Great experiences in the great lakes

Putri Cullinane (she/her) is a third-year Environment, Resources and Sustainability major pursuing a minor in Economics. Her passion for water research and climate action shines through as she discusses her work experience in government and non-profit roles, along with strategies for maintaining well-being in the face of eco-anxiety. 

Putri's co-op journey

Work term one: Putri started her co-op journey at Friends of Killarney Park. As an operations and social media co-ordinator, she was responsible for running the storefront and conducting product research, including reviewing and recommending merchandise.  

Work term two: Putri took on her first role in the federal government as a health and environment scientist with Crown Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. Here, she communicated with key stakeholders on the Northern Contaminant Program

Work term three: For her most recent co-op, Putri’s accepted the role of water research assistant at Environment and Climate Change Canada. She worked with the Boundary Water Issues Unit to investigate the impacts of extreme water level events in the Great Lakes. This investigative work involved two major projects; the first project was a beach performance indicator that measured the social, economic and environmental impacts of beach closures, and the second was an interactive story map that documented the impacts of high-water levels on geographical boundaries for both Canada and the United States.  

Q&A with Putri

Putri standing on a trail in the forest. What about the water research field interests you and why are you passionate about water research? 

“Water research is a new interest that I started developing before my last co-op. In the winter term, I took an economics sustainability course, ERS 320. It was the first time it was ever offered; there's never been a course that combines economics and sustainability, which I thought was perfect for my major and minor.” 

“The professor, Dustin Garrick, is really into water since it's his major area of research. I could see his passion and I became inspired to look into the field of water. So, I started writing papers about water and the Great Lakes for his class. Little did I know I would end up landing a job with Environment Canada for the Great Lakes— that kind of pushed my interest more and more.” 

“Everyone in the water field is there because they're passionate about it. Everyone wants the best for everyone else. Their focus is water; they don't really let any differences hinder their work.” 

“I really like that supportive community and water is significant to us. We need it in our daily lives and it is a human right. But I feel like it's not talked about, or people don't really consider it as something important.”  

“I'm more interested in the social-ecological side of things rather than the physical-hydrology side of the field. It's also a growing field, so there are many job opportunities to build on after I graduate.” 

Putri smiling in front of a brick wall. What motivates you to get your job done? 

“In general, I’ve always been a driven person. I finish a task and I'm always asking, ‘What can I do now?’ There's satisfaction in being able to complete a project and then start a new one right away.” 

“I also like completing a project and then physically seeing how meaningful it is. When doing product research in my first co-op, it was nice to see the database that we made of our reviews and to see products being sold in the actual store. That was really rewarding. I think that motivates me to get my job done. That, and making sure that it's done to the best quality possible.” 

Putri sitting down on a picnic blanket in the grass. How do you maintain your well-being during work terms, especially when dealing with climate anxiety? 

“During work terms, I feel like a lot of the jobs I'm doing are very positive. I can see my work making a change, so I don't really find it as heavy in terms of the eco-anxiety side of things. It's more during school terms when I'm doing research for papers and seeing statistics that I need to take a step back and put things into perspective.” 

“I talk about climate anxiety with a lot of my friends, too. I think that's one way to help maintain well-being is to have a conversation with someone, in the same field or not, to see their perspective and share some positive news.” 

“It doesn't matter if it’s a work term or study term, taking time to be outside and have time for yourself is important. I think that helps your brain to reset and take a break from constantly thinking about it.” 

“Every day is different. Every little, small thing you're doing is still doing something. Believing in collective action really helps.”

open quotation marks

Every day is different. Every little, small thing you're doing is still doing something. Believing in collective action really helps.

- Putri Cullinane

What advice do you have for first-year environment students looking for co-op jobs? 

Putri's office view in Burlington overlooking a parking lot and Lake Ontario. “WaterlooWorks is great, but don't be afraid to look outside of WaterlooWorks. I know it's daunting for your first co-op job to be emailing people, but it opens more doors for you. I didn’t find my first co-op through WaterlooWorks; I was very nervous that I didn't get any interviews in the first round, so I took initiative by reaching out to organizations through GoodWork. And that’s how I landed my position with Friends of Killarney Park. This position was later posted in WaterlooWorks for other students to apply to!” 

“If you only rely on WaterlooWorks, you're also relying on the set time they are posting jobs and doing interviews. If you want to get ahead, you can look at jobs externally, and I recommend doing that early because sometimes it can take a few weeks for certain places to get back to you. Don't overthink the email, as well. Just send it out and see what they say. If they say ‘no’, you still have other places that you can reach out to.”  

“Initially, I was scared to apply for jobs because I didn’t know if I was going to like them or even what jobs to start with, but co-op is a way to see if you’ll like it. Let's say you finish the work term and you don't like this job— that's just as valuable because now you know after you graduate, or even for your next co-op, that you don't want to get into that field.” 

“If you are applying to government jobs, I have two pieces of advice: 

  • Be aware of your rates of pay: There is a government website that indicates how much you should be receiving depending on your academic level, so just make sure that’s clear in the interview when you are discussing rates of pay. If you know you should be getting paid more, don't be afraid to communicate that. This also applies to non-government jobs. 
  • Think ahead: As a security clearance you must go to an official fingerprinting office. Just be mindful that it might take about two to three weeks, sometimes longer depending on how many people they're hiring, so try to do them ASAP.” 

“Finally, don't be afraid to ask for advice from anyone, or to go to workshops that help with your résumé and cover letter. Take as many opportunities as you have and don't be afraid to ask for advice because everyone's there to help each other. Even ask your employer if they are willing to look at your résumé for you!”

Sailboat on the shore of a lake. What’s next for you? 

“I am returning to the Boundaries Water Issues Unit for my next co-op and I'm very excited about that. In my fourth year I'll be doing an honors thesis in water research, as well. At this moment I'm still trying to figure out which topic as the possibilities are endless. What's next is for me in the short term is to figure that out.” 

“In the long term, I would like to pursue a master’s degree in water research. However, currently the plan is to take a one–two year break from school and find a job that I like before applying for a master's degree.”

“Personally, I want to keep exploring my interests and not be afraid if my interests change, either within water or outside of water. I think in the next few years there is going to be a lot of change and I don’t want to be afraid of it.”  

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