From student to co-op – our past research assistant shares her experience

Do you remember your very first part time job and the excitement and anxiety that came along with it? Well, for students and young adults with limited experience multiply that feeling by ten. Entering the professional workforce is very intimidating. Student are taught to keep all their doors open by saying “yes” to everything – and that saying “no” could close them. This puts continuous pressure on entrants to say yes to tasks even if they are at capacity, out of fear of missing out on opportunities.

Working at Clean Foundation was a big culture shock for me. Not only did I come from the business mindset where it was all work all the time, but I am also a workaholic in my own right. I enjoy working, so I tend to continue even when I do not need to or am not supposed to. I did not realize the importance of my well-being was a priority to employers until I came here. Clean is understanding of mental health and the issues surrounding it. Mental health is also openly talked about, plus good mental health practices are encouraged. Physical health is also a big priority here: we have adjustable standing desks, alternative seating, walking meetings, and our constant reminder to stay hydrated (which is an inside joke at our office but also doubles at a great reminder if you’re like me and drink copious amounts of caffeine a day).

As a self certified workaholic, it took me a long time to learn work-life boundaries here at Clean. I can now say that my boss does not have to force me to go home at the end of the day. And I have learned a few things that may help you as well:

  1. It is important to have honest conversations about capacity. As intimidating as they can be, people are way more understanding than you think. Instead of saying yes to everything and becoming overwhelmed, I learned to suggest an alternative deadline or reprioritize my current workload.
  2. Space out your tasks and continue to assess your workload from the very beginning so you do not feel like you are playing catch up all the time.
  3. Remember to take breaks and get to know your coworkers, participate in what is going on.

My time at Clean was both a learning experience in the non-profit environmental sector and a class about what I should expect from future employers and from myself. As I continue with my work terms and off into the professional world after graduation, I will make sure to use the knowledge I have gained to check in on myself and not sweat the small stuff. I will continue to pursue jobs that value both my skills and who I am as a person. This experience blew past my expectations on the very first day and is something I will forever be grateful for.

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