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How to have a "phenomenal" Co-op experience

 

If you’re a student struggling to get the co-op placement you want, take heart from Samir Parmar’s story. He’ll be the first to tell you he tried and failed at the start. But then he succeeded—big-time. The outcome in his Health Studies co-op, says one of his supervisors, was “phenomenal.”

Parmar is now in third-year Health Studies, studying in the B.A. stream with a second major in English. Last summer, he looked for a co-op placement involving health policy, a key focus of the Arts stream. As a Canadian of Indian heritage, his goal was to work with the Council of Agencies Serving South Asians, or CASSA, an umbrella organization and advocacy group for the community.

He got the interview, but he didn’t get the placement. “My confidence level in the interview was very low,” he says. “I was unable to express my knowledge about the field.”

Other interviews didn’t pan out either, so Parmar focused on course work over the summer. Meanwhile, he talked through his experience with his co-op supervisors in Health Studies, who gave him a lot of useful feedback and advice. “They were very encouraging,” he says. 

As the Fall session neared, the CASSA placement was re-posted and Parmar applied again. “I felt I had nothing to lose and a lot to gain.”

This time, CASSA chose a delighted Parmar. “If I had to give advice, I would say, be confident, and be yourself,” he says. “If you know what you’re doing, you’ll be able to get the job.”

But the story wasn’t over. As Health Equity intern at CASSA, Parmar took a leading role in organizing what became a highly successful Health Equity Summit, held in November at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and bringing together top professionals from healthcare and non-profit organizations to talk about seniors’ care.

Then came the cherry on top – the connections he made at CASSA led to an invitation from a CAMH researcher to help work on a paper to be published in an academic journal.

“Samir is a success story,” says Assistant Professor Suzanne Sicchia, Supervisor of Studies for Health Studies. “The job market is tough and students can get discouraged very easily. But he was persistent. He ended up organizing a conference and then landing a research position at CAMH. This is quite phenomenal for an undergraduate.”

Health Studies is an interdisciplinary program with 700 students in its Arts and Science streams, including 60 in the co-op programs. The Arts stream can lead to jobs in healthy policy, research and administration, while the Science side often attracts students heading into medicine or nursing.

Parmar, who switched into the program after starting in Management, says it has been an eye-opener to learn about the broader determinants of health, such as poverty or gender. And his co-op experience has intensified his affinity for the program. “It has opened so many doors for me that I wouldn’t have thought of before."




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