Student stories

Remote work brings new opportunities to co-op students

Chloe Leroy and Lihui Yang

Universidad Catolica del Maule (UCM) in Chile

In 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies made a pivot to remote work, allowing their employees to work from home in the interest of public and personal health and safety. Employers who work with UVic Co-op and Career services quickly put resources in place so they could continue to provide work-integrated learning experiences to co-op students. Recently, two UVic students, Chloe Leroy and Lihui Yang, had the unique experience of working remotely with Universidad Catolica del Maule (UCM) in Chile.

Third-year biology student Leroy worked as a research assistant for UCM. Her work focused on deadly salmon pathogens. She worked on finding vulnerabilities in the pathogens’ immunity, which would hopefully lead to potential phage treatment to anti-biotic resistance strains in farmed or wild populations of salmon. This work appealed to her particularly because salmon are a keystone species integral to BC’s ecosystem.

Yang, a fourth-year computer science and psychology student, also worked as a research assistant for UCM. She prepared gene data samples from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) and compared data analysis tools. Her work term not only gave her valuable work experience, but also helped her plan for the future.

 Lihui Yang (top right) and two of her colleagues during a Zoom video call.

Lihui Yang (right) during a video call with her work term colleagues.

“The co-op program definitely helped me a lot with my future career,” Yang says. “My supervisor told me about her experience and why she decided on working on genetics and her learning stories. That inspired me to think about myself. I am thinking about why I chose computer science and psychology, what kind of job I want to do.”

Both students worked remotely from their own homes. As with in-person work terms, their work was meaningful and relevant. “What inspires me is that this is real work,” Leroy says. “It could lead to a publication that could impact policy and decision making, therefore providing new options for the treatment of pathogens which are currently harming salmon in Canada and abroad.”

Despite the distance, both Leroy and Yang learnt a lot about Chile’s culture. As Yang says, “I still heard the local stories and their culture from my supervisor and colleagues. I also shared my stories and experiences with them.” She adds that the job also gave her a chance to practice her Spanish and says her time working with UCM was “a wonderful experience”.

Leroy reflects that the cultural diversity of the team was actually a strength: “Problem solving as an international team means you approach issues from different perspectives and experiences, which makes projects interesting and diverse.” She adds, “I think after COVID more and more people will work remotely. These work terms teach us the tools and communications skills necessary for us to succeed and collaborate with teams internationally.”

In the 2019/20 academic year, Co-op and Career placed over 200 students in international work terms. Travel bans brought on by the pandemic made international work terms harder to navigate, but the willingness of workplaces like UCM and students like Leroy and Yang to try new things allows students to continue to gain meaningful international work experience even in the middle of a pandemic.

More about Biology co-op