At the University of Waterloo, participating in student activities enables the evolvement of leadership skills and creates career/networking opportunities for graduate students, but students can also take the initiative to establish their own opportunities. From my own experience, taking this initiative can have great professional development benefits.
I was the Chair of the Graduate Student Association (GSA) of the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) department from May 2018 to May 2019. My team and I made an industrial partnership program to facilitate networking between ECE graduate students and companies, and to increase student awareness of the industrial opportunities in their research domains.
There were several companies that the ECE GSA considered in this partnership program; Google was one of these companies. Google is a top-tech software giant that has always considered Waterloo as a natural recruitment site for its employees. For instance, the current engineering director of Google Canada, Steve Woods, PhD, is an alumnus of Waterloo.
I joined Google as an intern in the Pixel team for one semester back in 2017. Throughout my internship, I developed my coding and research skills due to interactions with highly qualified personnel. Additionally, I had several networking opportunities to meet "Googlers" and create the connection between research and corporate working environments.
Using this network, as the ECE GSA chair, I was able to reach out to Google Waterloo’s university relations specialist to create two events for the first time for ECE grad students. Both events were fully funded by Google in which food and swag were offered - isn’t that exciting?
In the first event, Google employees gave an orientation about life at Google and how to apply for Google. ECE grad students were really satisfied with the quality of the event, yet they were more interested in more 'techy' talks. Based on this feedback, in the second event, Google employees provided a brief technical overview about the ongoing research activities in their products. Also, students had the opportunity for one-on-one meetings with Google employees to learn from their experience about career paths. ECE grad students appreciated this partnership and are looking forward to more events to come.
Reflecting back on this experience, I believe that I developed my leadership skills and expanded my professional network, which will have a positive impact on my future career. For leadership, it was my first time moderating the relationship between a university and a company. For networking, I met highly qualified professionals related to my research, and I learned about their ongoing research.
For this reason, I encourage every graduate student to get involved, participate in student activities, and take initiative. These initiatives will not only be an item on your resume, but also will benefit your leadership skills and create possible opportunities for you in the future.
Hossam Amer is a PhD candidate in Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Waterloo where his research focuses on multimedia data compression and deep learning. To learn more about Hossam’s research, watch his 2018 Three Minute Thesis presentation, “Connecting people with quality video”.