Graduate Work-Integrated Learning (WIL) at the University of Waterloo

Graduate Studies at the University of Waterloo were designed to be different. Building on Waterloo’s tradition and strength in experiential learning, students in graduate programs are encouraged to think beyond the classroom, through engagement in work-integrated learning opportunities.

What is Work-Integrated Learning (WIL)?

WIL is a form of curricular experiential education that formally integrates a student’s academic studies (classroom learning and research) with quality experiences within a workplace or practice setting. WIL experiences include an engaged partnership with at least: an academic institution, a host organization (industry, government, or community partner), and a student. WIL can occur at the course or program level and includes the development of student learning objectives and outcomes related to employability, agency, knowledge and skill mobility, and lifelong learning.

WIL experiences provide students with many benefits, such as gaining practical work experience in their fields of study, understanding the pressing issues in the ‘real world’ such that students’ research has the potential to be more impactful, allowing for experiences that foster a greater understanding the direction they wish to take in their career, giving students the skills needed to be successful in their chosen career path, and at the same time, an edge over other graduates entering the workforce.

Grad WIL at UWaterloo

Experiential education, and more specifically WIL, has been a core component of teaching and learning at Waterloo since its inception. WIL provides students with crucial professional development, networking, funding, and opportunities to build skills for transition to the workforce.

Several graduate programs offer WIL experiences through a variety of formats, including co-op (read about Zeynep’s experience), internship, practicum (read about Keith’s experience), course-integrated WIL (e.g., assignments or capstone projects), research, and/or entrepreneurial activities. Graduate students, such as master’s student Jonah Eisen, have also engaged in WIL opportunities outside of their programs, by participating in activities such as the Sportsnet Hockey Hack organized by Velocity.

Graduate students’ value to community and industry partners

As a graduate student at the University of Waterloo, you have a wide range of skills, knowledge, and experience that you’ve developed through your current graduate program, previous academics, and/or prior work experience. The skills and experiences you have acquired are valued by employers in industry, government, and non-profit organizations.

As you consider grad WIL experiences, or employment opportunities post-degree, you may wish to highlight the attributes that many of our graduate students possess. Depending on your field, program type and experiences in graduate studies, you may:

  • Be well positioned for innovation – able to create, implement and disseminate knowledge
    • Consider all the steps involved in your thesis or dissertation project – from identifying a research question and determining scope, to determining methodologies and conducting the research, to writing and communicating your results
  • Be adaptable, flexible and have a high tolerance for ambiguity
    • Consider any unforeseen challenges you’ve experienced in your program or the reduced level of guidance that you experience in your courses and research
  • Have well-developed leadership, independence, and self-management skills
    • Consider how structure and guidance in your program may decrease as you gain skills and abilities, and how you have managed planning your projects and time independently
  • Apply theoretical knowledge in practical ways
    • Consider how you’ve applied your theoretical knowledge to real-world problems in courses or research
  • Be well positioned to work across disciplinary boundaries
    • Consider if you already work across disciplinary boundaries, or how you have developed skills to communicate your research and expertise to those outside your discipline
  • Create results while accepting constraints
    • Consider the constraints you identified when planning the scope of your research or projects (e.g., time-limitations, finances, laboratory availability, etc.), and how you achieve success despite these constraints
  • Have advanced communication and presentation skills and the ability to articulate complex ideas in relatable and accessible ways
    • Consider how often you work on your communication skills through a variety of tasks (written assignments, teaching, conference presentations, proposal defences, etc.)
  • Have specialized expertise, as well as a broad understanding of trends within your field
    • Consider how many people have the specialized expertise you can bring to an employer, as well as the broad understanding of your field you’ve gained over the years
  • Receive feedback, evaluating and implement it into your work and projects
    • Consider your experience receiving feedback from your supervisor, committee members, instructors, or peer reviewers
  • Manage large projects, including those with constrained resources
    • Consider the project management skills you’re learning by managing your thesis or dissertation project
  • Work, collaborate and communicate with diverse people and stakeholders
    • Consider the diverse group of people you interact with through teaching, group projects, research, or conferences
  • Be resourceful and able to take initiative to achieve resources
    • Consider the funding and resource (e.g., time) constraints you face when conducting research or completing coursework

Review the resources provided by the Centre for Career Action for more support identifying and articulating your unique skillsets.

If you’re a graduate student interested in exploring grad WIL opportunities, speak to your graduate co-ordinator, who can provide you with information about any WIL opportunities available in your program.

The future of grad WIL

Through the University’s 2020-2025 strategic plan, we made a commitment to develop talent for a complex future, which includes expanding Work-Integrated Learning (WIL) opportunities at the graduate level. This is a signature objective towards the goal of enhancing graduate studies.

The vision for grad WIL at the University of Waterloo is for all graduate students to have an opportunity to participate in WIL – either within their program or offered centrally, outside their program. We will prepare you for your grad WIL experiences through various professional development activities and provide you with opportunities to reflect on your goals, skills and career values.

Through a partnership between Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs (GSPA) and Co-operative and Experiential Education (CEE), which began in 2020, the university continues to further develop graduate WIL opportunities. Currently, the project team is in the process of consulting with the campus community, including students, faculty, staff and senior leadership, to gather feedback on proposed models of grad WIL.

If you have questions about the grad WIL project, please contact Sarah Howard, Manager, Postdoctoral Affairs and Programming Development.

Information for staff and faculty

If you are a staff or faculty member interested in exploring grad WIL opportunities in your department/school, please visit the Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs Resources web page (login required) for more information.