Emily Theelen on Placement

Tell us a bit about yourself
My name is Emily Theelen. I've lived in Ottawa forever and there's nothing all that interesting about me. I like stuff and fun. My hobbies are eating, sleeping, and complaining.

Where are you doing your placement?
I'm doing my placement at the Canadian Association of Optometrists. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a small NGO that represents Optometrists in Canada.

CAO is located in an old heritage house on Argyle Street, near the Museum of Civilization. It’s an interesting neighbourhood. There's no good place nearby to go for lunch except Shawarma Prince…and King. However, I feel like there’s some places you just don’t eat Shawarma, you know? Like, on public transport, the library, or around people who could potentially help you get a job (unless they are eating it too). I don’t know, maybe that’s just me. Last week, my co-workers and I went out for Caribbean food and that was definitely a highlight. I’ve never had fried plantain before.

My placement requires a business-casual dress code and the culture is a good mix of serious and fun. I'm all about killing the business-casual look, but can't document it because there's no good selfie-mirrors there. The people there are "serious about getting shit done," which is a direct quote from them.

What is your position in the company? 
I work as a communications assistant.

Whom do you report to at your placement? How are your other co-workers?
I report to the director of marketing and communications. I get along fine with the people at CAO. We’re similar in a lot of ways.

Does your placement use a style guide? 
Nope. There's no style guide.

What types of work are you doing at your placement?
I'm writing and editing public education content about eye health for their website. I’m also writing some advocacy materials and statements for parliamentarians through the Government Relations Manager because National Vision Health Month and Lobby Day is in May.

I write a lot of articles about how important it is to get your eyes checked. I've been to three eye exams because I hold things I’m reading super close to my face and I really want to wear glasses, but like, not be one of those people who wears them and doesn’t need them. The doctors keep telling me no.

What is a typical day like during placement?
I show up and there's 2 folders on the computer. One with content for me to revise and one with ideas for articles they want me to write. I entertain myself with these folders all day.

At 12:30, it’s lunchtime. Most of the organization eats lunch together in the boardroom, which is nice, and I have another student friend until next week. With Vision Health

Month and Lobby Day things are really picking up. It’s cool to know that MPs and Senators will be reading speeches I wrote too.

Do you receive feedback on your work? 
Not really, everyone there is really busy. I’ll occasionally get some feedback, but they generally seem to be really impressed with what I’ve done and my productivity. It’s pretty open-door and everyone’s really straight up which I appreciate.

Are there any skills from the program that you use at your placement?
Lots. I've been using all the course materials on speech writing, web writing, editing, and simplifying language as references.

Did you find it challenging to transition from the classroom to the workplace?
I can be quite a night owl, so getting up early in the morning every day was a big adjustment. I’ve also had to pull a few days where I'm at placement from 9-4 and go straight to my waitressing job, where I work till late. It’s nice not to have homework, but placement can still be a lot of work.

On the first three days of placement, I completely overdid it with the computer screen and came home with a migraine. I’ve worked on some articles about computer vision syndrome (yes, it’s a thing!) and learned to pace myself since then.  Besides that, honestly, I haven't done anything that we haven't been prepared for.

Has anything about your placement surprised you? 
I was surprised how capable and well prepared I was for placement; I actually feel confident in the work I'm doing.

What do you enjoy most about your placement?
The people. Opto has been pretty good to me. It's pretty interesting to learn about eyes and optometry and the health sector in general.  

Has there been any memorable moments?
We just started doing yoga on Wednesdays during lunchtime, which makes for a really great break. It’s nice that the team is so small and does a lot of things together.

What were your feelings about your placement before leaving the classroom?
I was really anxious to get started and apply everything that I've learned and start a career of some kind. The reason I applied to this program was for the placement: I wanted the work experience.

How do your experiences at placement relate to the field of work you are interested in? 
I'm getting good practice writing about things that I'm not familiar with. I'm doing more practicing than learning, but it's a good segue into technical and medical writing. It’s great to talk with established communicators and government relations people
and there’s lots for me to learn from them.

Do you have any advice for future students about placement?
Enjoy the time that you're there and treat it as a learning experience and good practice. Don't be afraid to take initiative and ask for new projects. Go above and beyond what they ask of you—end of story.

This wraps up our interview. Thank you, Emily, for your time!