Student stories

Biology student Aneka Friesen explores an ocean of possibilities on her first co-op term

Aneka Friesen

Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre

When biology student Aneka Friesen was deciding where to go to university, UVic and its co-op program stood out. “I chose UVic Biology for lots of reasons, but the availability of the co-op program was a big factor,” she says. “I really appreciated the natural beauty on campus, also, and the classes aren’t too big—it just felt right.”

When Aneka was searching for her first co-op job, the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre in Sidney was another perfect fit. As a lead oceaneer this summer, Aneka is test-driving one of her career goals—becoming a high school science teacher. “I applied for this job largely because it seemed the closest to the career path I’m most interested in right now,” she says, “but I also get to learn about marine biology, which I’ve never tried before.”

Aneka’s role makes good use of her scientific knowledge, but also involves lots of interpersonal communication. Her position involves engaging and talking to visitors about local marine biology, including the physical features, characteristics and conservation efforts of ocean creatures. She both plans and leads presentations, often coordinating volunteers to help run the various programs offered by the centre. “Every day looks a little bit different,” says Aneka. “The visitors are different, the activities are different and sometimes even the animals are different!”

Aneka’s strong transferrable skills helped her land this first co-op job even though she hadn’t studied marine biology before. Her experience tutoring fellow students fit well with the education component of the position, and her biology background helped her quickly learn about the animals at the centre. “I found myself mentally referring to concepts I’d learned in various biology classes, especially physiology,” she says. “I spent most of the first few weeks absorbing as much information as I could.”

Looking ahead to future career possibilities, Aneka knows that the core competencies she’s building are invaluable. She feels she’s really brushed up on her leadership, project planning skills and ability to take initiative on this work term, but she’s most proud of the great strides she’s taken with her communication skills. “I can actually talk in front of people, now, which I never would have done a year ago,” she says. “I feel comfortable enough to talk about an octopus in front of a crowd!”

Aneka will be heading back to campus in September with one co-op under her belt, ready to bring her job experience back into the classroom. “I will definitely make connections between what I learned on my work term and what I’ll learn in lectures,” she says. She isn’t sure where she’ll pursue her next co-op, but she looks forward to seeing where it takes her. “I’d love to continue teaching people about biology all day long, but I may end up doing something completely different—and really enjoying that, too!”

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