One organization, two different roles

Abdullah Butt (he/him), a fourth-year student in the Health Science program, shares what it has been like to work in research for both of his co-ops and how he was able to successfully take lead on one of his projects!

A photo of Abdullah smiling on an escalator.To date, Butt has completed two co-op work terms. Both of his co-ops have been in the Faculty of Health at the University of Waterloo, where he has worked as a research assistant and project lead.

During his first co-op job as a Research Assistant, Butt worked alongside a Ph.D. student where he helped develop a cognitive behavioural therapy intervention.

“I worked with one of the professors in our faculty and he had a Ph.D. student who was working on developing an intervention.”

“So, the Ph.D. student was working on completing their Ph.D. and their project was about designing an intervention to help students, especially young adults, from the ages of 18 to 25, that was the target group. Basically like university students and postgraduates.”

“She was trying to come up with an intervention that would help the students with their mental health issues and this intervention actually did take place in spring 2021. The intervention was designed in the form of a course that was teaching students how to be the best version of themselves, so taking care of their mental health, having those long-term and short-term goals and how to achieve those goals. Also telling students how to be resilient, how to increase your motivation levels and stuff like that.”

“So, all of this comes under the cognitive behavioral therapy, which is kind of like focusing on the positive aspect of your life and finding ways to get rid of the negative aspects, and that's what the whole intervention was about. My goal as the research assistant was to provide the Ph.D. student with the literature reviews [on] the research that has been done and the type of interventions that have been developed within this age group. Kind of like how those were developed, what was the result? Did it work? Did it not work? So, I was helping the Ph.D. student with their project throughout the term.”

For his second co-op term, he worked under the same professor but this time as a project lead.

Originally, Butt was supposed to return to his first co-op position, but due to some funding changes, he was given a new project to work on with the Centre of Research Expertise for the Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders (CRE-MSD)!

“They were hired by the Ministry of Labour to design a survey, so the Ministry of Labor could learn what the employees are looking for when they will eventually get back to in-person jobs because most people went online.”

A photo of Abdullah standing in front of a brick wall and smiling.


“Everything is opening up now and they wanted to know what the factors are in terms of physical or mental aspects to see what the workers need and how they can support them. That's what the whole survey was about.”

“My role was to take the project lead on this, design the survey from scratch and then do my own research. So, find the surveys that have already been done, find out the gaps in those surveys and then fill those gaps in this survey that I'll be designing. At the end of my co-op term, I was fully done with designing the survey, it just needed to be implemented into whatever software they were going to use. I think the survey is completed now and it probably will be sent out by the end of this month.”

A photo of Abdullah standing outside and smiling.

What steps did you take to successfully complete your projects?

“I feel like on my first co-op term, it was my first ever, and I didn't know what I was doing.”

“But I'll say that my Ph.D. supervisor, she was super nice, she was so supportive. Even when I would do a task wrong she would tell me, ‘This is not what I was expecting, I want you to do it this way and this is how you do it.’”

“She led me towards what she wanted me to do, and I was just following her steps. That helped.”


“I was also constantly communicating with her the whole time. So whatever I would do, I’m always like, ‘Oh, this is how I'm doing it, is it correct?’ Kind of just getting her feedback as I'm going through the whole project to make sure that I'm doing it correctly.”

“I knew when I was doing something wrong she would provide feedback and I would be able to implement the feedback and correct it. I think that helped a lot, staying in contact with the professor or the supervisor throughout the whole term.”

You worked as a project lead for one of your co-op terms. How did you successfully take on this role of being a leader on the project?

“It was very, very scary because I did my first meeting with the whole team of ​​CRE-MSD and then the main professor, the head of the organization, said, ‘Oh, we're gonna make Abdullah the project lead, and then he'll lead us to work through the whole project, and then we'll see.’ I didn't know I was going to be the project lead, I thought I was just a research assistant. That was a really big moment for me because I didn't have any knowledge of CRE-MSD or the type of research they do.”

“So, that made me really, really nervous. The meeting ended and I ended up reaching out to my supervisor. [...] I reached out to her and said, ‘I don't know what the professor was saying. I don't know if I have the ability to be the project lead.’ She said, ‘Don't worry, we're here to support you. You're not alone, we're not just going to leave you alone and let you do your own thing. We're going to support you throughout the whole thing.’”

“I was able to complete the co-op term successfully because of the support that was given to me.”

What's next for you?

“I'm really not sure. [...] I still don't know what I want to do, but it would preferably be something in healthcare, that's what my next goal is. The co-op [...] I wasn’t able to take was working with UHN (University Health Network) in Toronto. It would involve working in one of their hospitals as a technician support, providing support to nurses and doctors with technology because they were implementing a new project.”

“This was a really great opportunity and I'm really sad that I had to let it go. But, I feel like the decision had to be made and I had to make that sacrifice. The next thing for me would be just trying to work on my next goals of what I want to do after undergrad.”

A photo of Abdullah standing and smiling outside in front of a fence.

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