This was written by Samantha Saggese, a 3rd year NU Chemistry major who is currently studying abroad as a guest post for The Works.
Starting your first co-op can be an unnerving experience. While you may have already spent a few summers here and there working full time, this is likely to be the first time you’re entering an entirely professional environment for six months straight. I like to think everybody makes mistakes on their first co-op, and probably their second and third co-op’s as well. Here are a few tips that’ll hopefully make your co-op experience memorable in a good way:
1. Dress to impress. I worked in a research lab in a hospital, so I actually dressed rather
casually in comparison to my friends working in financial firms or other office jobs. However, we had two rules that needed to be followed at work: no open-toed shoes and no denim jeans. I started noticing more and more that the older full-time employees sometimes got away with wearing jeans and the supervisor wouldn’t say anything, so I gave it a shot myself one time. Just play by the rules, because having that awkward conversation with your supervisor about why you messed up on the most basic of rules is, well, awkward.
2. Make an effort to make connections. You’re not going to be the only person on your team. Working with you will be people with so much life experience, and in turn, so many connections to other jobs and important people in your field. I want to go into the medical field, so of course I tried my best to chat up the physicians and nurses on my floor. They’ve already been through it, and literally are fountains of knowledge. Don’t sit quietly in the corner, take advantage!
3. Be nice to your co-workers. This could mean fellow co-op’s, or in some cases, full-time employees. Your personality will shine through in a positive light if you’re kind to your co-workers, willing to learn, and eager to help. It’s really a give and take—for me, I had rotating shifts at the hospital, and if I didn’t sometimes agree to switch shifts in my co-workers’ favor, there would be no reason for them to be there for me when I had a scheduling issue and needed to switch myself.
4. Get to know your supervisor. This is the person who will be evaluating you at the end of all of this, and why pass up the opportunity to get a killer recommendation from someone with weight in your field? You want them to be able to talk specifically about you, to know how hard of a worker you are, and to not give you some boring and generic recommendation at the end of your six months. Take a few minutes out of your day to talk to them and always be on your toes, even when you think they aren’t looking.
The great thing about co-op is that all of the tips and skills you pick up there are completely applicable once you get back into class. You should always try to get to know professors who teach the subject you’re most passionate about and make meaningful connections with your peers. And while you don’t necessarily need to dress to impress when you’re going to class, putting your best foot forward is always a must.
Samantha is a third year Chemistry major with a minor in Biology. She did her first co-op at Brigham and Women’s Hospital as a Clinical Sleep Research Assistant in Spring 2013. Samantha is a Resident Assistant on campus, a member of NUSAACS and the Honors Program, and has studied abroad in Rome and London. Check out her travel blog at www.sightseeingsam.blogspot.com and/or feel free to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.