Our co-op option enables students to combine their academic studies with practical work experience in positions related to their professional interests. Following the MA coursework terms (fall and winter), students apply for co-op positions in public and private organizations. Co-op work terms are either four or eight months in length and are followed by a term back on campus for writing the MRP or thesis.
Rachel Beals (Policy Intern, Northern Policy Institute)
In the summer of 2016, I had the wonderful opportunity to be a Policy Intern for the Northern Policy Institute. NPI is a non-partisan, evidence-based think tank located in Northern Ontario and they focus on a variety of policy areas concerning the north such as the environment, Aboriginal affairs, the economy, infrastructure and so on. Over the course of the co-op placement, I was able to become familiar with these issues through my various responsibilities such as writing blogs, gathering primary and secondary research, analyzing Northern Ontario news, attending cultural events and so on.
During my placement I was assigned several projects, the first of which revolved around directional signage. For this project I was given the opportunity to not only conduct qualitative research, but to design and carry out a research trip to gather primary data in different parts of Northern Ontario. In addition to this task, my colleague and I were a part of a collaborative project between Northern College and NPI in which we led interviews and organized qualitative data. Between these two responsibilities, I was able to code and analyze data, design and conduct interviews, create a field study, and finally, evaluate and synthesize research findings. I believe all of these experiences have helped me to become a better researcher.
In addition to these projects, another important part of my coop placement was writing blogs. As someone who had very limited experience with Northern Ontario, the opportunity to research, analyze, and critique policies that affect northern communities allowed me to become familiar with not only with how the north functions, but also the how the policy-making process is carried out in this region. Since my own research involves the study of how certain policies affect rural groups, there were some parallels between my coop responsibilities and my Masters work. Finally, another takeaway I had from the blog process was how to become a more dynamic writer. I believe this is an important skill that will be of use in my future workplace.
In short, I have learned a great deal from my coop placement and I attribute this to the fact that I was given the opportunity to be challenged as a researcher, a student of political science, and as a professional. Not only have I developed my current capabilities, but I have cultivated new skills as well. So to this I say thank you to the University of Waterloo coop program and NPI; you have helped provide me with aa engaging experience that will continue to aid me in my school and work life.
Alexis Shamess (Policy Analyst, Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing)
I worked for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing as a Policy Co-op student from May until December 2015. This opportunity stemmed from the co-op option in the MA program in Political Science at the University of Waterloo. In this position, I worked in the PERL (Planning, Environment, Resources and Land) Secretariat, which is a cluster of 13 ministries that supports horizontal and integrated policy development and analysis through strategic discussion and annual research projects. I was responsible for the organization of the Directors and Assistant Deputy Ministers’ Committee meetings, where internal consultations took place concerning Ministry initiatives tracking to Cabinet and the legislative approvals process. In preparation for the meetings, I drafted policy papers, briefing notes and oral presentations. I was also responsible for implementing and maintaining a ‘Tracker Tool,’ which monitors early policy development, consultations and the policy and legislative approvals process of PERL member ministries’ initiatives. The tracker tool was utilized by an executive audience and was received with high acclaim.
Furthermore, I assisted with the development of a project report titled, “Aligning PERL Data and Evidence in Land-use Planning to support a Landscape-Level Profile of the Greater Golden Horseshoe.” Working on this report provided me with the opportunity to summarize research findings, as well as analyze, evaluate and synthesize various sources of information and data to establish a landscape level data-monitoring program of the GGH. This also provided the opportunity to liaise and consult with other branches and ministries as well as external stakeholders, to discuss research and exchange information regarding policy and program issues.
My two co-op terms provided me with practical knowledge of the government decision-making approvals process as well as policy development practices. I learned to effectively write policy papers and briefing notes for the executive level in Government. Moreover, I learned how to successfully utilize issues management skills, by accommodating multiple ministries’ competing interests and priorities pertaining to the data-monitoring program that I assisted with. I learned how to effectively deliver research findings, options and recommendations to senior level management in an effective and concise manner. Additionally, I learned political acuity, as I developed an understanding of the formal and informal structures and processes in the Ontario Government.
I believe that this experience will help me down the road, as it provided me with knowledge of policy development practices, research and analytical skills, presentation and communication proficiencies, as well as problem-solving abilities. These are transferable skills that provide an excellent foundation for anyone looking to purse a career in areas such as policy, research, consulting and law. Gaining this experience in the Ontario Public Service also provided me with the opportunity to network and meet people in various different roles in the OPS including positions in policy, law, IT, research, urban planning, finance, and business management. Ultimately, my two co-op terms prepared me for the position that I was recently offered, as a Policy Analyst in the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. I eagerly look forward to the next step in my career and I have to thank the cooperative program at the University of Waterloo for kick-starting this incredible journey!
Xin Jiang (Research Analyst, Policy Analyst at Ministry of Environment and Climate Change)
For my first co-op placement, I was employed as a Research Analyst at a consulting firm. My primary role was to conduct extensive research and gather data via various methods on an assigned area to shed light on development challenges and business opportunities. First hand data collected through field survey and street interviews were preferred. I communicated my research findings through reports, presentations, graphs and infographics. My second placement was Policy Co-op with the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change. I mainly worked with the renewable energy team to provide program support for Ontario’s current renewable energy initiatives. My duties included preparing responses for management to incoming letters, drafting briefing notes, coordinating record research for Freedom of Information Requests, reviewing board decisions and public comments, etc.
I feel very lucky that both placements had a friendly work environment and that I was able to involve in very different projects. The precious experience enabled me to hone various skills, such as research, analytical, writing, communication, and software skills. In terms of research and analytical skills, for example, I feel more skillful in locating credible data sources, designing questionnaire questions, and evaluating survey results. Besides, my writing skills were refined through developing different types of documents, including wrap-up report, research report, letter response, briefing material, summary table, etc. Apart from writing different documents, I also had exposure to and became more comfortable with different types of communication tools in workplace, such as teleconference, webinars, emails and instant messages. Moreover, I got more skilled at using computer software and office equipment. I even had a chance to take a training on how to run webinars with Adobe.
Additionally, I have gained some industry knowledge and developed a better understanding of career progression in the organizations I worked/interviewed for. In my first co-op, my research focus was primarily transportation systems in China. Through extensive research, I not only honed my research skills, but got to know the transportation industry as well. In one project, I was tasked to investigate a secret local industry that I had never heard of. There were limited online reports and few local people were aware of the business. The investigation process was hard but rewarding. In my second co-op, I learned about Ontario’s renewable energy programs and other initiatives by working on different projects. Those industry insight is also helpful as I move on with my Master’s Research Paper. Besides, I gained a better understanding of the career progression and the organizational structure in the consulting industry and with the Ontario Public Service while working there. In addition to on-the job learning experience, the co-op application and interview process was a window to learn about career progression and potential employers. These are beneficial to planning my career.
What I have learned through my co-op experience is not only useful for school work and in workplace, it also has a positive impact on the way I act and think. I feel more confident about myself than before as I refined my skills and gained a better understanding of myself and the professional world.