Contemplating the co-op

Queen’s programs limited in comparison to other universities

Image by: Auston Chhor
Despite the fact that co-ops are prevalent at other universities in Canada

$20,000 and a new business isn’t bad for a summer’s work.

When Noah Levin, Sci ’17, took part in the Queen’s Innovation Connector Summer Initiative (QICSI), he came out with more knowledge and a lot of prize money. QICSI is a summer program which starts with a two-week boot camp on the basics of business and entrepreneurship.

Individual groups then work to create a business — all the way from the conceptual process to actual execution. At the end of the program, there’s a pitch competition where Levin’s group won the $20,000 prize.

“QICSI is an incredible experience and opportunity. You are given a salary, seed funding and near unlimited resources to start your own business. Furthermore, the advisors and directors of the programs have vast insight and connections. This is exactly why the QICSI venture success rate is much higher than other start-ups.”            

But while Levin had a good experience with QICSI, to him, the summer’s experience didn’t fully make up for the lack of co-op.

“A co-op term would have given me industry experience and technical skills that I would have only gotten when working at that company,” Levin said. “It would have given me an ‘in’ to the company when it comes to hiring.”

Leaving school and getting a job in the ‘real world’ can be a daunting prospect. One of the ways that universities are trying to mitigate those fears and help students reach their potential in the job field is through co-operative programs.            

Co-ops give students the ability to test drive a career they’re interested  in and give them experiences beneficial in getting a job after graduation. Additionally, co-ops give students the opportunity to network and meet people in their potential field which can be crucial in later getting a permanent job.

Co-ops are prevalent at other universities in Canada, but, Queen’s is falling behind in their co-op program offerings.

The only program at Queen’s that’s labeled specifically as a co-op is through the biochemistry program.

The Biochemistry Co-op is open to third year students in the program. They benefit from two different job placements and all the students involved are required to do a one semester Honors thesis.

“We try to get a range of placements, laboratory related, more of a desk job like Health Canada, startup companies so focusing more on the business side moving more towards things like patents” Peter Davies, head of the Biochemistry Co-op program explained.

“Students in the biochemistry co-op are pretty much on their own but that benefits them well because they get their own freedom in their work and studies as well as actually being on their own,” Davies added.

This is a key difference between the co-op and the Queen’s Undergraduate Internship Program (QUIP) where, currently, most experiential learning opportunities at Queen’s are offered in the form of internships. Internships differ in that they’re more integrated into students’ academics as opposed to a student being treated as an independent worker.

QUIP provides either 12 or 16-month paid placements where “students have the opportunity to see projects through from start to completion,” said Chelsea Elliot, manger, experiential learning and partner relations at QUIP.

Students participating in QUIP benefit by “contributing significantly to their employer and gaining a deep understanding of the career they are test driving by seeing a full-year cycle,” Elliot added.

Similar to other programs, QUIP requires students to take at least a full year off, depending on the length of the internship, meaning they would graduate a year or two later. Anyone in engineering, computing or Arts and Science entering their third or fourth year is eligible.               

While QUIP offers these opportunities to a range of programs, their enrollment is faltering compared to other schools.

Queen’s has just under 200 students out on internship right now and there are approximately seven students selected for the biochemistry program each year.

In comparison, University of Toronto Scarborough has placements for 1,500 students spread throughout 50 co-op programs.

Laurier also has a wide range of co-op programs, for every major in the Arts and Sciences program, as well as business and computer science and opportunities in engineering.              

What Queen’s lacks in co-op programs, it tries to make up for in other ways as students seek experiences outside the classroom.

Two hundred and sixteen AMS clubs exist, ranging in topic from academic to social to political. Conferences on different topics also give students the opportunity to network and communicate with people in their chosen field.

However, for students who sought other opportunities outside of QUIP, there’s still a sense of
something missing.  

Alex Amos, Sci ’18 was lucky enough to be selected for The Cansbridge Fellowship, a program with the purpose of accelerating personal and professional development. The program recruits fifteen undergraduate students from Canada who are “entrepreneurs, leaders, and risk takers” according to Amos.

The fellowship has three components: a 10-week, self-organized internship in Asia; attendance at the annual conference in San Francisco where fellows get to tour Google, Facebook, Airbnb, Tesla among others; and finally integration into the Cansbridge Fellowship network of extensive contacts.

“It’s a network of people of whom you will want to reciprocate any help that you’ve been given, because you know that in doing so you are essentially creating value, not only for the fellowship, but the people, the organization, or company that fellow is working for,” Amos wrote in an email.

While Amos acknowledged his experience as being extremely valuable, he echoed Levin’s thoughts that it doesn’t exactly make up for the lack of co-op experiences at Queen’s.

“Personally, I think co-ops/internships should be something highly prioritized by faculties of Queen’s and faculties should continue to improve, fund, and develop the programs they already have,” he said. 


Co-Op, queen's programs, QUIP, work experience

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