Science students getting coffee

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The UW science faculty recently announced a partnership with Ten Thousand Coffees to create the UW Catalyst Caf&eacute;, an online networking platform for specific industries. Hopes are that the platform will aid science students in making connections in their field of study. This will address a large issue for UW science students, as the general consensus around the faculty is that it is difficult to find program-relevant employment for co-op.</p>

Created by UW science alumni David Wilkin, Catalyst Café allows students, alumni, faculty, and staff to use their LinkedIn profile or email to sign up and then search for connections in a field of their interest. Users can either chat online or plan to meet in person.

In a science faculty press release on the café, Bob Lemieux, the dean of science, is quoted as saying, “It was clear that science needed to find a way to facilitate meetings between [students and alumni in order] to share their expertise, knowledge, and career insights.”

Given that the Centre for Career Action often talks about the “hidden job market,” accessed only by networking, a platform that connects students to professionals would have clear benefits, especially considering science co-op statistics.

According to the UW Institutional Analysis and Planning (IAP) website, the science faculty has a majority regular-stream population. Only 44 per cent of students in fall 2015 were co-op. Of those, only 30 per cent of fourth-year students were in co-op as compared to 51 per cent of first-years. Fourth-years, therefore, would likely use Catalyst Café to either find employment or find advice in breaking into their field.

What about first year students? It is common knowledge how difficult it is finding good employment for a first work term in science, and it is often harder to find program-relevant employment. This isn’t just word-of-mouth; there is data to prove it.

Imprint was given employment rates from the Co-operative Education & Career Action (CECA) relating to the science faculty. The data is broken down into first work term students (those who have yet to have a co-op term) and non-first work term students. The former typically consists of first-years, and the latter typically second year and up.

The CECA data states that for first work term students in winter 2016, only one program had a 100 per cent employment rate: biotech CPA, a co-op only, science/accounting program. Overall, the science faculty had an 85.4 per cent employment rating for first work term co-op students, but that still leaves 14.6 per cent, or 98, first-work term students unemployed.

Amanda Helka, a second-year biochemistry student, is currently in the co-op process. When told about the reported employment rate for first work term students, such as the 67.4 per cent rate for chemistry students in winter 2016, she agreed with them. “Many people I've talked to didn't end up receiving co-op positions or only ended up getting their position by off-chance luck.”

Employment rates for non-first work term students, however, is another story. Eight out of 11 science programs had a 100 per cent employment rate in winter 2016. The two other programs had over 98 per cent, and the last program did not have data.

Sarah Wiley, VP education at Feds, stated, “An average of 25 per cent of the students who are admitted into a co-op program graduate from a regular program, and this rate is especially high in Applied Health Science and Science where almost 50 per cent of students left co-op.”

Breanne Wilde, recent Honours Science graduate, believes the large dropout numbers are due to job scarcity. “Other faculties, such as arts and AHS [have] it even worse, but the Science faculty is pretty large and I don't think the job-to-student ratio is very good.”

Science programs can also have heavy academic workloads, with several classes having additional labs and tutorials. Wilde said, “It may be difficult for some students to keep up with that work while also looking for jobs and writing work-term reports; these students may decide to cut their losses and focus on getting the best grades they can instead.”

What about program-relevant employment? The data cannot be broken down into jobs that related to a student’s program or not. On this issue, Helka said, “Personally, I haven't worked a co-op directly related to my program yet — albeit I’ve only had one co-op term. Within the group of people I know well, about half of us ended up working in science-related positions and half ended up not. It is a relatively small sample, but I feel like a lot of co-op positions advertised are actually office jobs or at least they have been [for spring 2016].”

When asked about Catalyst Café and its intentions for science students, Helka said, “I think everyone is so busy with school, interviews, JobMine, and in-person networking that an online cafe would just be lost amongst everything else.”

Wilde, on the same topic, said, “It looks like you can get valuable information and contacts from other science alumni, so if even one person 'gets a coffee' with me to do some networking, it'll have been worth it.”

Ten Thousand Coffees platform could be more beneficial for recent graduates than current students. Meeting a professional in person, likely off-campus, could prove difficult for a full-course-load student. The online aspect of the Catalyst Café, therefore, would be the ideal for these students. In-person meetings would be better for recent alumni who have more flexible schedules.

The science faculty is actively promoting the partnership. At the spring 2016 convocation event for science students, a desk was set up for graduates to sign up. Additionally, graduates received an invitation email after convocation to join Catalyst Café.

Hopes are high for Catalyst Café. “This platform empowers students and young alumni to reach out to industry professionals and have those mutually beneficial conversations,” Lemieux said.