Shy Scholar to Socialite Scientist: How Environment Canada Helped Mayura Panjalingam Gain Confidence

Written by Alexa DiFrancesco, Student Writer 

Adjusting to Change

After landing a work term with Environment Canada, UTSC student Mayura Panjalingam couldn’t help but feel nervous. Though the position was a dream opportunity to help her learn about the environmental industry, it meant working in Burlington– a big change from her usual routine of studying for upcoming tests and completing projects during free time. However, Mayura rose to the opportunity to gain independence.

“I ended up finding a place in Hamilton that was a 15 minute drive from work. I would highly recommend that students who need to work far from Scarborough consider moving closer to their work location. It would be much easier to commute, especially during the winter season, and they can do some exploring in a new city while they’re at it.”

 University Skills in Action

When asked what made accepting the offer an easy choice, the third-year student said she’d always wanted to work a co-op placement. She believed that hands-on experience would give her the opportunity to learn more about subjects she loved, as well as give her insight into careers that related to a planned Specialist in Environmental Chemistry.

“I was eager to see first-hand the possibilities of a biochemistry career. There was just something about physically being immersed in such a professional environment that I felt even would help me understand even why I was passionate about this field.”

Conducting research wasn’t the only skill Mayura learned during her placement. Though she was able to work in maintenance, which was part of her job description, Mayura was able to learn how to complete extra tasks. Her favourite experiences include extracting organotin found in wastewater, and independently extracting hydrocarbons from river water samples. Completing this work helped Mayura to build trust in her instincts and prior knowledge.

“I thought I didn't have the knowledge to understand the work I was doing. But, after having gone through this experience, I realized that what I was learning in university can still be useful for this field. Science is such a broad field and it's great to see how truly connected each discipline is to one another.”

Creating Relationships

Another aspect of working for a company which originally scared Mayura was sharing her ideas with other employees. However, pushing herself out of her comfort zone ultimately allowed her to make friends within her company, while networking for future opportunities.

“When it comes to meeting your team at work and collaborating with them, communication can be a bit difficult, especially if you are a little shy like I was. But, I find that making small talk and getting to know your coworkers a bit more really helps you get the most out of your work experience. You'll feel much more comfortable. I would really encourage students to push themselves to do this. I think they'd be able to potentially get involved in more than just the tasks listed in their job descriptions if they show their interest in the work and their initiative.”

The relationships Mayura created during her employment are ones she credits to completing a twelve month work term. She says the additional time she spent with the company allowed her to create strong bonds with other workers. She also noticed a difference in her job performance over time.

“I think that completely a 12-month work term was great in that I was able to follow-up with coworkers on projects they were working on. Additionally, I myself was able to see how I improved as an employee. I feel like I could easily see how I could work smarter when completing certain duties. I think that even when you work hard, there is still some room for improvement and there are always ways you can go above and beyond.”

 Advice to Future Students

Going above and beyond in both schoolwork and future employment is something Mayura says she’ll strive to do in the future. As for shy students like she was at the beginning of her work term, Mayura believes that anyone can succeed with a little help from others.

“I would say always ask questions if you’re unsure of something. Don’t be afraid to ask 'dumb' questions because even if something may seem simple, it could still be important. Also, if you’re curious about something, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask about that as well! You never know where the conversation may take you. “