"Choose your work term strategically": Wise words from new Co-op grad Saeema Saifuddin
Written by James Ralph, student writer
Personal experience combined with an interest in public service inspired public policy co-op grad Saeema Saifuddin (BA ’19) to double major in Public Policy and Sociology and successfully complete an eight month work term at the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. Her co-op work term experience has been an important stepping stone in getting her where she wants to go after graduation, paving her way to a Master of Public Service program at Waterloo this September.
During high school, Saeema worked as an editor for Regent Park Focus Youth Media Arts Centre, which is a not-for-profit organization that was established to counter negative stereotypes about the Regent Park community and provide interventions to high risk youth living in the area. The Centre provides free arts programs to youth in the community in areas such as music, filmmaking, and photography. It was through this experience that she learned about the effects of poverty in Toronto’s inner city, and marvelled at the strength and resiliency of the community and its youth. “My work showed in Regent Park me how fulfilling a career in the public service could be,” she says.
“I completed an eight-month work term at the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada through UTSC’s Co-op program, where I worked in Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) investigations,” she explains. “I was drawn to this role because it wasn't an on-the-ground position; I already had a fair amount of that from my time in Regent Park.
“The work was beyond my expectations. I was able to engage with legislation in a way that I could never do in school, and it also gave me an appreciation of the real impact that policy makes. During the work term, I often used relevant principles in PIPEDA (the privacy legislation that outlines the mandates of the department) to analyze the situation at hand. My colleagues were also wonderful, which made my experience even better.”
“My work term gave me a better sense of what it was like to work in public service, and it confirmed for me that I was a really good fit for the field too. It used my entire skill set and I discovered that my personality is definitely well-suited to it. I loved my co-op experience so much, I chose Waterloo’s Master of Public Service program because of its co-op component.”
Saeema developed and refined many skills over the course of her eight-month work term, including her attention to detail, writing, editing and research skills, and her ability to follow protocol.
“I would investigate complaints from Canadians who may have had their privacy infringed upon, for example, by a friend peeking at their bank balance while at work. There are other reasons for a citizen to file a complaint with the OPC, such as an organization not safeguarding your personal information correctly, or sharing it with someone else without your consent. It would be my job to investigate the complaint to verify the validity of the claim. I would then write a report that included my findings and recommendations (if any).”
As a student who is interested in privacy, she was also able to stay up to date on new developments in the privacy field.
Ongoing support and openness to feedback were essential to Saeema’s success in co-op, especially in working with her supervisor. She shares, “The feedback sessions I had once every two weeks with my supervisor were extremely important in adding to my success during the work term. During these meetings, I would listen to her feedback, and together we would figure out how I could overcome or improve any challenges I had at work. When the midterm and the final evaluations came around, I was always confident I'd be scored well, because we would always work out any issues during our feedback meetings.”
Other resources that she found helpful over the course of her degree were the co-op prep courses: specifically, the mock interviews. “The prep courses demystified the job search process a LOT. It turned job applications into a simple formula, which makes job applications a breeze now; I even help my non-co-op friends find jobs by tweaking their resumes. The co-op office itself was super supportive in helping me prepare for interviews, which is a weak spot for me. The mock interviews were very helpful in terms of preparing me for the real thing.”
“Choose your work terms strategically; if it's important to you, make sure you take your past work experience into account. Do you want more of the same experience? Or do you want to try out something a little different? There are a lot of things to consider! That being said, be flexible when applying too. The job is only for 4-12 months, so it's not the end of the world if you don't land your dream co-op at Google or the UN right away.”