Student stories

Music and Psychology Interdisciplinary PhD student helps the UVic community in a big way

Juan Vassallo

UVic United Way Campaign

Juan Vassallo (far left with the UVic United Way and United Way Greater Victoria committee members) is an international student from Argentina who is pursuing his PhD degree in interdisciplinary studies (music and psychology). He spent a co-op term as the campaign assistant for UVic’s 2019 United Way fundraising campaign, where he implemented the communications strategy and helped the campaign raise $211,670 for the United Way of Greater Victoria. In this Q&A, Juan shares some of the things he learned and the impact he made during his work term.

What appealed to you about working in Canada? What did your work term involve (what was your role)?

As an international student from Argentina, I felt really excited about the possibility of doing a co-op work term in another country. During the fall of 2019 I worked on the UVic campus as campaign assistant for the UVic United Way fundraising campaign that ran from September to December. My role as campaign assistant was mainly to help with the management of the campaign events through organization, logistical support, documentation, and participation on the day of the initiative. I also helped implement a communication strategy in order to raise awareness of the campaign.

Why did you choose your academic program? Why did you choose to participate in co-op?

I chose the individual interdisciplinary program (INTD) in the fields of music and psychology because I was interested in conducting research on musical capacities such as pitch perception, rhythmic entrainment and timbre discrimination, with the objective of further understanding how musical skills relate to other cognitive abilities such as speech and intelligence. In parallel to my academic program, I have an ongoing career as a professional Argentine tango musician playing piano in a tango orchestra. I have travelled to over 20 countries with this group and played in some of the most well-known venues in Europe and South America.

I applied for the united way campaign assistant position with the goal of gathering experience in the administration and organization of events. I hoped to gain practice with strict scheduling and communication strategies because I consider these competencies to be very relevant in achieving any professional career.  

What was the best part about your work term?

The UVic United Way campaign assistant is a varied and vibrant job. During my term I found joy in doing a variety of things around campus. It was a dynamic and fun learning experience!

What were some of the challenges you faced, and were you were able to overcome them?

I sometimes felt stressed when under pressure to meet tight deadlines, and I worried that the outcome of the whole project depended solely on my performance. Managing these sensations was a great learning opportunity, since I did not have as much practice with these competencies in my previous employment. Luckily the UVic United Way has an amazing committee that was willing to collaborate and support me when there were complications.

How has your work term learning complemented your courses and classroom studies? What are you taking away from the experience?

From the perspective of a researcher, and particularly a musician, having the experience of a “real-world” job gives you a better perspective into the skills necessary for a successful career. It often takes more than technical skill to do well. I believe it’s very important to develop proficiency in communication and planning competencies.  

What are your plans for your future career? How has co-op helped you with your career exploration and goals?

I plan to continue research in music psychology as well as being a tango performer. This co-op term has provided me with some really useful tools for future artistic projects.


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