15 responses to “My Cooperative Edge”

  1. Alvaro

    I picked my school for the same reason. Instead of the regular four year programs, our engineering degrees take five years. Included are five trimesters of co-ops, which are mandatory.

    Switching between learning in school and working in a co-op was great for me. I started getting tired of school, worked for six months, studied for another 6, then worked, etc…

    My first co-op let me work on my own product after only three months. I had never had such responsibility until then. I was also able to go further and find co-ops abroad, which is also a great experience. General working practices differ a lot between countries. Now I have experience working in various industries, with different individuals and in different places. I doubt I would have that same experience after a four year college and working full time for a year.

    1. Chris Gammell

      That’s a great point. I was a bit cautious in my younger days and actually did all of my co-ops locally. The advantage was I got to live with my friends, have some coin in my pocket and still have a social group to lean on at the end of the day. I lost out on the richness of living experiences that I’m sure you had, but I felt it was right at that time.

  2. Stanley Ma

    I did 24 months of co-op in undergrad (EE) and there was quite a bit of variety. From running Spice sims, to programming test equipment through GPIB, to board layout, it was all good experience to have. The pay was also much better than a typical summer job and helped me pay my way through school. As you said, one of the most important take-aways from co-ops is perspective. Seeing theory in action makes classes that much more interesting.

  3. Miss MSE

    Because MSE departments tend to be small, most higher level courses are only offered once a year, meaning any co-op experience during the academic year will delay graduation by a full year due to the pre-requisite requirements. Instead, I did a 10 week summer internship at GiantManufacturingCo in non-destructive testing. If I weren’t so intent on graduate school, I would have stuck around for another year, but I decided I would rather graduate on time.

    That being said, I learned a lot, including more about what I could do in industry with a PhD. It also paid rather well, unlike research experiences (or graduate school…). I also found out about the entire field of triobology, which while not my research focus, is something I want to learn more about.

  4. Carmen

    Part the requirements at my school are all engineering majors must complete 4 to 5 co-ops before graduation (4 for BS/MS students, 5 for BS only). A co-op block is considered 3 months or ~400 hours (My college is one of the last remaining schools in the US to keep the quarter system alive).

    I loved going out on co-op, not only for the money but also as Chris said, you learn things that are difficult if not impossible to teach in school. From my first co-op alone I learned how to surface mount solder extremely well and the value of good technical writing not just lab reports the TA would probably accept in crayon. The other co-ops I’ve done were all just as valuable as well.

    My advice for anyone getting a co-op or internship who needs to find housing is don’t spend the bare minimum on a place to stay, go a notch or two higher. I had the misfortune of renting a place with fleas one time which was awful. Thankfully my landlord refunded me a half months rent and covered the exterminator but for a week I lived out of a van crashing on other interns couches. It’s a good story and funny now but at the time I wasn’t exactly happy…

  5. jrspruitt

    I didn’t do EE but I went to college. I did so after 4 years of living in the “real world.” I honestly think this was a tremendous experience, even if it wasn’t experience towards what I wanted to do. It really teaches you about the work environment, what its like to have a job schedule instead of a school schedule. Teachers are nothing like Bosses, Teachers are nothing like Customers. I read an article on NFL draft busts today, which kind of fit in with this. The transition between college and work is a big one. It was my experience having been in the work place prior to college, that they really don’t prepare you for the day to day of an actual job. I think these Co-Op programs sound absolutely great, as a way to bridge that gap between the isolation of book learning, and the, just get it done of the work place.

  6. Mike

    I had one 6 month co-op and a summer job in engineering while getting my BS. Both of them taught me valuable lessons. Half way through my co-op, the company I was working for decided to cut an entire product line series, effectively eliminating the division I was working for. By the end of my term, I had nothing left to do.

    My summer internship was writing embedded software for a local company. My gut feeling was that I wouldn’t like writing software all the time, but I thought it would be good experience. By the end of the summer, I was going absolutely beserk – I never wanted to see another line of code again. And yet, the ability to hack together some code to do a small task that I needed right away has come in extremely handy over the years.

    The first lesson – keep your head up and look around at how your company and the products you are involved in are doing. This will help prevent some bad events from taking you by surprise.

    The second lesson – get as much variation in your experience early on as you can, even if you think you will hate it. You might be pleasantly surprised and find that you like something you thought you would hate. At the very least, you will be broadening your skill set, which will let you work across multiple areas.

  7. Tobias F

    I studied in Germany. Here an engineering education without Co-Ops (usually 6 Months ) would have been unthinkable, until the big reforms a few years back.
    Courses without Co-Ops are still rare, and some Universities demand that you did at least 6 months in Co-Ops before enrolling as a post-grad.

    Personally I only did the minimum requirements. But they were very useful in helping me choose between specializations.

    Also there is a big debate ongoing in politics, if some companies are using the underpaid Co-Op students to replace normal jobs.

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