Alumnus - Class of 2017

profesional headshot of class of 2017 alumnus Barrie Li

Current position: Business & Fiscal Planning Lead, Ontario Ministry of Transportation 
Co-op position: Research Analyst, Ontario Ministry of Finance
Academic background: Classical Studies, Queen's University

Why did you choose Waterloo's MPS program?

I chose Waterloo's MPS program because I thought it contained a good balance of courses which the public sector considers an asset. This includes Economics, Statistics, Project Management, and Public Policy Development. Waterloo's opportunity for co-op and connection to employers at all levels of government and different industries was also a major factor in my decision.

Tell us about your current co-op position.

I am a Research Analyst at the Ontario Ministry of Finance within the Economic Policy Branch. The team I am in focuses on regional economics and innovation policy, as well as providing advice for other line ministries. I support other senior economists in their work dealing with economic performance in the provinces' regions, labour force and employment, and housing market statistics. I am currently working on a project which focuses on business support programs where I am using a ROI model to determine how to improve the process in which grants are determined. Hopefully, my recommendations will improve the way applications are reviewed and the ability of my colleagues to provide sound advice on specific sectors or industries.

How did the MPS program, including your co-op experiences prepare you for a career?

The MPS program provides an experiential learning opportunity and practical training, which aligns well with what the current public service is looking for. The professors teach us how people in government think and operate, the rules and procedures they follow, and the tools available to them. With this knowledge, I find that I am prepared to adapt to most challenges, ready to speak on current issues and topics, and able to understand the complexities surrounding different people and jurisdictions. 

The support from the MPS alumni, professors, and my classmates was beneficial to me especially during the competitive process of co-op placements and the eventual job market. Speaking to different people with different backgrounds allowed me to learn about my interests, the skills I ultimately decide to pursue, and my professional development path.

What are your favourite MPS moments?

My favourite MPS moment was working with Amy, Matt Douglas, Madiha, Raj, and Sami to organize a potluck for Lunar New Year. We spent a lot of time decorating the project room and coming up with performance ideas to educate the class about a cultural celebration. I was impressed and proud of our cohort's creative ability to try each other's renditions of cooking and their appreciation towards everyone's diverse cultures and backgrounds.

My second favourite MPS moment was attempting to pull an all-nighter at the program space to finish a paper that was due the next day. I had ate an entire shawarma plate from Mozy's for lunch and was too tired to leave the space. Also there was freezing rain that night. I became too tired at around 3am and decided to sleep on the couch in the study room while Bev actually pulled an all-nighter and probably wrote the best paper in the class. She also designed our MPS hoodies which I love!

What have you learned about yourself as a result of the program and your career?

I have learned that despite what you have learned in the classroom and how prepared you might think you are, the most unpredictable things in life are people. The MPS program provided lots of opportunities to work in a fast-paced and collaborative environment with other students. Often times, there would be heated debates and discussions, along with the free exchange of ideas and perspectives. Regardless of the situation, the most important thing was to work together, meet deadlines, and deliver results of high-quality, which is exactly what is expected in the real world.

 What has been your most interesting experience working in the public service?

My most interesting experience was during my first co-op term at Statistics Canada in Ottawa. I had a certain expectation going in that it would be extremely rigorous and demanding - it was. But, what was most interesting to me were the different active and social activities that were available for the entire organization. It was memorable to participate in sports events, competing against other divisions, while getting the opportunity to interact with different employees from other fields of expertise. This has encouraged me to seek out employment opportunities with work-life balance and a workplace that has both a nurturing and professional environment.

What advice do you have for someone interested in taking the MPS program?

If you are interested in the program, then you would be joining a group of individuals who share a similar passion in learning about government and working in the public service. I think there is valuable experience in preparing for co-op together, attending networking opportunities, and sharing ideas with people who are ready to listen and respond. Also be prepared to work hard because after eight months, you will definitely miss it.

University of Waterloo