From animals to robots: a science student’s co-op journey

Esha Awan (she/her), shares her co-op experience as a fourth-year Science student, working in a variety of industries — from pharmaceuticals to robotics— in addition to her passion for veterinary sciences.

A photo of Esha smiling on the Engineering bridge at the University of Waterloo.Currently, Esha is in her fourth co-op position at Swap Robotics as part of her Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.), Honours Science and Business program, with a specialization in Biotechnology.

What advice would you give someone going into co-op?

Each co-op experience is inimitable to another— I place a lot of value on the learning, experience and friendships developed from each co-op. My greatest advice to first-time co-op students is to not be discouraged by the outcome of their co-op job.

I highly recommend asking managers at your job to take on higher-priority tasks, learn about the industry, and absorb as much knowledge as possible.

Where did you complete your co-ops and what are some main projects that you worked on during them?

My first co-op was at Ontario Nutri Lab (ONL), as an animal research assistant in winter 2020. I am extremely grateful for this co-op, as I gained hands-on animal and lab experience. I worked in three departments at this co-op; laboratory, treatment, and enrichment.

During my time at the lab, I was conducting laboratory nutritional analyses of various trials. In treatment, I was responsible for the health and welfare of the animals; namely, pharmaceuticals, physical assessments, and surgical assistance.

Finally, in enrichment, I spent time providing affection, grooming, and attention to animals. Basically, I was being paid to play with animals (score)! In addition, I met two of my best friends who were also co-ops at ONL. It was a shaping time in my life; my first co-op, meeting new friends, and expanding my work ethic.

After completing my first co-op, I found it extremely difficult to land my second co-op job. It was hard during prime-pandemic time in spring 2020, with a sharp transition to online classes in addition to the lack of job availability. 

However, last-minute, I secured my second co-op at Mint Pharmaceuticals Inc. as a pharmaceutical business development intern for fall 2020.

I loved my experience at my second co-op. My management was kind enough to take the time to edify me on the generic pharmaceutical industry, standard operating procedures and pharmaceutical project management.

Specifically, I enjoyed learning more about Scientific Affairs. For example, working closely with clinical experts to structure bioequivalence studies for molecules.

From market analysis to product procurement, I was able to work on various aspects of the business development process.

A photo of Esha smiling while holding a pharmaceutical bottle, which was taken during her second co-op term at Mint Pharmaceuticals.

In spring 2021, I worked at Lean Payments, as an account manager. This start-up expanded my knowledge of the Finance and Technology (FinTech) industry— namely, Neo Banking. I worked with Global Liquidity Providers (GLP) to manage borderless payments of Lean’s clients. During this co-op, I made another great friendship, all the way in Florida!

As of winter 2022, I am in my fourth and final co-op position at Swap Robotics, working in business development. I have always been a huge fan of the Disney movie, “Wall-e”, and the robots at Swap physically remind me of them— which I love. In February, I got to take a week-long business trip to Canada’s capital, Ottawa, to pilot the autonomous and 100% electric snow plowing robots at Tunney’s Pasture.

This is the first start-up I have worked for that is growing at such a fast pace— it is an exciting time to witness the accelerating growth of the company. I highly recommend working for a start-up during at least one co-op term— I believe you learn the most and can implement significant improvements towards the growth of the company. This is amazing for both building student-employer relationships and advancements in your resume!

How did you come across this job opportunity?

During the recruitment process through WaterlooWorks in fall 2021, for the first time in my co-op career, I was ranked “1” by several companies! For those that have not used WaterlooWorks before, it means I received job offers from several companies. It was a huge accomplishment of mine and a vast contrast from the recruitment process during my first and second co-op.

I knew instantly I was going to choose Swap Robotics when I received all my offers. When I initially started my degree in 2018, it was a goal of mine to work for a robotics company. I have learned a lot about the ingenuity of robotic engineering and have a newfound appreciation for hard-tech!

What’s next for you?

It’s evident in my resume that I have tapped into various industries and types of jobs. I think that’s the great thing about the Bachelor of Science in Honours Science and Business! Although, more specifically, I am extremely passionate about veterinary medicine and intend on applying to the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program after I graduate.

A photo of Esha smiling and holding a cat.

Experience is pivotal in the application to the DVM program. Due to my co-op experience, I have broadened my horizons in the veterinary industry.

My time at Ontario Nutri Lab as an animal research assistant allowed me to gain hands-on veterinary experience.

This co-op assisted in me landing my current part-time job at a veterinary clinic in Waterloo, as a veterinary assistant. Being able to practice animal care solidifies my passion for pursuing my DVM.

When I first began my co-op journey in fall 2019, I was only 19 years old. This was right before the pandemic. I feel like my co-op journey has grown along with the pandemic (funny enough), it all seems full circle! 

My co-op experiences have shaped much of my character. It is baffling to think I completed four co-ops in just two years.

This fall I will be 23 and feel much more well-rounded than when I was 19 and applying to my first co-op job. From meeting my best friends during my first co-op to achieving all my co-op goals by my final co-op, I am super thankful for my co-op experience!

This blog was originally published by Co-operative Education.