The University of Waterloo (Canada)
The University of Waterloo - Comments and Student Experiences|
See, at Waterloo you'll be going on co-op every four months. It's a very short time period and you'll likely be meeting new people that have been working at your company on the day that you leave. You'll be moving back and forth like crazy with your position. You have to watch out for some of the problematic companies, such as [REDACTED], which pay minimum wage and no benefits to its co-op students, who have to live where the cost of living is extremely high.
On your co-op positions, you'll often be working in awful conditions. Much of the legislation in Canada, such as many of the clauses in its labour laws are not applicable for co-op students. Much of the co-op work is really contractor work. You'll typically have very little, if any legal rights at all, and you can pretty much be fired whenever they want. I've seen a co-worker had his co-op term truncated several weeks because the son of the boss wanted to start earlier.
With such poor co-op positions, you'll likely not be able to find a decent job upon graduation. It's the reality of things. If you wanted to do research at Waterloo, good luck I say. I'm afraid most of the faculties are extremely saturated with students. Many professors will actually hire students from their home universities in East Asian countries. I've never seen a TA who actually performed their undergraduate degree at Waterloo itself. A lot of this information is "hush, hush" and much of it is unrecorded.
It's not difficult to say, "Oh, this applicant wasn't qualified to be going into the master's program," if someone were to actually inquire about the skewed graduate student application process. Really, getting into research and into a master's program requires you know a professor who will vouch for you, something extremely difficult to find these days unless you have family or religious connections.
This is easily demonstrated by the "minimum cut-off GPAs," which are normally easily broken if you simply are good friends with a professor. But, at the same time, doesn't becoming a friend with the professor somewhat violate the interests of the professor? Wouldn't you want to treat all students impartially in a competitive application process? Why the lack of a formal application process?
Myself, I have conducted research at many of my co-op positions and even reached the NSERC IUSRA limit of 3. Yet, I would read about a professor's publications, find something I'm interested in, go see professors, and ask for master's opportunities in a field I believed I was very interested in. I started by sending e-mails with questions and a CV with my marks. Not one response.
So I started calling a few professors. These people were very strange; I'm not sure if it was because of a culture barrier, since many of my professors weren't born here, but many of them would simply breathe on the phone and hang up. I called one of them back immediately after they hung up, asking if it wasn't a good time, to which I was responded with, "Don't call back or I'll call the Waterloo Regional Police on you." I checked my extensions and they were all correct - if you've called the university, you know damn well the message you get asking for the extension. Perhaps this is what my friends were talking about when they were alluding to the cutthroat attitude of the graduate world.
But back to Waterloo's co-op. To put in one word, it is simply dreadful. See now, the statistics Waterloo publishes on its co-op students look really high, but if you're a student applying to Waterloo who's good at arithmetic, you'll know that averages can be misleading. When I surveyed many of my classmates, we were all making about minimum wage, you know, $12 to $15 each hour.
But, that one fellow who works at his mother's business, you know how much he makes? I didn't bother converting it to an hourly basis because it would make me too sad. Just over 800 000 a year with unfathomable benefits. Really, really skewed hourly averages. That fellow had his name plastered all over the building because his family donated thousands to the university, which is fair enough...
Consider this. What would happen if you looked at your supervisor the wrong way or gave her the wrong number of tablespoons of sugar in her coffee? You get a "failed evaluation". See, how it works at Waterloo is that you get a rating (Outstanding, excellent, good, satisfactory and failed) at the end of each co-op term, which appears on the page before your resume when you apply for future co-op positions online. The problem is that many co-op students and supervisors are "buddy-buddy", so the ratings have become extremely inflated.
So, if you have an employer who doesn't know of the inflated nature of the ratings and actually tries to evaluate you fairly, chances are you're going to get one of the lower ratings. The problem is that anything under excellent will hurt your chances at co-op employment. Now, "failed" work terms are really only supposed to be given if something really bad happens (student bringing in weapons, assaulting someone or breaking some kind of laws), but unfortunately, if your supervisor just doesn't like you they can do it, kind of like how an officer can legally give you a ticket if you're going 1 km/hr over the limit.
Chances are they wouldn't because it's more work for them in the long run (analogously, you could question the calibration of the radar), but occasionally you will run into a supervisor who would do that and you'll have to fight like a dog just to get "satisfactory".
Anyways, you get "ranked" for your job using a numerical system (ie: 1-7 or so, I forget how high you can go), but the employer isn't required to give you a rank (if you're unranked, you cannot get the job under any condition). However, if the employer gave a student a rank, you have to rank them back. The student is not allowed to not provide a rank to the employer to not get the position: essentially, they're forced into it.
See, rather than leaving a student unranked for lying or having criminal offences on their record, they can simply un-rank a student for any reason. See, in the real-world I understand how it works, but this is a school environment. It seems pretty strange that the student has to accept a position, but not an employer. On many occasions I have applied to the jobs I wanted, only for them to be suddenly "cancelled". In one semester I had 11 cancellations.
You can easily see the issue here: employers can do whatever they want, including posting an job position on Jobmine and not hiring any students at all, while on the other hand students are forced into jobs that they may not want. The issue stemming from this is that the job positions may have very vague descriptions, purposely done.
See, you have to ask your questions in the interview; it's not permitted according to university policies to privately contact for those postings: you have to submit an application online, get selected by them, and then ask them in-person to find these answers. On one occasion, for instance, I applied for a position at a private wastewater treatment facility in Mississauga. Yet, in the interview I was told, "No, you have to commute to five different facilities, from Mississauga all the way to Kenora" and "No, you are not reimbursed for any gas".
See, they used "Mississauga" as a placeholder for the entry in the online position and in the job description there was absolutely no wording stating that the user had to commute to many different locations all across Ontario. This means I didn't know what I was applying for until after I applied! Conveniently, there are no fields for "salary" or "benefits" on the online position, only a brief description and location is all that's required from the employer's end. So, that meant I could've been forced into this job!
Another awful thing is when you ask for your salary, then they'll say, "competitive". Believe it or not, you have to be extremely careful with postings in the United States, since you'll get taxed crazy and particular cities have extremely high cost of livings. If you apply and find out that the position somehow pays minimum wage in Toronto or San Francisco, you'll get in debt $10 000 easily over four months, adding to your school debt.
Of course, there are forms that a student can sign to be removed after applying to a position and not wanting it for the aforementioned reasons. However, the onus is placed on the student to prove that they're not "cheating" the system. Often, if you forgot to take a screenshot of that posting, you'll get punished for it. One employer simply heard the complaint that the student made and "updated" their job description online, even though it was originally different when the student had applied.
Due to the atrocities of Waterloo's online system, JobMine or "WaterlooWorks" as they're re-naming it, you can visibly see the strengths of other universities and their co-op systems. The University of Toronto, for instance, has its PEY program, where a student can work for much longer than 4 months at a position. That's much stronger than Waterloo's co-op program because you'll actually have sufficient time to view the change you were able to accomplish with a company.
In fact, if you want to get around Waterloo's awful co-op system, simply get a friend to copy the postings and see which companies are hiring a lot of students. Then, contact them as a non-coop student and do work over your summer breaks between academic semesters. It's only frowned upon to do this if you're registered in JobMine, but if you're a non-coop student, you are freely able to contact whomever you want, whenever you want.
With Waterloo's co-op program, I think you'll end up destroying connections, rather than create them. Sadly, I speak as someone with a visible disability. It does not impact my ability to communicate with my interviewers, but there's just a certain attitude change, one which I'm extremely accustomed to, when they see my appearance. Each semester I would get over twenty interviews easily due to my writing skills and strong marks.
I recall in some of my old semesters, such as 2A, I wouldn't be able to attend a class for weeks due to the number of interviews all packed within a couple of weeks. Yet, as soon as I exit the interview room, I would hear a buzz on my phone to check my number of "active" applications and I'd discover that it suddenly decreased by one. See, there's a date where your rankings are released from your employers; however, you can tell immediately if you were not ranked if the number of "active" applications decreased.
There is a great deal of discrimination with the hiring on co-op students. I'm afraid I'm not joking. If you do have a visible disability, I strongly recommend you to not go for the co-op program. Each semester, as mentioned previously, I'd get over 20 interviews, but I would never get ranked for any of them. The only time I've ever been ranked was if I was ranked #1. I could tell that employers had really carefully planned interview questions for other students, but would somehow modify it for me and give me an entirely different interview.
How? They'd skip through many of the questions. See, I'd watch the other co-op student ahead of me barely able to finish his interview within the 30 minute timeslot, yet somehow, I had completed the interview in....just under a minute? What? Seriously. If I had an interview with multiple friends, we would compare our questions. It wouldn't be as if they changed the questions for each co-op student, no, they would literally truncate their interview just to get me off their backs. Haha, you're probably really wondering about what kind of disability I have that would warrant that kind of treatment, but I'm afraid I can't tell you that since you'll be able to find out who I am.
Though, I'll tell you it's obvious when you see it and I'll also tell you that I am registered with special services. I'm being quite true. Once I was asking questions, and I was simply cut-off by the interview, who said boldly with a smiling face, "Don't bother. Get out. Now." See, they cannot cancel interviews with only one student, they have to remove the position for all the students, or they have to go through the interviews. Another fact was when I was interviewed for multiple positions at the same company.
When the first interviewers reported my disability to the other interviews I was scheduled to be with, that's when I got those strange interviews. The 1 minute interview I mentioned earlier involved me getting asked, "What colour is the sky?" before promptly getting cut-off in the middle of my statement and being told to get out of the room, even though we were scheduled for a 30 minute interview.
I've reported such incidents on many occasions to CECA, the body that controls co-op at Waterloo. However, CECA is known to almost always side with the employer. Not just that, but remember that employers will usually not reveal why you're fired (or why you're not hired) since it opens them up to litigation (and because it's not required by law). There are many other cases on how employers discriminate against you, even if you don't have a visible disability.
For instance, I have a name that makes me look biracial, but I'm not, I simply came from parents who assimilated. It's tricky to explain, but I have a Caucasian first name and a South Asian surname (see, this is common for East Asians to have a Caucasian first name, but very rare in my race; I can't disclose my race because you'll be able to find out who I am, but I can say that my ethnicity is one of the smallest countries in the world, having a population of under 400 000). Often, employers would ask if I could speak languages such as "Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu", rather than only the national languages, such as "English, French".
See, in the GTA they seem to want people only who speak these languages to work with clients. But, such a practice is discriminatory. Of course, I can believe that if someone speaks another language, that's good on them because they're more qualified, but if a job requires one to speak a foreign language at a position working for the government in Mississauga, then that really violates fundamental rules. You'll get a lot of funny examples of strange hiring processes at Waterloo you wouldn't really find in the real-world.
For instance, twins in the same program applied to the same job. Literally every company specializing in our field scheduled interviews with the two of them. You know what happened? The interviewers always picked these twins over everyone else, not only giving them both interviews, but also ranking them the first two, simply because they thought it was a funny situation. But that just wasn't at one company, ten companies did the same thing, literally picking those two over everyone else! Perhaps they were damn qualified applicants? But, I talked to one of my interviewers, who pretty much told me he gave the position to the twins because it just happened to be "so goddamned unique," as he described to me.
If you want to do co-op at Waterloo so badly, make sure you have evidence of everything in case something goes bad. With 5 or 6 co-op terms, I can easily tell you that something is very likely to go bad at least once. Screenshot everything, since information can be dynamically updated and modified. Also, looking back, my mistake was not recording my interviews for evidence.
Remember that in Canada we follow a "one-party consent rule" with recording conversations, so if you're a part of a conversation you may freely record it. While it may be in bad taste to record interviews, it will be good in case illegal questions are asked. I asked a CECA advisor what to do if an interviewer asked me an illegal question. They answered to tell the interviewer that it was an illegal question and politely refuse to answer it.
When I did that to the fellow asking me if I spoke those Indian languages, he yelled at me to get out. Then, without me knowing, he filed a complaint behind my back and I had to defend myself against CECA or get removed from the co-op program. BUT, some programs, such as engineering don't have non-coop programs so even if you have a perfect academic record, you can easily get kicked out of engineering for something you didn't do. If you look online, you'll find a lawsuit where a student was able to sue CECA for about twenty thousand dollars, though the details of it are difficult to find.
There are really sad stories of inexperienced co-op students forced to do things only a licensed individual is supposed to do in Ontario, such as welding and electrical work. Myself, I've failed a co-op term for refusing to perform welding. My other friend working there with me, who's not my friend anymore, happily did the welding. This caused the boss to yell, "What? You think you're special?" I attempted to explain that, since he was a foreign European, that in Ontario you need to train for years to become licensed to do welding.
But, instead he wouldn't believe it and he fired me and later sent a "failed" work term. I had to debate with CECA and even had to take a leave of absence due to stress for them to change it to "satisfactory". Then, they had the nerve to make me write an apology letter as well. Why? Well, even though I told him that you had to be licensed to perform welding, CECA somehow said...that I didn't? Yet, I remember I wasn't joking around when I told my supervisor this. Of course, I was 10 000 in debt with an extra year I wasted, so I couldn't keep that loss of a co-op credit from preventing me from graduating....
I know that you think you're special and that you're an exception, but sometimes the game was rigged before you even decided that you wanted to play it. Often I'll hear people proclaim, "Microsoft and Google LOOOVE Waterloo, the MIT of the North!". However, what if you somehow don't end up working for those big companies? What if you work in an office for two, struggling to defend to your boss why you should be paid that week. You'll hear bad things, like students being forced to volunteer. As well, some companies have policies where you have a month of "discretionary volunteering" until they choose whether or not they want to hire you. The worst part is that since it has to do with academics, it's not really illegal.
See, I won't lie. I walked into Waterloo thinking it would be magical sunshine and rainbows. But, when I started looking and applying for jobs, I found that....there wasn't much for me to apply for. Everyone I talked to in different departments, as well as CECA, started saying, "Lol, you're the exception! Your department have the lowest employment rate, sorry! You'll have to mow lawns for your first few work terms, sorry!" Perhaps if you were careful reading this, you may have deduced my faculty and corresponding department. I'm a nanotechnology engineering graduate.
But, I got lucky. Since my field was so unorthodox and since I did have many unique co-op experiences (and I took extra bo courses and labs) I was able to apply and get into medical school in Ontario. I actually got fair interviews for once, where I was impartially judged. I worked my ass off for marks, and instead people would judge me by my disability. Well, it did pay off in the end. I genuinely liked the course material. Not the professors, not the positions, and not the people. But, I loved the material and did well. In the end, it paid off. But at the same time, it was only because of that disability...the one that caused me so many problems...that made me get accepted. Huh.
Hopefully, this will give you some information on what program you want to attend for your undergraduate degree. I hear stories of many students making crazy amounts of money, such as $30 or $40 an hour with food and benefits. I can straight up tell you that we nanos, though, we had to beg for jobs like dogs eating from someone else's scraps. My first co-op was $12 an hour, and my sixth co-op was $14.50 an hour, all with no benefits. Three of those were funded by undergraduate NSERCs.
If you read through all that, then thank you. But, it's really meant for the students who are Googling Waterloo co-op in their search bar to do research on what the experience is really like. I always used to go visit my (Schulich) girlfriend in York over the weekends, it was honestly a much healthier environment. All I can really say is that Waterloo's co-op program made me realize, not in a good way, how awful the world is. Waterloo's co-op program is unique, but uniqueness isn't necessarily a good thing.