Finding your path — two generations share their Arts Co-op stories



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Over its 20-year history, the UBC Arts Co-op Program has played a key role in helping Arts students explore their interests and launch their careers through over 7,000 work terms.

UBC English alum Brenda Payne was part of the program’s initial cohort when she took on her first co-op position as an administrative assistant in the Arts Co-op Office. A generation later, third-year honours English student Colby Payne—Brenda’s daughter—has followed in her footsteps and recently completed her very first co-op term.

We spoke to Colby and Brenda about how the Arts Co-op Program has helped to shape their individual careers, the unique challenges of finding work during a pandemic, and their advice for students who are considering joining the program.


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Colby Payne

Third-year English (Honours)
Co-op position: Summer Camp Instructor, Fraser River Discovery Centre (2020)
Current position: Communications Assistant, UBC Faculty of Dentistry

 

 

What inspired you to apply for the Arts Co-op program?

I had always planned to join the Arts Co-op program because I came to UBC with a solid idea of what my interests were, but little knowledge about what careers would align with my interests and skills. The ability to try different industries, fields and positions for a short time period was very appealing to me.

My mother’s experience in the co-op program was a key factor in what led me to apply. Her experience put the program on my radar and helped alleviate my anxieties about where my degree was taking me, as I knew that I would have this opportunity to explore the different possibilities that were available to me.

Did you face any major challenges during your co-op term and how did you overcome them?

It was quite difficult to find my first position, as I started my job search immediately after Canada first entered into a lockdown due to COVID-19. I ultimately submitted 26 applications and did six interviews before landing my first position. This took a lot of perseverance and dedication, as I created a unique resume and cover letter for every position. The time and effort that it took to land my first co-op position have helped me learn that I can persevere as long as it takes to achieve results. Having to create so many applications definitely strengthened my resume and cover letter writing and interview skills.

How did your first co-op term help you land your current role?

I believe that the interpersonal skills I gained through my first co-op term, along with the application and interview skills that I developed while applying for positions in my first search term, helped me land my current Work Learn position with the Faculty of Dentistry. I also recently accepted my second co-op position which is a communications role related to education. I think the knowledge and experience I gained in my first co-op term as a summer camp instructor also contributed.


“Before participating in co-op, I had no idea what path I wanted to take after graduation. Just looking at all the different positions on the co-op site has shown me the possibilities for my degree and the skills that are in high demand.”
Arts Co-op student

How are you applying the knowledge you gained during your time in Arts Co-op in your current role?

During my search term, I strengthened my writing and editing skills both throughout the job application process, and while writing curriculum and activity plans during my work term with the Fraser River Discovery Centre. Since much of my current work as a Communications Assistant involves writing and editing, I believe that these transferable skills have been most beneficial in my current position. The self-paced nature of my co-op search term has helped me manage my time and tasks in my current position, as I work remotely and primarily independently.

Did the Arts Co-op Program reaffirm or change your plans for life after UBC?

Before participating in co-op, I had no idea what path I wanted to take after graduation. Just looking at all the different positions on the co-op site has shown me the possibilities for my Arts degree and the skills that are in high demand. I’d never considered a career in communications or publishing before seeing postings in those fields on the job board, and now they are areas I’m strongly considering. My work term at the Fraser River Discovery Centre also increased my confidence in my teaching ability and made me consider education as a career.

What advice would you give to students who are considering joining Arts Co-op?

I would tell students that it’s a valuable opportunity to explore new fields for a short period without having to make a commitment longer than a few months. I think that my work experience will be the most important part of my future career, so I’m grateful for the experience I’ll gain through co-op. I would also tell students not to be discouraged if they have trouble finding their first position. The process of searching, applying and interviewing for positions can be filled with as much learning as the positions themselves.


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Brenda Payne

BA’ 99, English
Co-op position: Administrative Assistant, Arts Co-op Office (1998)
Current position: Health and Wellness Coach

 

 

What inspired you to apply for the Arts Co-op program?

Arts Co-op presented an opportunity for me to explore career options and hone my resume writing and interviewing skills, and provided an opportunity to tackle tasks both within and outside of my comfort zone.

Did the Arts Co-op Program reaffirm or change your plans for life after UBC?

Although I did go on to complete a Master’s Degree at UBC, my co-op position gave me great clarity about the types of work I found meaningful and fulfilling. My duties and the very small glimpse my position provided into some of the responsibilities of an instructor or professor played a part in my decision to put my PhD ambitions on hold and allow myself time to process and reflect on what I had learned. I was able to make more thoughtful decisions about the direction I wanted my life to take.

How did the skills you learned in your Arts Co-op position support your career development post-UBC?

My co-op term provided an opportunity for me to develop many basic office skills that one often does not consider prior to working in a large office. For example, although I worked independently, I had to learn department protocols and the appropriate chain of command for when problems arose. In addition to administrative duties, I was assigned larger projects, such as the creation of a student database and a Student Handbook, and was responsible for creating my own schedule for completing these assignments. Since I had no previous experience with databases, I had to do a lot of research and exercise much patience and perseverance to learn the necessary skills to complete a task that I found quite daunting.

These duties helped me develop my self-confidence in managing my time to complete larger challenging tasks while also fulfilling smaller day-to-day duties. My position also gave me an opportunity to experience working in a very large organization with many departments that are simultaneously independent, yet interrelated.


“My co-op position gave me greater clarity about the type of work I found meaningful and fulfilling. I was able to make more thoughtful decisions about the direction I wanted my life to take.”
Arts Co-op alum

How are you applying the knowledge you gained during your time in Arts Co-op in your current role as a health and wellness coach?

My experience in Arts Co-op provided me with a view into the demands many people face in their work lives. This insight fuelled my passion to embark on a career supporting others to combat the effects of workplace stress by developing strategies for optimizing their health and wellness.

What advice would you give to students who are considering joining Arts Co-op?

Have an open mind, be curious, and explore. Take advantage of this amazing opportunity to jump into an experience without having to make any long-term commitments.


The Arts Co-op Program has played an instrumental role in shaping the careers and futures of many UBC Arts students — like Colby and Brenda — by giving them the opportunity to explore their curiosities and develop essential career skills before graduation. Don’t miss out on this valuable opportunity to jump-start your career by applying for the Arts Co-op Program.