First Year Survivor
How to make the most out of internships and placements
I worked at least a dozen summer jobs and internships before landing a full-time job, so suffice it to say I’ve learned a few things about squeezing the most out of these fleeting experiences. I’ve also seen a whir of students come and go and noticed too many unwittingly break the unwritten office rules. Since these jobs are crucial for launching careers, I thought I’d share what I learned. Follow these seven rules to make the most out of your summer placement.
7. Cover up
Few bosses would point out inappropriate clothing, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t making mental notes about your choices. Men shouldn’t wear jeans or shorts on any day except casual Friday. For women, things are tougher, but the most common mistake is showing too much skin: open-toed shoes are out, mini-dresses are not approved and low-cut tops are frowned upon.
6. Don’t be late—ever
Sometimes traffic is bad, sometimes Starbucks has a long line and some days the boss herself saunters in at 9:45. It doesn’t matter; you need to be there at 9 a.m. sharp. Even after a true emergency (let’s say your apartment floods—this happened to a colleague) don’t just show up with soggy pants at 10:30. Call your boss so she can re-assign your work and not worry for your safety.
From Pong Flu to the Cinnamon Challenge
University sounds tame enough, but it’s actually a dangerous place. I’m not talking about Charlotte Simmons’ loss of innocence on the sex-crazed, alcohol-laden, fictional campus of Dupont or even the food fights and public urination in National Lampoon’s Animal House. I’m not talking about the obvious things either, like drinking way too much. I’m talking about the activities students think are innocent enough, but that can, surprisingly, lead to early graves. Here are five examples.
1. Pong flu
According to a recent Clemson University study, the ping pong balls used in beer pong games are rife with bacteria. That’s not surprising considering they often come into contact with the floor. When they are successfully tossed into cups of beer, players chug the contaminated brews, unaware or dismissive of the offending bacteria. Luckily, the potential danger of the game doesn’t mean you have to stop playing altogether. An alternative that many health-conscious—and germaphobic—students are resorting to involves replacing the beer with water and drinking clean beer instead.
I thought there would be more maturity in university
When I got out of high school and enrolled at the University of Alberta, I was particularly excited for one thing: the end of the dreaded group project.
In high school a number of different things led me to hate working with others. We would prepare arbitrary presentations and our peers wouldn’t listen to them anyway. I thought that studying English and Comparative Literature in university would mean never having to collaborate for meaningless group assignments again.
Boy was I wrong. In fact, I seem to be doing more group projects than essays lately.
When I first saw all the group assignment descriptions on my syllabi at the beginning of the year, I decided to be as positive as possible. Perhaps the maturity level of my groups would be higher in university. Boy was I wrong again. Group work only seems to get worse in university, and I can safely say that the biggest source of my school stress has come from working with my peers.
But instead of letting it get me down any more, I’m going to relive the worst group project I have ever been a part of and hopefully my misfortune will at least brighten your day.
Students are staying longer for a variety of reasons
When Michael Prior came to the University of British Columbia in 2008, he expected to spend the standard four years at the school.
Now in his fifth year, he realizes his original plan was unrealistic. The 22-year-old English Literature major has funded most of his own education, so he works for pay about 20 hours a week. That requires a lighter course load.
Prior is hardly alone. In fact, graduating more than four years after starting may be the new standard. A recent study from the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario reports that less than half of Ontario university students finish in four years.
Hannah Talbot, a first year Arts student at UBC, was surprised. “I always thought that it was a four-year deal until I came to university and realized a lot of people were in their fifth or sixth year.”
I save money, get support and avoid rotten roommates
My friends tell me: “If you don’t move out before you graduate, you’re a failure”
Acquaintances ask: “How do you have a social life?”
Complete strangers inquire: “What are you doing with your life?”
These are some of the reactions I get when I tell people that I’m a 19 year old university student living with my mom. And you know what? Despite the criticism, I have no plans to move out just yet.
My parents divorced when I was very young, so I’ve pretty much always lived with my mom. Since I’m her only child, the two of us are nearly inseparable. She also helps pay my tuition and is supportive of my hectic school and work schedule.
I have this excellent support system at home. Why would I leave?
What I learned from Princess host Gail Vaz-Oxlade
After years of watching her TV shows Til Debt Do Us Part and Princess, I got the chance to listen in person to Gail Vaz-Oxlade discuss her Money Rules earlier this week on campus. Moneyaftergraduation.com and the University of Alberta’s Student Financial Aide Office hosted the free event. After an hour and a half, I felt less afraid of the sometimes ruthless world of money. I’d like to share five rules that stood out for me.
Rule 1: “Don’t pay the bullsh*t.”
By “bullsh*t,” Vaz-Oxlade means your monthly minimum credit card payments. Every credit card owner should pay more than the minimum. Those seemingly low payments required each month are meant to keep you in credit card debt for as long as possible, so you pay more interest overall. Oh, and the same go for student loans. “Aggressively pay down your debt”, says Vaz-Oxlade. She says students in debt should only worry about savings after they’ve paid off their loans.
Rule 2: Take on no more than one year of your future net income in student debt.
Vaz-Oxlade says this is a well-known rule of thumb, but I’d never heard it. Apparently every student should try to graduate with less student debt than their projected net income in their desired job. So if your career starts out paying $30,000-a-year after taxes, you shouldn’t have more student debt than that. (Law students, for example, can borrow more because they will make more.) Otherwise it eats up too much of your income, “and you won’t have a life for a very long time.”
Former top banker on his days at Queen’s
The 2013 Maclean’s University Rankings asked some of Canada’s most successful writers, politicians and scientists what they wish they’d known in university. Their answers are perfect additions to our First Year Survivor blog. Here, David Dodge, former Governor of the Bank of Canada and Chancellor of Queen’s University, looks back on his days in university.
I graduated with a B.A. in economics from Queen’s University and later a Ph.D. in economics from Princeton University. It was a very exciting time: neither of my parents had been to university, and I was going down the highway from Toronto to Kingston. I thought I was going to do mathematics and chemistry but I ended up studying economics. Out of high school you know some things, you don’t know others. At that time at Queen’s—it is fair to say it is the same now—you had to take a pretty broad range of things in first year. I took economics. It was relevant to the world, whereas seeing OHs run around the page in organic chemistry didn’t seem quite so exciting.
University for me was a formative period. I was lucky enough to be able to live away from home. You learn a lot about yourself and about the world when you are out of the environment in which you have been comfortable. There is a tremendous advantage, I think, to going away to university. Queen’s had an advantage too in that you were in a relatively small town—Kingston. I lived in residence and you got to meet different folks.
I was in the Naval Reserve Officer Training program. It wasn’t like a job but it took six to seven hours a week. I worked on the student newspaper too. We had ancient Underwood typewriters and the paper was still produced on hot type downtown. That was quite an experience.
As told to Julie Smyth
Senator Linda Frum’s advice
The 2013 Maclean’s University Rankings asked some of Canada’s most successful writers, politicians and scientists what they wish they’d known in university. Their answers are perfect additions to our First Year Survivor blog. Here’s advice from Linda Frum, the Conservative Senator who, in 1987 at the age 24, wrote a widely-read Guide to Canadian Universities.
Twenty-five years ago when I wrote a guidebook to Canadian universities the fundamental premise of my book was that Canadians needed to be more adventurous. Don’t go to school in your own familiar backyard, I argued. Leave home.
What I never imagined was that one day (a day that would arrive with the speed of light) my own children would be the ones best served by leaving my home. And that as a mother, I would find this pitifully painful. But so it came to be. In August, the time had arrived for two of my three children to depart for university. So devastated was I to say goodbye to my twins, Sam and Barbara, that I considered writing a new book: A Parent’s Guide to How Crappy It Feels When Your Kids Dump You For University.
Leader recalls great teachers, friendships and… manure?
The 2013 Maclean’s University Rankings asked some of Canada’s most successful writers, politicians and scientists what they wish they’d known in university. Their answers are perfect additions to our First Year Survivor blog. Here’s advice from Bob Rae, former premier of Ontario and interim leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.
I came to University College, University of Toronto, in the fall of 1966, studied modern history, and graduated with a B.A. in 1969. In the first week I was assigned by the seniors in residence late one night to find a bucket of horse manure, which meant figuring out where the police stables were.
Julie Payette on why she chose engineering over music
The 2013 Maclean’s University Rankings asked some of Canada’s most successful writers, politicians and scientists what they wish they’d known in university. Their answers are perfect additions to our First Year Survivor blog. Here’s advice from Julie Payette, Canadian Astronaut and Quebec’s Scientific Representative to the U.S.
I did my first degree at McGill University. I started in 1982. At the time, I was very clear I was going to become an engineer. Actually, I did have a bit of hesitation. I wanted to also study music. But it dawned on me that even though I loved music, I was not good enough to make a decent living at it, whereas I would become a fine engineer and could still do music. So I ended up choosing electrical engineering, which was perfect for me.
Andrew Scheer’s university advice
The 2013 Maclean’s University Rankings asked some of Canada’s most successful writers, politicians and scientists what they wish they’d known in university. Their answers are perfect additions to our First Year Survivor blog. Here’s advice from Andrew Scheer, the 33-year-old Member of Parliament for Regina—Qu’Appelle and Speaker of the House of Commons.
I always had an interest in politics, so I took several political science courses while pursuing a history degree at the University of Ottawa. I moved to Regina to get married (my wife had moved back home there), and I took my last few credits at the University of Regina.
I really enjoyed first year. In university you get to meet hundreds of other young people with similar passions. Solving the world’s problems in the campus pub, volunteering during provincial or federal elections and participating in student associations were not only fun, but very educational.
What I learned from choosing the wrong university
After years of research, tours of Dalhousie, Mount Allison, Queen’s, Carleton, and McGill, and multiple family discussions, I selected my university. It was a well-considered and entirely reasonable decision, and it was completely wrong. I’m officially a first semester drop out.
Since the end of September, I’ve been at home in Toronto trying to figure out a new vision of my future. As any student knows, the age-old question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” isn’t as straightforward as it seems.
For a while, I had it all planned out: political science, then law school. I accepted my offer to Carleton University for their difficult-to-get-into Global Politics program in June and started in September. I left after three weeks.
Prof. Pettigrew’s five tips for avoiding failure
Distinctions among university students appear starkly at exam time. You can see who has been following along and who has been sleeping through class, who has been doing the reading and who thought the book was too big and expensive to bother.
As winter exams approach, I hope you are one of the organized types. I hope you have been diligently attending every lab, organizing every note, and completing every bonus assignment. If you are, you really won’t need any advice on surviving this semi-annual ordeal.
So let’s imagine that you’re not one of those types. By this point, it’s too late to go back and do everything you should have done to ace your exams. Instead, your best hope is to try to avoid a worst-case scenario. Here are some ways to do that.
1. Be sober.
The labour minister on ’80s hair and staying close to home
The 2013 Maclean’s University Rankings asked some of Canada’s most successful writers, politicians and scientists what they wish they’d known in university. Their answers are perfect additions to our First Year Survivor blog. Here, Minister of Labour Lisa Raitt offers her advice.
I graduated from an all-girls Catholic school and I decided to do a year—before I moved away—at University College of Cape Breton, now called CBU. At the time they were not allowed to give full science degrees in what I wanted to study, which was chemistry, so I knew I would do one or two years there then transfer.
My first year, I worked at our local Dairy Queen and I lived at home so it was very much like being in high school but the academics were a lot more difficult. One embarrassing thing: first-year university, here I’m going to be in class with boys for the first time and I get the worst haircut and perm you can imagine. It was absolutely horrendous. In the ’80s we did the perm thing and I was like Olivia Newton John on steroids. It took me a long time with that bad hair to get a boyfriend in university and I’ve been terrified of getting my hair cut ever since.
Prof. Pettigrew has some last minute advice
There’s an old joke to the effect: “Thank God for the last minute, or I’d never get anything done!”
This bon mot could be a motto for many students. And yes, the last minute is a valuable resource. But like all valuable resources, it must be used wisely. Here is some advice regarding how to use the last minute well.
Of course, the last minute should be the last resort, when your best laid plans have gone awry. There are just too many things you can’t do at the last minute, or, at least can’t do well. So if you are finding everything is being left to the last minute, you’ll need to become better organized.
Still, everyone slips up once in a while and needs to scramble. If you have to get something done at the last minute, how do you proceed?
‘Better’ schools wouldn’t take him. Now, he’s a master.
John Fraser is master of Massey College at the University of Toronto. His advice first appeared in the 2013 Maclean’s University Rankings.
The agony of “getting it right” when choosing a university to kick off the higher academic experience in life is one I never had the privilege of experiencing. I had only three humble criteria: (1) is there a university that would actually take me, (2) could I afford it, and (3) please, dear God, can there be enough distance between my home in Toronto and this mythical, inexpensive place of higher learning—preferably with water in between?
Those are not generally the concerns of either parents or students, but variations on those themes are actually not a bad way to figure out where to go. The endless searching for exactly the right high-profile place, the relentless reliance on university evaluation guides (including the highly popular one this magazine puts out every year), the phone calls to well-connected friends, the trauma visited on the victim-students, the over-the-top ambitions of concerned parents: all these ingredients can add up to a roiling broth whose only parallel seems to be the hysteria of a bride’s mother the day before the wedding.
Writer Roy MacGregor on his days at Laurentian U.
The 2013 Maclean’s University Rankings asked some of Canada’s most successful writers, politicians and scientists what they wish they’d known in university. Their answers are perfect additions to our First Year Survivor blog. Here, writer Roy MacGregor shares his antics and wisdom.
I attended Laurentian University in Sudbury, leaving a four-year honours program in political science after three years with a general B.A. I chose Laurentian because it would take me—a six-year high-school grad with a 66 per cent average. Also, a friend was going and he had a car. I honestly never expected to last beyond Christmas, let alone end up with a degree—failing Grade 12 with 33 per cent doesn’t instill a lot of confidence—but I can honestly say I found university far easier than high school. Soon enough I was in love with both Laurentian and the city of Sudbury. The North of this country is indeed magical, but the near North has its own magic as well.
It was 1967, a time of huge student unrest. In the U.S. they were marching against the Vietnam War. We held a massive student protest march in Sudbury. There were riot police out but we showed stunning solidarity, walking around the streets near city hall chanting “WE WANT A PUB! WE WANT A PUB!” as if it were the most important thing in the world. The ’60s didn’t reach Laurentian until the ’70s. But we loved our time there. Classes were small. The residences were like family. Professors were approachable.
I was jack-of-all-trades and master of none. But it worked.
The 2013 Maclean’s University Rankings asked some of Canada’s most successful writers, politicians, and scientists what they wish they’d known in university. Their responses are a perfect addition to our First Year Survivor blog. Jian Ghomeshi, host of CBC Radio’s Q, shared his wisdom—and opinion on tuition—with Julie Smyth.
I went to York University and I partly did that because I didn’t want to stray too far from Toronto. I was already playing in a band. My first intentions were to go for theatre but I had a passion for politics and history and that is what I ended up doing—pursing a political science and history double major that turned into a political science major/history minor with women’s studies as a minor as well.
I did all of this with some trepidation. I desperately worried throughout university that I was a jack of various trades and master of nothing. At the same time, I was a student activist and I was really involved in theatre and music and I had started this band, Moxy Früvous.
One woman reflects on her high school torment
When I read about Amanda Todd’s suicide, I was affected, not only because someone so young decided to take her life, but also because of how it reminded me of my own adolescence.
To the right is a photo of me at Todd’s age. By the time that picture was taken, I had been bullied practically every day for five years. It started with some older girls who thought my name, Ravanne, sounded funny. They would chase me, scream at me, and throw food at me. Although concerned classmates stood up for me, it never stopped.
As early as sixth grade, I was depressed and socially anxious. When I entered junior high school, I was afraid to talk to new people out of fear that they too would laugh at me. I did make some friends, but for every friend I made, at least two people would obsessively bully me.
Struggling is what teaches you the habits of success
As you cram for midterm exams and freak out about November’s essays, consider this story from the Maclean’s Guide to Canadian Universities. You’re not the only one who is struggling.
In the late summer of 1999, I drove with a friend from Calgary over the Rocky Mountains to Victoria, where I was to start university that fall. I was 18 years old. My hair was tipped blond and I had the collected works of James Joyce in my suitcase. I hadn’t read any Joyce at the time. But I wanted to be a writer. And I thought his collected works were the kind of thing a writer should have when he goes off to school.
Writing novels—being a novelist with a capital “N”—was what I had always wanted to do. Reading defined me as a kid. It was what I did better than anyone else. What I didn’t do back then, at least not outside essays, was write. No short stories. No plays. Nothing to indicate a budding creative talent. And once in university, my dream of becoming a writer lasted all of four weeks. After nurturing the vision through a decade’s suburban childhood, I gave it up after less than 30 days of actual work. What happened was this.
I was enrolled in the University of Victoria’s creative writing program. In first semester, that meant one creative writing class. One night, not long after starting, I sat on a landing in my residence building grinding through an assignment. What I had written was a mess. It was supposed to be an excerpt from a short play, but it had no characters and no plot. It was just awful dialogue about nothing. So I dropped it. Not just the assignment: the whole class—and program. My first piece was terrible and so, I figured, was I.