In the third year of my English Literature degree, I joined the Arts Co-op Program at UBC and was accepted as an editorial assistant for the academic journal Canadian Literature (CanLit). Though the experience itself was highly rewarding, many of the lessons I learned were highlighted by supplementing my co-op experience with UBC courses, which would not have been possible without the support of the CanLit Tuition Award. To this day, I remain extremely grateful to the dedicated and nurturing team at CanLit for the academic, professional, and personal growth I experienced and have continued to experience since my time there.
The literary articles and book reviews I processed for CanLit have had many profound effects on my studies. Being an academic journal, CanLit requires their proofreaders to develop an extensive knowledge of the Modern Language Association’s (MLA) prescribed formatting, documentation, and style. As a humanities student, my courses also follow MLA prescriptions, and I learned how to format and document my essays to publishable standards quickly and efficiently. This has cut down on the amount of time I need to spend on the mechanics of the essay, allowing me to focus on the content instead. My reading speed and stamina have also greatly improved, for I had to proofread up to a hundred pages per day during intensive periods. Most importantly, I became comfortable with consuming and dissecting the writing style of literary critics. These new skills have deeply affected how I interact with my coursework: I now find myself picking out main ideas, understanding references to other scholars, and discovering new tracts for investigation with greater ease, which has allowed me to engage with the material in more meaningful and enjoyable ways than before.
Furthermore, the very content that I proofread for CanLit has been incredibly helpful and informative to my coursework. At the University of Edinburgh, where I took Canadian Studies as a Visiting Student, I was able to recall ideas I had read in CanLit and use them to supplement my essays and reports. For example, I processed and edited K. J. Verwaayen’s article on Joan Crate’s Pale as Real Ladies, a reinterpretation of the life of Emily Pauline Johnson, a Six Nations poet and performer. I contrasted Verwaayen’s observations on Johnson with Christine Lee Charles (a Coast Salish woman from Vancouver, BC, who raps in Musqueam to preserve and perpetuate Musqueam culture) in order to illustrate the changes in the public reception of Aboriginal women’s poetics. The feedback for such observations has been overwhelmingly positive, with tutors and lecturers commenting on the thoughtfulness and strong knowledge base that have informed such connections. Many of the ideas I encountered at CanLit, from theoretical traditions to current issues, have continued to impact my studies and critical analyses.
However, the greatest impact this experience has had on me is that one year at CanLit taught me more about my academic and professional attitudes than three years of university combined. CanLit offers undergraduate students the unique opportunity to see the other side of academia, to see first-hand how ideas are pragmatically disseminated and what roles academic professionals are expected to fulfil. Though I made the conscious effort to attend as many career information sessions as I could in the past, nothing reshaped how I saw my future the way two terms at CanLit did. I learned to appreciate the sense of accomplishment after each assignment and that jobs with committed, happy, and passionate workforces really do exist. These realisations have led me to pursue additional responsibilities in all my commitments―work, school, and volunteer―and have been more persuasive than any spoken assurance that English majors really are employable. Seeing how my studies at UBC can and do apply to the workplace has been encouraging and constructive, renewing and reshaping my interest in literature studies.
To describe my time at CanLit as a simple co-op work term would not be doing it justice, for the experience has had a wide-reaching and important impact on all aspects of my life. The confidence from gaining a new set of usable technical skills, strengthening my transferrable soft skills, and seeing the improvements in my academic, professional, and personal life has been highly rewarding. Working for CanLit has been a unique and enjoyable privilege, and the only downside to the experience has been ending it. Thank you for everything, CanLit!