Student stories

Co-op terms with the Government of Canada sets up political science student for success

Sarah Atkinson

Global Affairs Canada, Embassy of Canada, Asia-Pacific branch

1. What is your name and your area of study? When did you graduate?

My name is Sarah Atkinson. I graduated in 2021 with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science.

2. Please tell us a bit about yourself. Why did you choose UVic/your program? Why did you choose to participate in co-op?

I chose political science because of my interest in international affairs. I wanted to learn more about global issues, such as climate change, poverty, and human rights and then explore their respective solutions. Participating in the co-op program gave me the opportunity to understand and contribute to real-world problem-solving while cultivating important professional skills.

3. Please tell us about your past work terms. (What were your responsibilities? What was your favourite part?)

I completed three co-op work terms with Global Affairs Canada, the federal department responsible for facilitating Canada's relations with countries around the world. First, I worked as a Junior Analyst for the Latin America division, helping to enhance Canada's political and economic cooperation with Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay.

Next, I worked at the Embassy of Canada in Beijing, China. I arrived just before the outbreak of COVID-19 in China, therefore my work pivoted to supporting consular efforts to evacuate Canadian citizens from Wuhan. I also liaised with the World Health Organization's regional office, the Government of China, and representatives of other foreign governments.

My last co-op term was spent with the Asia-Pacific branch at headquarters in Ottawa where I researched trends affecting countries in Asia and learned more about the corporate functioning of a federal department.

 4. How do you compare hands-on learning with classroom learning?

Learning about political issues, history and theory in the classroom was very different from actually practicing diplomacy. I think the theoretical knowledge and the practical application are equally important as each are incomplete without the other. It was rewarding to know my research and analysis was helping solve social and economic problems faced by Canadians and individuals around the world!

 5. What was your experience with the Government hiring process?

I felt that the hiring process was simplified by the UVic co-op program. I think my affiliation with a co-op program not only enhanced my credibility as an applicant but also gave me access to more exclusive student opportunities. Each time I went through the Government hiring process, I did a thirty-minute phone interview. The questions were fair and evaluated my skills and knowledge in relation to the job responsibilities. The hiring process always took longer than expected. When I didn't hear back in two weeks, I assumed I wasn't successful in the competition. Four weeks later, I was offered the job! My advice for the hiring process is to research the department; prepare examples to highlight your skills; and be patient.

 6. How has your co-op experience helped you to get to your current position?

Currently, I am a Human Resources Advisor for the Canada Border Services Agency. After securing my first co-op with the government, I gained a lot of momentum along my career path, and one opportunity led to another.

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