I admit I may have cornered Natalee about an interview–but I was truly interested in hearing about her experiences in an English graduate program with a co-op option. My thanks to her for being so gracious about the process. –JLH
JLH: You were out in the world—what made you decide to come back to school for an MA program?
NEB: I have always wanted to pursue graduate studies, but I wasn’t in love with any particular research topic at the end of undergrad. After three years of work in journalism, I had plenty of ideas and I was keen to research more deeply than the media production cycles would allow. I was also curious to see what other career paths might be possible in Canada.
JLH: What made Waterloo the obvious choice?
NEB: Waterloo offered an unbeatable combo: study topics that matter to me and gain employer references to reinforce the value of the degree outside the academic world. I was repatriating from Shanghai and I had high hopes that co-op would help me transition into the Canadian workforce, perhaps in a new industry. The MRP (major research project) option was also a strong selling point, as Waterloo is one of few universities supporting independent research projects at the MA level in English.
JLH: What has been your experience of co-op so far?
NEB: Co-op was a real eye-opener. Both the job experience and the connections forged within the student body have helped immensely. Several of the co-op students in my cohort had already worked in more than one industry, either through undergraduate co-op programs or in regular full-time permanent jobs. I probably learned as much from my colleagues as I did from employers, regarding hiring processes, corporate versus non-corporate jobs, and how to build and market my skills effectively. I knew that completing a Master of Arts would not open a direct route to a specific type of job, so I joined co-op for the opportunity to develop a broader range of skills, expand my writing portfolio, earn extra income, and to see behind the curtain, you might say. I am profoundly grateful to have met so many determined, inspiring, and helpful contacts in such a short period of time. Every time a friend tells me about an interview – for co-op or after – I’m learning more about the employer and the job than I would ever know from skimming job ads and reading labour market reports online. The connections available here are priceless, if you’re willing to go after them.
JLH: Given the semester on/semester off model of co-op, do you still feel like you are part of a graduate cohort here?
NEB: I do! I was able to find co-op jobs in Waterloo, so I had little difficulty staying in touch with my academic colleagues. Also, SAGE [Student Association for Graduates in English] events seem to double every time I turn around! That really helps make it easy to find a time and a place to mingle with lots of people, to feel embraced by the community.
JLH: Where are you hoping you might be in a year or so?
NEB: I’m excited to say that I have a few job leads right now; I’m not sure which one will be the golden ticket. A blend of writing, editing, training/presenting, and administrative tasks will probably occupy my days as a communications professional in a somewhat technical field, or as a technical documentation specialist with some marketing or training duties. My MRP is a rhetorical analysis of online resources for cancer patients, so I’m hoping that in my workplace or in my free time I will be able to support health and wellness programs too. I will probably have a dog. That is the most detail I can divulge at present! Thank you.