Faces of the Humanities: Kailin Gillis finds unlikely career path through co-op

Kailin Gillis (English)
Kailin Gillis (English) 

Have a burning question about Zoom or Gradebook? If you call UVic’s Technology Integrated Learning, you might hear English major Kailin Gillis’s voice on the other line. Gillis is completing her second co-op placement as an educational technology assistant — a job in which she helps UVic students, staff and faculty navigate and troubleshoot the technological tools available for learning and teaching. She talks to Stephanie Harrington about doing co-op during a pandemic and finding a career path in the unlikeliest of places.

It seems unusual to have an English major in a tech support role like yours. How did you end up applying for the position?

My previous co-op placement was in retail. I was the team leader at a coffee boutique in Mayfair Mall. When I had to find a new placement for the spring semester, I saw the listing for a job at Technology Integrated Learning and thought, ‘I have zero skills for this job but I know I can do it.’ I liked the idea of working at the university. I love the educational environment; it’s where I thrive best. As it turned out, they wanted someone with a Humanities skillset.

Do you consider yourself a technologically-minded person? What skills made you right for the job?

I’ve gone through so many computers in my lifetime—they just crash and burn. I’ve gotten so many lemons. When I told my friends I’m working in tech support they thought it was a joke. No one expects an English major to work in tech support. But as an English major, I have the ability to write concisely. My job involves taking vast amounts of information and paring it down to make it clear and concise for the client. And reassuring them they can do it. Mostly the job involves client and customer support and a lot of trial and error.

You started this role in January, a couple of months before the pandemic hit. What was it like to have to support people during the sudden shift to online learning?

I was thrown into the deep end. Right when I was getting a handle on the job, COVID19 struck. Suddenly I was working from home. I like to joke that this was not in the job description—I did not sign up for a pandemic. Originally, I was supporting students, staff, faculty and instructors, but now it’s a lot more instructor- and staff-focused. Before I got the job, I thought it would be mostly supporting students, but it was actually the opposite. I was teaching a workshop about Blackboard, which is one of our tools to help support faculty who are teaching online during the pandemic. One of my past profs was in that session. They joked, ‘Oh, how the tables have turned. Now my student is teaching me!”

Are you enjoying the position?

I love it a lot. I went into it thinking, ‘It’s a four-month co-op term; it will allow me to pay the rent.’ It was a step up from retail. Then I ended up doing the work and falling in love with it. I love that I can do one-on-one consults with professors and help them create, for example, a perfectly customized grade book that matches their syllabus. Those moments make it so worthwhile. I can see myself building a career out of it. They extended my co-op term into a second term; and once I am done with my co-op term (and my degree as a whole) in September, they have offered to take me on part-time in a unionized position.

What advice would you give to other Humanities students considering co-op placements outside their zone of comfort or experience?

The first advice I’d give to Humanities students thinking about doing co-op is to just apply. So many of the skills taught in Humanities are heavily desired in the workforce. I originally thought that co-op wouldn’t help me much personally or professionally. However, for me, it has been life changing. To others, I would say: know your worth as a Humanities student and be persistent. Don’t be afraid to apply to jobs you might not have the exact qualifications for, or to re-evaluate what you originally saw yourself doing. Chances are, you’ve got this. 

With more than 4,200 placements each year, UVic has one of Canada’s largest university co-operative education programs.

Our co-op program is designed to help students start their careers while they’re still in university. The combination of academic courses and relevant work experience lets our students put their learning into action. 75 per cent of our co-op students graduate with job offers.

For more more information, visit www.uvic.ca/coopandcareer/