Finding new paths as a mature student

Hi, my name is Máire Slater, and I am an Arts co-op student in English Rhetoric and Communication Design, in the Major Research Paper stream. 

I am a content designer at the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). 

An image of Maire

I chose the co-op program at Waterloo because I wanted a mediated entrance to the world of work. Partly because I’m autistic, and partly because I hadn’t been part of the work force during the 15 years I was raising my children, I believed I was unemployable. I was afraid to apply to jobs, afraid to interview, afraid that any work experience would be a negative one.

I needed some structure, some hand-holding and check-ins, some webinars, a help line and a community of people who were all in the same boat. And the co-op program gave me all that. It also gave me 30 jobs I was interested in applying to, 10 interviews that went surprisingly well, a couple of ranked standings and one job offer. 

I took the job I was offered at the CRA - mostly because the interview process had been so time consuming that I didn’t want to risk having to do it for a second round. CRA, I thought. Bo-ring. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. I got to exercise the writing and editing skills I’d been building in my classes, I learned something new every day, I met people from across the Agency doing all kinds of different jobs, and I worked with an amazing team who taught me, encouraged me and celebrated my wins. The co-op program gave me that.

One of the most challenging moments I experienced was the first time I was given a project to work on. My manager suggested I “take a look” at a certain file. I had just finished the onboarding and I’d learned all about the job, but I hadn’t learned how to actually do the job. I didn’t know what I was supposed to be looking for, or what I should do if I found it, and I wasn’t sure where to find the line between taking initiative and asking for more guidance.An image of Maire and other students

I think I probably stumbled around clumsily on that first, and even subsequent, projects, but I got a lot more comfortable asking for clarification. 

I also got a lot more comfortable with networking. Shortly after I started, I set myself a challenge to have a “coffee chat” with someone new every Friday. Throughout the week, when I met someone virtually or through email, I’d ask if they had 30 minutes to let me interview them about working at the CRA. I interviewed HR people, project managers, program experts, directors and more. I let the conversation take whatever direction it wanted to, but at the end of the 30 minutes I always asked the same two questions:  

What can I learn to become a more valuable employee? What piece of advice can you give me that I won’t hear from anyone else? 

I got some really interesting answers and some new perspectives on a company I was still getting to know! The co-op program gave me those opportunities to learn and grow.

In terms of rewards, I loved getting a pay cheque and I loved having evenings and weekends free. I also loved realizing that I was good at the job, that my skills are valuable and that people truly appreciated my input. Best of all, I have gained the self-confidence to know that through hard work and perseverance I can succeed wherever I land. The co-op program gave me that, too.     
  1. 2024 (30)
    1. June (4)
    2. May (4)
    3. April (4)
    4. March (10)
    5. February (5)
    6. January (3)
  2. 2023 (61)
    1. December (3)
    2. November (8)
    3. October (5)
    4. September (4)
    5. August (5)
    6. July (6)
    7. June (6)
    8. May (4)
    9. April (4)
    10. March (9)
    11. February (3)
    12. January (4)
  3. 2022 (58)
    1. December (4)
    2. November (4)
    3. October (5)
    4. September (4)
    5. August (4)
    6. July (4)
    7. June (7)
    8. May (4)
    9. April (9)
    10. March (5)
    11. February (4)
    12. January (4)
  4. 2021 (39)
    1. December (4)
    2. November (5)
    3. October (4)
    4. September (4)
    5. August (6)
    6. July (6)
    7. June (6)
    8. May (4)