The Co-op Learning Curve That Never Ends

I was planning to post about my co-op when I finally figured out what I was doing, how everything worked and was basically “perfect” at this job. But I realized that even after completing my four month co-op, that time may never come.

So here it is, one of the posts that has been sitting in my drafts for ~3.5 months.

This term, I am a Laboratory Assistant, and I’m in a lab that isn’t that related to Biochemistry or Chemistry. Which is basically the opposite of my first co-op as a STEM Camp Lead Instructor. I went from being outdoors, doing arts and crafts and being around multiple little humans to being in a science lab with very few adults. It’s definitely been a bit of an adjustment since I essentially went from being the adult to being the kid.

My first two weeks of my co-op term were remote, but since then, I’ve been in a building with other actual human beings (which is such a contrast from Microsoft Teams calls). There are not very many others around yet, so I’m fortunate to say I have the chance to go in, work in the lab and meet people.

Working remotely was hard at first since most of my tasks should be done in the lab, and I was sitting behind a computer screen all day (which in itself is a whole different struggle). Logging in to a VPN bright and early in the morning is the easy part, the hard part is resisting the urge to “take a small break.” However, I was extremely lucky since my supervisor made time to meet with me over Teams every day that my co-op was remote, which made it a lot easier to find and keep up with tasks.

Endless excel sheets, calling the helpdesk, switching operating systems, and programs crashing, I did not have a fun time. But I did get the hang of the tasks (and gained some patience), and when I did, I moved in person.


A picture of my desk during my first week of co-op in-person!

When I started working in person, there were a lot of things that had to be set up (since the lab I am in wasn’t used much during much of the pandemic). Once we were set up and I had the chance to start doing things in the lab, I didn’t know how to do things. But that didn’t stop me from wanting to be perfect, which ironically was not possible since I didn’t know anything. At that point in the term, I caused my own stress.

It felt like there was an infinite number of computers and instruments. And well, my knowledge is only finite – especially since I had (and still have) a lot to learn.

Things broke or became stuck, a scale tried to re-zero for hours, and once again, programs crashed. I’m pretty sure the instruments and computers in the lab can just sense my panic, fear and urgency. Not that any of those things have changed, but I think I’ve come to realize that it’s just part of the co-op experience at this point. Not everything will or can go according to plan.

Samples waiting to be measured

Luckily since the start of my time in person, I’ve learned how to use most of the computer programs, instruments, etc. Now I’m trying to learn how these instruments come up with these numbers and what exactly do these numbers mean? In theory, it sounds easy but in practice… not so much.

So, after breaking a few samples, a sample holder and a beaker, I can say that luckily, I haven’t broken any more things (yet, but I just broke that beaker last week, so stay tuned). But I can also say that while the first two months have definitely been a learning experience, I am really excited for what’s to come. I have a feeling it will be a lot more learning.

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