From the Desk of a Co-op Student

If you’ve never done a co-op, you might not have a real understanding of what happens at work. It might be hard for you to imagine what happens after that first week of dressing up, learning peoples’ names, joining the coffee club and finishing all the paperwork and readings your boss gives you. Yes, much of the time you may be busy with work or projects, sometimes you’ll even do overtime or work weekends to get things done. You’ll also have days where you really have absolutely nothing to do, despite your best efforts. Obviously, you should not waste company time, but sometimes there is no work for you. And sometimes the work you are assigned to do is totally out of what you expected. Below are some of the various things I’ve done on work terms.

  1. Reading is quite obvious because it’s an easy way to pass the time for most people. What most people haven’t done is read the entire Game of Thrones series out of sheer lack of work. That’s 4,197 pages of content (and yes, I was reading on my commutes as well, but that’s no small feat).
  2. I once knitted a pair of socks on the job. I once worked at a construction site where I was used to doing testing. They didn’t always need tests though, so when I was waiting around, I got two full socks made! They are very warm and cosy.
  3. Podcasts are a great way to amuse yourself when the work you’re given to do is fairly mundane and requires relatively little brain power. I have listened to several fantastic podcasts including The Bugle, the Allusionist, Ologies, the Daily Zeitgeist, and the Omnibus to name a few. Go check ‘em out if you want a brain boost!
  4. I was once paid to be mosquito food. I did other things too, but that part is very vivid in my memory.
  5. I once spent two months calling contract assistants to ask them how much rock they used in their road construction projects. Every morning I would come into work, get comfy, and spend an hour making phone calls and leaving voicemails. Every morning, because a lot of people never picked up.
  6. I once was asked to spend three days reading absolutely everything I could about major tunnelling projects and failures around the world. I read scientific papers, I google-translated a lot of Russian and Chinese, and I signed up for a monthly tunnelling e-letter. I also found a video of the Russian tunnel of death. I did not make that name up, folks, this is legit and terrifying and you should also see this video.
  7. I once spent so much time reading the corporate emails at a company, you know the ones every company emails out about updates and promotions and whatnot that no one reads, that I found out about the Green Society at the office building I was in, joined it, and helped them plan a potluck fundraiser.
  8. Once, trying to spend some time outside the office building, I joined in with some “tree week” celebrations. I wound up meeting the Minister of Natural Resources and had my picture up on the company intranet homepage for a month.
  9. I once had so little to do, I tried to teach myself soil mechanics at work and turned it into my work term report.
  10. I once spent an entire work term living in a cabin by a highway with four other people. We played Catan every day and I became a rock hoarder, I’m still working through it.

Co-op can be nerve-wracking and a little intimidating, but we’ve all been there and we all have different experiences. If you want to know what someone’s co-op experience has been like don’t ask them where they worked or what projects they did, that’s the boring interview question and there’s nothing of interest in the answer. Ask them what weird things they’ve done on co-op or been asked to do, we all have stories and they’re always fun to hear.

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