Work-Integrated Learning: Your Futures First Step

By: Jessica Booth, Undergraduate student in Behavioural Neuroscience at the University of British Columbia

Work-integrated learning is more than a job; it has been a place of growth, inspiration and community that I lacked since beginning university.

As a fourth-year undergraduate in the faculty of sciences at the University of British Columbia (UBC), I believe I can speak on behalf of all UBC students when I say that your undergraduate degree is more than an educational pursuit. It pushes your limits, forces you to question your future and challenges you to discover what you are capable of. Without the work-integrated learning program, I would not be the graduating student I am today. My name is Jessica Booth, and this is my story on how work-integrated learning saved my future.

As a child, I was a strong, capable individual with high aspirations to change the world. I worked with children diagnosed with autism and anxiety disorders by age fourteen, and by my graduating year, I had aided in the development and implementation of mental health programs in local schools. I was formally recognized as a peer support worker, which provided me elective time to work with gifted and learning disabled (GOLD) students, progress through mental health programs and provide confidential peer counselling to my peers. I cherished the work I did and was determined to do more. Unfortunately, by the end of the second year of my university degree, I no longer recognized myself as the inspired driven individual I was before. I struggled with feelings of loneliness and depression and as a result, lost interest in my education and the goals I had set for myself. As a last resort to find something worth fighting for in my university degree, I began applying to research labs on topics I held close to my heart. Eventually, I landed myself a position in the B.R.A.I.N. Lab (Behavioural Reward Affect and Impulsivity Neuroscience Lab) as a research assistant.

“In this lab, you get what you put into it.” These were the first words my supervisor told me when I joined the B.R.A.I.N. Lab in January of 2021. She was referencing every aspect you could think of; career options, educational opportunities, friendships etc. At the time, I never expected the statement to be as true as it has been. Nonetheless, I knew if this was going to be my last attempt at university, I was going to give it my all. I worked over requested hours, took initiative on projects, and took time to get to know not only my immediate study team but all members in our fifty-plus-person lab. Within three months, I was promoted to lead research study assistant and by six months, was offered a position to be a project coordinator in a work-integrated learning position.

Being a part of work-integrated learning has given me the opportunity to develop personal relationships with people who understand and demonstrate the importance of education. More specifically, the B.R.A.I.N. Lab is home to three incredible female graduate students who teach all members of the lab what applying knowledge in the practical world is capable of.  Their dedication to their research is driven by a motivation to see changes in the immediate community, and this desire to give back served as a source of inspiration for me. They have demonstrated that a single individual has the power to make a change and that through collaborating with a team, you become limited only by your own self-doubts. As a result, I have learned the privilege of education and the impact that knowledge can have on yourself and others. I now find myself enthralled with my undergraduate classwork again as more than just a means to a grade, but as a resource that can be utilized to make impactful changes to the world. Through developing relationships with these individuals and watching them work, I have fallen in love with education again and been taught the positive influence that it can have on the world.

Additionally, the work-integrated learning position has shown me that confidence and ability are not inherent or predetermined but are consistently being developed and adapted. In the beginning, with each new opportunity, I feared not being able to rise to the challenge as my confidence in my ability was so low. Not all tasks were easy, but through a combination of knowledge, teamwork and a supportive community, I learned that every task could be a success. I came to understand that being proud of yourself came from appreciating your accomplishments and that those accomplishments came from hard work. And with each task that I completed, my confidence grew. I now have a sustainable foundation of self-worth that is constantly being updated. I would not have found this resilience without the support of my coworkers and the opportunity to be a part of a work-integrated learning position.

When I look back on myself a year ago, I am astonished by the progress that I have made. The work-integrated learning program has not only provided a supportive community and a place of educational inspiration but taught me what true confidence and capability look like. Considering I was debating dropping out of school only a year ago, I am overwhelmed to be announcing that I will instead be writing my MCAT in June and applying for medical school at the University of British Columbia in September 2022. I cannot express the level of gratitude I have for the work-learn opportunity and for everyone in my lab that has supported me. In the future, I hope to continue working with the B.R.A.I.N. Lab in correspondence to my medical degree in order to remain a part of such a wonderful community. More importantly, though, I look forward to supporting other undergraduates to reach their career goals in the same way that work-integrated learning at the B.R.A.I.N. Lab has helped me.