Reflections from LifeSci Communications’ First Co-Op Students

Cooperative education (co-op) is an education method where students alternate semesters of academic study with periods of full-time work. Northeastern University has been sending students on co-op for more than 100 years, adding new employers and opportunities every single semester. Co-ops are different from most internships as students work full-time at one company for periods ranging from 4-8 months, with students most often completing anywhere from one to three co-ops during their time at the university. The co-op program provides an opportunity not only for companies to build relationships with students that will be entering the industry soon after graduation, but also for students to gain substantial working experience as a full-time employee.   

Spring 2022 was the first time LifeSci Communications offered co-op positions which meant a transition period not only for us as co-op students, but for our coworkers and the company as a whole. This new opportunity was spearheaded by Gwen Schanker, a Northeastern alum who completed three co-ops of her own during her undergraduate education. A fellow Husky leading the program made for a smoother adjustment to LSC, but, of course, there are still fundamental differences in life as an employee coming from classes.   

Working full-time is a substantial transition for students used to an academic schedule filled with final exams, homework, and studying. In addition, co-op students typically come from a variety of different academic backgrounds which differ based on their major, personal interests, extracurricular involvement, or classes they have completed so far, so have different perspectives on their places of employment and working experience. As LifeSci Communications’ first ever co-ops, and as students with different backgrounds and in different places in our academic careers, we wanted to highlight our own journeys through this co-op and how our unique knowledge contributed to our experience at LSC.  

Leah Holt, Northeastern University 
Bachelor of Arts in Communication and Media Studies, Minor in Graphic and Information Design 

I cannot fathom having my career trajectory planned even one year into the future. I respect those who do, but it’s just not in the cards for me. This may explain why my three co-op experiences have been so drastically different from one another, but it has been difficult to deal with the uncertainty that lies with a path like mine. As I entered college and started thinking about what I wanted to do, I couldn’t shake the notion that I could only succeed if I stuck to one industry or field of work. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what my exact passions were and if I had the skills necessary to be successful in a particular role. I was limiting myself to what I thought I was good at, rather than factoring in my other interests and allowing for failures that I could learn from to help move forward. Applying to co-ops, I ignored listings that caught my eye because I lacked some of the listed skills or background and found myself in interviews for companies and roles that I didn’t find exciting or valuable. Even though I ended up loving my first co-op, I knew the actual day-to-day work was not something I wanted to move forward with. 

It didn’t take long for me to realize that this was the entire point. I could pick an entirely new position with a new set of skills every time and be able to go to work and gain new expertise in a safe, timed environment. If I didn’t like it, I could pick a new one next time or continue leveling up if I found myself in an enjoyable role that utilized my strengths whilst leaving room to explore new ones. Regardless, I’d have almost two years of combined, full-time experience upon my graduation, and my exploration could continue with the cushion of co-op beneath me. 

Unfortunately, I still continued to deal with imposter syndrome. Every new role brought challenges that made me feel like I was not suited to work there and left me wondering why I was hired in the first place. I ironically felt this the most when I accepted the offer to work here at LSC. I would have never imagined working in the life sciences industry as a lifelong struggler with most STEM-related activities, and even though I had experience in communications roles, I had never worked directly in PR. It was a shot in the dark for me but knowing that they had seen enough potential to hire me gave me a boost of confidence, albeit one that was short-lived. 

My first day at LSC was terrifying. It wasn’t much different from the feeling of starting my first or second co-ops, but I was feeling particularly anxious this time around. Luckily, I was in good hands. I learned quickly that what I lacked in an extensive background in science, I could make up for in a willingness to jump headfirst into any project. It was okay to ask questions, to not know everything immediately, and to say no when necessary. I’ve carried these notions with me throughout my almost eight months here and, while I still run into similar challenges often, I’ve learned to face them head-on. Now, with my final semester only weeks away, I know that I can take these skills with me as I enter the (equally terrifying) post-graduate world. 

Ethan Wayne, Northeastern University 
Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies, Minor in Argumentation and Law 

Working at LifeSci Communications marks my first co-op experience through Northeastern. Because I applied as a first-semester sophomore, my relevant experience came almost entirely from one extracurricular experience: The Huntington News, Northeastern’s only independent student newspaper. 

While I hadn’t planned to pursue journalism in college, it turned out I liked writing and journalism more than I had expected, and I would become the Huntington News’ first breaking news editor. I went on to serve another semester in the breaking news section, filling my resume with experience in investigative journalism and reporting before turning to the opinion section where I worked with writers on argumentation and rhetoric.  

Turns out, The Huntington News would be beneficial to my co-op search in more ways than I expected. The very same alum who brought co-ops to LSC, Gwen Schanker, had written for the same publication during her time at Northeastern.  

But even before I became a Husky, back when I was applying to college, I was deciding between two majors: chemistry and communications. I really enjoyed the writing and creative challenge that communications presented, but studying chemistry and science was fascinating and satisfied my curiosity in a way that was hard to match. I opted for communications, but that did not mean my interest in science went away.  

I came to LifeSci Communications with a background in journalism and an interest in science, but it led to something more. I was now writing with a mission and an objective. I was being given the opportunity to write about fascinating science, learn about patient populations with unmet needs, and contribute to the voice of companies providing life-saving treatments to people around the world. My experience in journalism served less as a foundation for my public relations work and more as a way of thinking about media that would complement the lessons and skills I developed working in public relations and strategic communications.  

So, while my background may have aligned with some of the requirements and my interests with the kind of work LifeSci Communications does, writing with a greater purpose was a learning opportunity more meaningful than any discipline or class.