Alumna Kate Nichols gives some of the best arguments for co-op I have seen! Her experience clearly led her to where she is today–read on to find out how it happened. –JLH
JLH: Can you tell us a bit about how you came to select UWaterloo English? Was it an obvious choice?
KN: I remember considering several schools. After researching the programs and taking a few campus tours, Waterloo was the top school on my list. I liked the size of the school — not too big, not too small. It felt like a University that was pushing the envelope and doing things a little bit differently with a greater variety of program options than several other schools. I didn’t seek out co-op, but once I became aware of the program and its benefits I was all in. I had a wonderful meeting with an Academic Advisor (thank you, Eric Breugst!) who helped me to select the Honours Arts & Business co-op program. From there, I found that the English Rhetoric and Professional Writing program was perfectly geared to my interest in communication, argumentation, visual design, and semiotics. Ultimately, the choice of Waterloo and English was obvious for me.
JLH: Some admit they found the idea of co-op intimidating. How did you find the transition from classroom to co-op?
KN: Apart from selecting my program, choosing co-op was the best decision I made for my undergrad. I remember the first round of interviews feeling quite stressful as I learned about the process and deadlines. Not to mention feeling a bit intimidated during my first round of interviews! Once I got the hang of it, co-op interview season was much less stressful. I was able to work at several amazing companies: Open Text, CIBC, Slipstream (startup), and IBM. Being able to rotate between school and work helped me to pay for my undergrad degree without going into debt. I was able to apply what I learned at school to work and vise versa. And school in the summer is the best! If you haven’t done it before, trust me, it is awesome.
JLH: What made you decide to pursue a Masters at UWaterloo as well?
KN: During my final semesters at school, I started to seriously consider a Masters. I really enjoyed my courses and felt like I wanted to go deeper. I had also developed connections with several of the amazing professors in the Faculty of English who encouraged me to apply. I ended up starting a full-time job at IBM after completing my undergrad and working for a year before starting a full-time Masters degree. I was able to work part-time at IBM and take on a really interesting Research Assistant position with Professor Randy Harris and Professor Sarah Tolmie. Looking back, I’m not sure how I managed full-time school and two part-time jobs but somehow I made it work and had a really great year. My Major Research Project on multi-touch tabletop computing with Professor Neil Randall was a highlight of the year, as were the connections I made with my classmates.
Like my undergrad, I considered and was accepted to several different MA programs, but Waterloo again felt like the right fit. I did not take co-op during my Masters degree since I already had that experience from undergrad.
JLH: In what ways do you think your career trajectory has been shaped by your UWaterloo experience?
KN: I can’t tell you how often I connect with colleagues at the IBM Canada Lab in Toronto who are fellow UWaterloo grads, several who are also from the English Rhetoric and Professional Writing Program. I think my experience at Waterloo taught me many things that serve me daily in my current role — communications strategies, basic visual design, writing and editing skills, speech communications, to name a few. It also taught me how to collaborate with others, juggle many different priorities (remember co-op season!), ask the right questions, and to be curious about the people and the world around me.
At IBM, I am part of a team of talented Content Designers working on our Data & AI portfolio. We are constantly looking for ways to help our clients use our newest technology to solve problems. This involves writing content, of course, but it also working with the Design team to provide design and content recommendations for the product UI, collaborating with the Development teams to understand what we are building and why, and educating people about the importance and relevance of content for our clients. In 2017, I was able to take on a management role and really enjoy working with my team and am learning how to be a good manager.
Outside of my core role, my passion project at IBM is the IBMSTEM4Girls program. Our mission is to inspire girls who want to make a difference in the world and encourage them to consider opportunities provided by STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers. We hold events throughout the year, with our most significant event being a technology camp we run each summer (2020 will be the 21st year we have run a camp at the IBM Canada Lab in Toronto!). We often have our student interns volunteer for IBMSTEM4Girls — some of them from UWaterloo!
JLH: And finally, the fun question! Can you tell us about your favorite books of the last few years?
KN: From a personal perspective, I could not stop reading North of Normal and Nearly Normal, written by Canadian Cea Sunrise Pearson. From a professional perspective, I have recently started reading Designing Connected Content: Plan and Model Digital Products for Today and Tomorrow, by Carrie Hane and Mike Atherton. I can’t provide a review yet but it looks really interesting. And for reading to my children, I have to give a shout out to fellow grad Laura Baker and her books The Colour of Happy and My Friend Sleep.