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Master's Student: Mike Chatzidakis

Master's Student, Materials Science & Engineering, McMaster Engineering

Where did you do your co-op?

 The company I worked for is called Shoebox and it’s a small Toronto based startup. I did a fourth month co-op this past summer.

Tell me about your experience?

I was a data scientist, so I used machine learning algorithms for image recognition.

 For me, it was a little different from my masters, because my masters was very academia focused and very much abstract. [In my co-op] I got a lot of applied experience in something similar to my thesis, but in a real company, solving real problems.

 Why did you decide to do a co-op in your graduate studies?

When I was an undergraduate, I decided to do a research term every summer, because I thought the route I wanted to go was academia and just do that. As a result, I never really got an industry co-op experience. So, when I got to grad school, I kind of realized that and I remember through career services (Jessica Farrell and Adam Pepler) they talked about the importance of a more diversified experience. 

What was your greatest fear pursuing a co-op experience?

 I think my greatest fear was, that I didn’t have enough applied experience. All I had was research experience and I was going to jump into a very fast paced startup. I thought I wouldn’t have what it took. I was very much thrown into the wolves, but I still managed. It was interesting to be in an environment that was much more results driven.

 What was a defining experience during your co-op period?

When I used some of very abstract theoretical stuff from my degree into a very applied purpose. I’ve never really done that before. It was very surreal.

 From your experience, what is the most important thing you learned?

There isn’t just one path. Especially in engineering or science, you kind of just think, “I’ve got to do my bachelors, masters then PhD.” However, there are many different paths you can take. It’s very easy to lose touch with all the options you may have, mostly because everyone you ask for advice is in academia, so they have a little bit of a bias. I really enjoyed branching out and exploring what’s out there. It can even trickle back and give me a perspective about my research. By working in industry it informs my research in terms of knowing what industry needs today. 

Why do you think a co-op is important?

 I think a co-op experience is important, because it is a foot in the door within a company. The company may want to hire you afterwards, they wanted to hire me. It’s hard, especially in today’s market to get a job right after graduation. Everyone is always struggling, you can see it in everyone’s faces. Having co-op experience and having more under your belt makes you much more competitive against other schools.