Paid co-op jobs in Canada Germany and the UK help student choose her career path

UAlberta materials engineering student Caitlin Guzzo says her engineering co-op experiences at home and overseas have helped her make major career decisions.

(Edmonton) With four years of full-time schooling and 20 months of full-time paid engineering experience at home and abroad, Caitlin Guzzo, a fifth-year co-op student in materials engineering, is feeling confident about her future career.

With the end of her undergraduate degree in sight, she’s setting her sights on advanced engineering degrees related to nanotechnology and a career in research.

“I learned so much about the academic community and the worldwide scientific community,” she says of the connections she made through her paid engineering co-op jobs and the valuable experiences she gained. “I’m more knowledgeable about what my master’s and PhD experiences are going to be like. I would have been very anxious entering academia had I not had these experiences.”

Her confidence in the chosen career path comes with hours of real-life lab work she’s obtained through the Faculty of Engineering Co-operative Education Program. Guzzo has completed paid engineering placements at the National Institute for Nanotechnology (NINT) in Edmonton, Fraunhofer research institute in Germany, and the University of Leeds in the UK

The engineering co-op program equips students with technical engineering and soft skills through full-time paid work placements in Canada and around the world. While being in school, co-op students gain valuable work experience in many fields of engineering.

For her first placement NINT, Guzzo worked on coating neural probes to help a research team working on new ways to treat neurological diseases with nanotechnology. Her second placement was in Sulzbach-Rosenberg in Bavaria, Germany. There,  Guzzo focused on industry-oriented applications of using nanoparticles to overcome future energy challenges. Working in Germany in an international environment – she shared a lab with researchers from Colombia, France, Italy, Brazil, and Germany – helped strengthen her communication and interpersonal skills.

“There was a language barrier in Germany, so I had to be very clear in my communications. Also, I became a lot more confident in sharing my ideas with the group,” says Guzzo.

Guzzo completed her final co-op placement at the University of Leeds, UK, where she examined the properties of nanocrystals growing in enclosed spaces. Her research findings can further be applied to manufacturing synthetic bones.

Where there is a lab and an international group of researchers, there is always room for play, she notes.

“We ran impromptu experiments playing with polymers. There was a lot of exploration involved, it was fun,” she said.

Through all these diverse experiences, Guzzo realized how closely knit the academic world is, and how crucial it is to be part of it.

“I made amazing connections because of my placements,” said Guzzo.