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  • Writer's pictureThe Mentorship Spot

Student Life at UWaterloo + International Co-Op!

Updated: Jul 28, 2020

Written By Prachi Nepal

Prachi is a fourth-year student studying at University of Waterloo. She’s doing a molecular biology specialization with a minor in medical physiology. Prachi loves to watch movies and read. She tries to keep reading during the term (usually before bed) though it takes her essentially forever nowadays because her pace is a lot slower. She also loves watching conspiracy videos on YouTube.

1. Why did you choose Waterloo?

I never know how to answer this question! The unique co-op program was a big part of it, but truthfully, I just needed to do something adventurous and new. I really was looking forward to not living at home because in high school I felt that I was not productive at home — and I suspected that living at home while in university would exacerbate that.

2. What does your program offer?

This program gives you the option of co-op or mainstream, and you take classes for four months each term. In 4th year, there’s the option of taking a two-term research project which is regarded as a “mini-Master’s”.

3. What’s the difference between a specialization and non-specialization degree?

A specialization for me just means that I have certain classes that I’ll have to take in my upper years, and they’re all relating to the topic of molecular biology. If I didn’t have this specialization, I could just take any biology classes and that would fulfill my requirements for graduation. The good thing about a specialization (versus a minor for example) is that you don’t need to declare it beforehand. Since I’m already in Biology, I can just take the courses and let them know that I want my degree to indicate that I’ve done the specialization. This is what I’m doing right now just because I do enjoy the courses required, but in case I suddenly decide that the specialization is too much of a load for me I can just stop taking the courses for it.

4. Can you tell us about your co-op placement experience and the process?

I used to be in co-op and dropped out and joined the regular program in third year. The way it works is that in the term there’ll be one “main round” where a ton of jobs are open for a fixed amount of time and you can shortlist and apply as you have free time. Most students find their job later in the term, during the continuous round, where jobs continuously are released and are open to apply to — but only for a few days. Interviews are usually done in the Tatham Centre and the employer either comes down to conduct the interview in person, or they call or skype. Everyone has their own co-op advisor, who doesn’t work in the Tatham centre and must be contacted via email or phone, and they can help with résumé and cover letter editing, providing other resources via which jobs can be found, and just general emotional support (shoutout to Celeste!!).

I had one international co-op job before I dropped co-op, and I was in The Netherlands, doing research on algae. This experience was very beneficial in that it gave me a lot of experience conducting research, and my employers were kind enough to give me more or less free reign of the lab to conduct my research at my own pace, which was unique compared to what I’d heard about local research positions.

5. Waterloo is often described as a city with not much to do. Is there a cool, secret spot to hang out?

I will admit that Toronto is a lot more fun and generally more eventful than Waterloo, however that there is nothing to do would be a lie. I think that once you commit to having fun in Waterloo, you’ll see that there is actually a lot to do. It’s a student town, so there are lots of relatively cheap places to eat and hang out. If you’re looking for 19+ fun, there’s Phil’s, which is a club that’s infamous in Waterloo (but not really as bad as the stories make it seem). Uptown Waterloo (which is just a free GRT ride away) is home to so many adorable cafés where you can spend a lot of time studying…or curating your Instagram feed. One of my favourite extracurricular activities at UW though, was intramural sports. I did dodgeball in 1st year and recently in 3rd year, and it’s the most fun thing ever! I would totally recommend this for someone looking for a cool, low-maintenance way to make new friends! VERY close to campus is also Waterloo Park, which is really nice for taking walks and also has a little zoo with tons of farm animals and llamas.

6. What is your residence experience like?

I lived in Ron Eydt Village (REV) for first year, and I was lucky enough to be part of a program called Living Learning, where about half the students were in the same program as me, and we were mentored by an upper year in the same program as well. This helped a lot because I essentially lived with people who took the same classes as me, which offered another resource. REV has a reputation as a party residence, but I found that my floor was relatively mild, but I wouldn’t recommend living in REV to people who prefer solitude. You’re allowed to pick your roommate if you know someone you want to live with, if not, you’re assigned a roommate based on your answers to a questionnaire. This is what happened with me, and the system was pretty good! I still live with my first-year roommate now.

Since then, however, I’ve lived in apartments nearby with my friends. Finding a place to sublet for 4 months is relatively easy during the Winter and Spring terms, but near impossible in the Fall term, especially places within walking distance of campus.

7. What are your goals after undergraduate studies and how is your program helping you achieve those goals?

I would like to further my studies in some research-based master’s program, and Biology at Waterloo is helping me to achieve this thanks to the tons of lab courses that are available to take.

8. General advice that applies to anyone who attends Waterloo

Stay away from the geese! On a serious note, I think that it’s easy to feel isolated and alone, especially when you move out. A good thing is to be mindful and aware of how you’re feeling and not to isolate yourself when you’re not feeling great! The great thing about university is that it’s a huge community, so if you make the effort, you’ll be able to find people on the same wavelength as you. There are a ton of clubs and it’s literally NEVER too late too join; search up UW Feds Club List online to see the full list of clubs you can join (Feds is the student union). If you’re in Science, Richard Marta is amazing, and if you have any questions about 1st year chemistry, regardless of who your professor is, go to his office hours to ask questions! The libraries and study areas tend to get really crowded during exam and midterm season, so I would recommend studying at the colleges (St Jerome’s, Rennison) and the college libraries — I’ve never seen them crowded! If you ever want to hang out/vent and feel like you don’t know who to do so to, feel free to search me up!

9. Advice for high school students

Build good study patterns now. Personally, I never had to work very hard to do alright in high school, and I just sort of thought once I got into university that I would be better and have a good work ethic — simply as a consequence of being in that setting. That obviously didn’t happen because all the toxic habits, namely procrastination, were so embedded in my work habits. During high school is the best time to really try out different studying methods to find what works for you, to train yourself into dedicating time to studying everyday and to get used to it. Also, one of the biggest shocks for me coming into university was how different note-taking was, so one tip I would recommend is — if you’re using resources like YouTube or Khan Academy to help you study, practice taking notes from those.

10. What has been one of your favourite experiences at Waterloo?

My most memorable experience was doing a play with one of my friends! We were just hanging out and riffing weird storylines with each other, and somehow, we started developing a script and a storyline. We would dedicate hours every week to practicing and fine-tuning our play, and eventually at the end of the term we invited a couple of our friends and showed them what we had been working on all term. It was a weird, long, emotionally-charged play, but it was so much fun to put that much effort into something that wasn’t school!

One of my other favourite experiences at Waterloo was playing dodgeball in first year. My team was made up of people who lived in my floor in residence, and it was a great way to break the ice and get to know each other, and I loved the friendly competition.

11. What has been one of the hardest experiences at Waterloo?

One of the hardest experiences for me was getting kicked out of co-op. I was applying to jobs left and right but was not having a lot of luck that term, and if I didn’t get a job, I would have to be in the mainstream program. It was causing me a lot of stress and interfering with my ability to perform academically, so I decided to drop co-op before they kicked me out (this way, I wouldn’t have to apply to jobs and do interviews during exams). This was especially hard because all my friends are still in co-op so it was impossible not to compare myself to them and wonder why I wasn’t measuring up to them, especially in the subsequent term while they were applying to jobs. In retrospect though, I don’t regret it because it was what was best for me.

Thanks for reading this article! If you liked it, consider checking out the other articles on our page and stay tuned for new ones weekly! Did you know we also pair high school students with uni students in their desired program for advice and mentorship? Check out our sign-up page to register as a mentor or mentee today!

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