Co-op or Internships, are they worthwhile?

Co-op or Internships, are they worthwhile?

Every year about this time D-Wave receives inquiries about summer internships or co-ops from students in high school, college and graduate school. The emails paint amazing pictures of highly motivated, intelligent and curious people.  Most, but not all, come from people studying engineering or physics or computer science or math, but all express the same desire to be part of something entirely new, and a fascination with quantum computing. At D-Wave we believe it is important that we support students and scientists as they increase their knowledge. We have on average 4 co-op students and 2 interns with us at any given time.  (For those who have asked, we have filled all our summer positions).

During my career I have often been asked about the value of internships and co-ops and I have to say my resounding response is “If you wish to pursue a career in industry they are essential!” They give the student a chance to practice what they have been learning in the classroom. For graduate students it provides a chance to conduct applied scientific study in a particular industry. For the employer it provides the opportunity to expose their workforce to new ways of thinking and the opportunity to undertake a project that their regular workforce does not have the bandwidth to undertake. Students who graduate with co-op degrees are highly valued by employers because they come out of university with relevant, on the job experience coupled with book learning.

To clarify terms, “co-op student” refers to a student who is registered within an accredited university co-op program. These programs usually require students to work fulltime for a defined number of months at a number of different employers during their studies. This time is usually broken up into separate paid work terms and is scheduled within the period of study.  These degrees are usually 5 year bachelor’s degrees. One of the primary aspects of these programs is education. Learning outcomes are stressed throughout the work term culminating in a term project report and evaluation.

Internships are more commonly independent of the university and arranged between the student and the employer. Often they are summer jobs or for specific period of time during the year if someone has completed their degree or in the case of graduate studies conducting research. Internships can be paid or unpaid however the trend seems to be leaning toward paid internships.

If you are a student looking to find a company to join as either a co-op or a intern and want to set yourself apart I would recommend researching potential funding sources. Both the Canadian and US governments offer many vehicles to fund research based interns and if you approached a company with a potential funding source identified it would be a great differentiator.


Elizabeth Barnard, CHRP
Director Human Resources