Do you ever wish you could transmit your current knowledge back in time to yourself in the past?
The co-op program made me realize what it takes to get good jobs in my chosen field. Unfortunately it didn't convey this information in a timely or useful manner; it was conveyed through failure and frustration...learning from your mistakes and all that.
I have an amazing job this term at Alias. I put a lot of effort into getting the job, and I put a lot of effort into the other jobs I applied for in the same term. I wrote custom cover letters and did research and all that stuff. Enthusiasm plus effort can get you almost any job you want in co-op as long as you are even remotely competent. If Alias didn't hire me there were 7 other companies who gave me offers and 3 or 4 of them would have been pretty good. All it took to get these jobs was confidence and enthusiasm and reasonable effort. It was so simple.
I didn't know this information when I started out. Perhaps that is my fault but I am grateful that I learned it eventually, even if it had to be the hard way. However, I can't help partially blaming the Co-op department and the general attitudes of those around me for the length of time it took to come to this realization. First year co-op students are told to apply to the crappier jobs to be sure that they get something. Personally I was told some variation of this line quite a few times. I think that I started believing that I couldn't get jobs that I might like so I often didn't even apply to those that I found most interesting.
But that is not the case. Sure, nVidia isn't likely to ship a first year down to California to help write device drivers for their latest graphics cards, but if you put together an impressive package and show that you care, they might bring you down to do some testing or some other job that can get your foot in the door. You can't knock the experience of working at nVidia, regardless of the position. Even if you don't go back for that "better" job, the contribution to your resume is considerable.
Also, there are many good companies (like Alias) that actively hire first year students for co-op positions because they acknowledge that the co-op program is more than an oppourtunity for cheap labour.
Although every individual is ultimately responsible for his/her own life, I can't help but think that if I had received more encouraging and useful information in my first year, I might have applied to "riskier" jobs and made that extra effort. But the goal of the co-op department is high employment rates and the "conservative" advice works out better overall I imagine.
I regret the lost opportunities, and wish I could change the past. It's not that I haven't enjoyed some of my other placements, but the type of work I get to do at Alias feels like a privilege whereas my other jobs just felt like responsibilities. Even if I get nothing else out of my current work term (which is impossible because I already have), I am glad that I got the chance to realize what it is like to really enjoy your work.