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Finding a direction

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Like many of her peers, Paige McDougall entered the Faculty of Mathematics with more enthusiasm than direction. “I knew early on that math was a strong subject for me, but I had no idea where I would actually excel,” she acknowledged. With every new class and co-op term, she has found her way through the fog.

The Calgary native discovered her strengths and weaknesses early in her time at the Faculty of Mathematics. “It didn’t take me long to learn that doing abstract problems wasn’t for me,” she remembered, “but I gravitated toward classes that demonstrated how to use math in real-world situations. I like to see how everything I learn can be put to use.”

As she prepares to graduate in 2022, McDougall reflects on the value of her co-op experiences in introducing to her a diverse range of career opportunities. For her first co-op term, she dipped a toe into the pool of corporate finance as a Business System Analyst at CIBC in downtown Toronto. While she found satisfaction in learning how the concepts she learned in the classroom created value in the Financial District, she knew that corporate finance wasn’t her calling. 

Changing direction, McDougall set her sights on applied computer programming for the next two co-op terms. She completed her most recent co-op at Omnium, a San Francisco-based data company whose CEO graduated from the Faculty of Mathematics. “The team was quite small, and they treated co-op students like an important part of the group,” she shared. “It was rewarding to be able to deliver a polished product directly to a client.”

While McDougall has committed to returning to Omnium this summer for another co-op term, she’s keeping her options open for the future. She has recently decided to focus on Mathematical Medicine and Biology under the larger umbrella of Applied Mathematics after witnessing what her professors could accomplish at the intersection of math and biology. “It’s exciting to think about using math to solve current problems in medicine, like modeling the spread of viruses like COVID-19,” she reflected. Whether she continues on to graduate school or moves straight into industry, she looks forward to contributing her skills to projects with a tangible impact on the people around her. 

The single most rewarding aspect of her time at Waterloo, McDougall says, has been the exposure to a wide circle of people who share her passion for math. She has made some of her closest friends within the Faculty of Mathematics, some of whom studied alongside her on a three-month Math in Europe study trip to Italy and France in 2018.

After building relationships, the opportunity to gain a broad range of professional experience is a close second. “Waterloo has done an excellent job of exposing me to different positions in a variety of industries,” said McDougall. “I’m getting closer to where I want to be.” 

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