networking event for students.

Work term five: Breaking into the consulting industry, Sophia worked as an associate consultant for the Konrad Group. She was assigned to multiple client-facing projects within the strategic, digital innovation space.

Sophia's co-op journey

Sophia sitting down and smiling.Why did you choose to pursue an interdisciplinary degree in science and business?

“I've always been a philomath; a lover of learning and studying. Pursuing an interdisciplinary degree was important to me because I wanted to understand the breadth of the value I could add in any space.”

“Through this degree, I have gained valuable transferable and technical skills. From a scientific lens, I’ve developed critical thinking, analytical and quantitative skills. These range from developing rapid antigen tests to detect Malaria for class, to producing various fermented beverages in my laboratory classes. In terms of business acumen, I have developed my portfolio of finance, accounting and economic tools, while also strengthening my strategic thinking and communication skills.”

“In my lifelong journey as a professional, I am interested in bridging gaps between innovation and the people who need it most. That's why I've been really interested in pursuing that gap between science and business through my academics, and seeking opportunities to do so through my co-op terms. Each of my co-op terms have given me ample opportunity to do that in a variety of different industries, in unique ways.”

“That's what makes interdisciplinary degrees so unique: whether it's environment and business, arts and business or science and business, you’re able to approach problems from multiple perspectives. I think my interdisciplinary approach is an invaluable asset in many spaces.”

Sophia sitting on a bench in the park during the fall. What's been the most challenging and rewarding part about this degree?

“Pursuing new industries and putting yourself in uncomfortable situations is the best way to grow, but one of the most challenging parts of that is imposter syndrome. When walking into new spaces, especially those that are unfamiliar, I haven't always been sure of where and how I can add value.”

“But one of the most rewarding parts of this degree is exactly that - being able to walk into an unfamiliar space and drive change through my unique experiences and perspective. Through co-op, I’ve been able to apply the skills I’ve learned in a work setting. I know that I can walk into a room, see a problem I’m passionate about and then solve it amongst people who may come from a very different background, because I have been challenged to think critically and remain open-minded. That's another important part of the co-op program: seeing how people—each with unique experiences—approach and solve problems.”

Sophia at a restaurant.Can you describe your experience with being recruited on LinkedIn?

“In the recruiting term for my third co-op term, an individual from CPP Investments reached out to me on LinkedIn. After reviewing my experience and extra-curriculars, she believed that I would be a great fit for their Discover Capital Markets Program. I was genuinely surprised because I had never heard of students being recruited on LinkedIn. But I recognized that there are two reasons why this may have happened.”

“First, the way that I position myself online. Tools such as LinkedIn are valuable because they provide you with a platform to network, and I have learned that networking is one of the most critical aspects of professional development. It's important to have a strong network of people and mentors to open your mind to opportunities. The second reason why I was recruited on LinkedIn is because of my interdisciplinary degree. I think that is a unique aspect of what I bring to the table, because folks are curious to understand where there is a connection. “

“Honestly, I never saw myself going into the investment management space, but I’m glad that she saw something in me that perhaps I hadn’t yet seen in myself. This was the perfect opportunity to demonstrate how merging skillsets, particularly those in business acumen and scientific inquiry, are applicable in the real world – this was one of most rewarding parts of this experience.”

Sophia smiling in the park during the fall. What did you learn from the Discover Capital Markets program at CPP Investments?

“I was one of approximately 16 undergraduate women in STEM across Canada and the United States selected for the Discover Capital Markets program. We were given mentorship opportunities and highly extensive training in financial management, investment management and technical skills like Python and Visual Basics for Application (VBA).”

“Coming from a STEM background, I was not sure if there was space for me to integrate my skills with the world of finance. It was empowering and inspiring to see other women taking a leap of faith and trusting their abilities, and it helped me to take chances, and step out of my comfort zone.”

“This experience taught me to have faith in my abilities. Even if a certain field isn’t necessarily your strong suit, have patience and confidence in your unique abilities, because with determination and perseverance, there is always an opportunity to improve on your perceived “weaknesses”. Being surrounded by these incredible women really taught me that with the support of a supportive ecosystem, you will flourish in your own unique way.”

Sophia and her fellow teammates holding a Fusion Conference cheque for 2500 dollars.Which achievements are you most proud of from your co-op terms?

“In my first co-op term, I was proud of myself for walking into the retail-technology space and delivering process improvements related to the Agile ways of working. It was challenging because I saw that there was an inefficiency, and I knew that I had the tools and abilities to solve it, but as a first-year student I didn’t know if it was my place to tackle those issues.”

“One thing that I learned from my first co-op term is the importance of having a strong support system. Good leadership and mentorship provide you with the space to be able to enact change in a safe and comfortable environment.”

“I've always felt driven to get involved with the student population, to help foster a sense of community. So, during my fourth work term at WSP, I proposed to the national co-op committee that we resume hosting in-person events in Ontario, because there was such a large cohort [of students]. After proposing the idea, getting permission from the committee, and recruiting an eager team of co-op students for support, we hosted a panel-event for students, which focused on the future of civil engineering, and how students can prepare to make a difference in the field. It was my first time hosting an event as an independent moderator, but I believe the success of the event and the engagement statistics spoke to my ability to connect with people, and my strong communication skills.”

“Most recently, I was proud of myself for co-facilitating a client facing session during my time at Konrad. It was honestly really intimidating because senior leadership was sitting at the table, but I was able to connect with clients and problem solve in a collaborative environment. Entering the consulting space and being able to facilitate a session with clients is something I never anticipated for myself in such a short period of time, so I was proud, and excited for what other milestones I would achieve with more experience.”

Do you have any advice for women in STEM?

Sophia wearing a shirt that says 'girls belong here' a mask that reads 'stop the setbacl'.“Recognize that you have so much inherent power. There's power in diversity and in the difference opinions and lived experienced that you bring to the table. You have value to add in positions of power, so challenge yourself to seek out opportunities which excite you, regardless of how qualified or comfortable you are.”

“There is beauty in stepping out of your comfort zone and there will always be a community cheering you on, even if you can’t necessarily see them. So, take comfort in that, know that you’re special, and have so much to offer.”

What’s next for you?

“Until graduation, I am excited to continue in my position as consulting director for the University of Waterloo’s branch of 180 Degrees Consulting. We have exciting, innovative engagements lined up for winter 2024, and I look forward to welcoming our new and returning cohort of consultants! After graduation, I hope to enter the consulting space and would also love to pursue postgraduate studies. My goal is to be able to bridge the gaps between healthcare inefficiencies and technological innovation. Eventually, I’d like to grow into a position of leadership where I’m able to make decisions that drive sustainable change.”

“I’m glad that I decided to pursue co-op. It gave me the opportunity to test out new industries and fields. I would recommend to anyone who sees themselves working in a specific industry, try it out! You never know what you’ll find yourself enjoying and where you will thrive.”

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