All Posts Tagged With: "freshman"
Five reasons why university is a happy place
For some unexplained reason, lots of high school teachers describe university as a scary place. Sometimes, after assigning a ridiculous amount of homework, they’ll say something like “I’m just getting you ready for university.”
Why not have a bulldozer smash half your house off before a tornado strikes, just so you’ll be “more adjusted to it.” You know, in case it ever happens.
There is a lot of work in university, but here’s the part your high school teachers aren’t telling you: for a million different reasons, university is way better than high school.
Here’s the top five:
5) You set the pace
How much homework do you have in university? To a certain extent, it’s up to you.
On the first day of classes, most professors give out a detailed course syllabus. There’s a list of readings and study questions, which help prepare you for the midterm and the final. In some courses there aren’t any assignments, essays, or research papers- for the whole semester, you’re preparing for two major tests.
Yeah, I know that doesn’t sound like a good thing. It might seem a bit scary to have your entire mark resting on two tests, but it gives you a lot of study flexibility. In university, you’re given lots of tools to succeed: in addition to a detailed schedule of readings, you’re often given study questions and practice quizzes. When you’re preparing for a midterm or exam, you’ll know exactly what you need to do, and you’ll know when you’re ready.
This might sound extremely lame, but in university you’re given a formula for success. There are a certain number of steps you need to take- reading the textbook, doing the study questions, looking over the practice quizzes- and then you’re ready.
4) Bully teachers are a thing of the past
In high school, everything depends on your teacher. It doesn’t matter if you normally love a certain subject: if your grade 12 biology teacher is a bully who decided on the first day of class that she simply doesn’t like your face, or the way you exhale, you’re not going to enjoy biology very much that year.
In university, things are different.
Sure, there are lots of professors who are worth seeking out because of their enthusiasm and engaging teaching style, and there are some professors who should be avoided at all costs because they’re boring, or make it clear they’d rather be anywhere else but standing there in front of 500 first-years.
But unlike in high school, your professor doesn’t determine whether you love or hate school. You’re an anonymous student in a sea of hundreds and hundreds of first-years. It’s never personal.
3) University is a safe-haven for nerds
In university, there’s room for everybody. If you want to party, there are definitely plenty of opportunities available. But if you’d rather study and get good marks, nobody will hold it against you.
2) Four months of summer vacation
May, June, July, August. Seriously, I’m not kidding.
Sure, most of us have part-time jobs year round, and full-time jobs during the summer. But four months away from school is still four months away from school.
1) Three day week? Totally possible.
In high school, you don’t have much control over your schedule. Once you’ve filled in all the mandatory courses, you get to choose between visual arts and music.
University is completely different. Depending on your program, you still have a certain number of mandatory courses. But there’s even wiggle room when it comes to these core courses: you can often choose between a one-hour lecture three times a week, or a three-hour lecture once a week.
And the rest is completely up to you.
University gives you a chance to pursue your interests and passions, with a range of courses spanning dozens of subject areas.
Or, if you’re anything like me, you can score a three day week.
In my first year, I managed to cram all three of my labs and my physics, chemistry and biology courses into a Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule.
Of course, university is an opportunity to expand your horizons and challenge your ways of thinking. But why not expand your horizons while maintaining a three day week? Just something to think about.
And in later years, there’s always the possibility of a two day week…
-photo courtesy of dave_mcmt
Our on-the-ground undergrad reports on his debut month
I consider myself something of an idealist. I’m reasonably conscious of the many problems in the world and of the effects my actions have on the planet and its inhabitants, and I try to act accordingly. Of course, I hope others will do the same, and perhaps I too easily apply my values when judging the actions and beliefs of other people, governments, corporations, etc. My idealism has also earned me regular reminders from friends and family to “take yourself less seriously.”
I’ve just begun my first year at the University of Toronto, and I’m aware that this is a time when values and personalities can be challenged, shifted and eventually—potentially—solidified. People tend to progress, maybe unconsciously, from idealism to pragmatism as they mature. Idealism becomes a sort of nostalgia: you remember “the good old days,” but are resigned to the fact that those days are decidedly in the past.
Even at the tender age of 18, I have noticed this shift in myself. The more I learn, the more complex things become. The more I realize the barriers that lie in the way of the more equitable, sustainable, logical world I idealize, the less likely it seems that my idealism stands a chance.
Most universities in Canada have become veritable degree-churning machines. A bachelor’s degree today is yesterday’s high school diploma. Six million Chinese graduate each year into an already saturated global job market. A desire to do good is often dismissed as naive or met with suspicion. All in all, there doesn’t seem to be much room left for idealism.
We’ll see what kind of shape mine is in after a month of university.
Aug. 30: If you’re moving to a new city for university, it’s a good idea to arrive a few days before school starts so you can have a chance to explore the area around your new home. Once the craziness of Frosh Week begins, followed immediately by your first classes, you’re not likely to venture far off campus, so familiarizing yourself with the neighbourhood can give you a head start on breaking the bubble that often develops in first year.
For me, coming from Vancouver, it gave me a chance to spend time with friends and family who already lived in Toronto and knew the city well. One of them took me to a drum circle, the likes of which I had never seen: hundreds of people gathered in a park in the middle of downtown Toronto, dancing to a beat you could hear from blocks away. It gave me an idea of the immense variety of things to do and see in this city, and I wouldn’t have had the chance to do such things had I come straight to school.
Through the rabbit hole
Sept. 3: Today was move-in day. After the initial “awkward lunch”—standing around for two hours meeting your fellow first-years and hearing the same questions over and over (“What’s your major? Where are you from?”), it was time to learn the requisite school cheers, glorifying ourselves and putting down everyone else. It’s curious how people always feel this need to distinguish themselves within a group, even as they dismiss it as just a fun tradition.
Careful analysis might not be the best way to design your university career
I had always planned to take time off after high school to travel and work. I wanted to gain some life experience before deciding what I wanted to study for four years, I suppose because I subscribed to the “major = career” theory. The circumstances at the time didn’t let me do that, and here I am heading straight into university. While I’ve come to understand that your major certainly doesn’t have to equal your career, I still don’t know what I want to study or what kind of career I want to have. And I think taking time off would’ve helped me get a better idea of both of those things. So, if you can, I suggest taking some time off between high school and university.
If that’s not an option, you have to figure out some means of choosing courses (and yes, eventually, a major), that you find interesting and enjoyable and that hopefully lead you to an interesting career.
My method of choice, being an analytical, planner personality type (according to this impressively accurate personality test), has been to carefully consider what kind of lifestyle I want in the future and what kind of work I find rewarding and fulfilling, and to work backwards from there in terms of what kind of jobs offer those things and then what qualifications are needed to get those jobs. Kind of a painstaking process, but it’s the best I’ve been able to come up with.
Despite this reasonably thorough investigation, I still don’t really know what I want. I have a lot of ideas, but there are pieces missing. So, today I went to a professor and businessman I know seeking advice. He leads a lifestyle I think I would enjoy, he works on interesting and important projects, he’s very opinionated, and I respect his judgment very much.
Instead of the careful analysis I expected from a distinguished academic, his advice was refreshingly different, with an understated wisdom that I suppose is often overlooked by us analytical types. Simply, he said, take courses you will enjoy. Take the courses with the most girls in them! It’ll be fun. An undergraduate degree should teach you how to think well and communicate well; the content is less important.
So now I throw these factors into the mix. Follow your interests, have fun, and try to choose courses (or at least sit in on lectures) with professors who have a reputation for the way they think and teach – not necessarily what they teach. Along with a little careful analysis of your own, I think that’s a pretty good balance.
Six tips to start your year off right
My mum asked me today if I was ready to go back to school, as I will be hopping on a plane in two weeks to the day. I shrugged.
“Yeah, of course I’m ready.”
She looked unconvinced. I am rarely, if ever, prepared for anything.
“But you’ve got two weeks, and you’ll be in Vancouver this week… don’t you have a lot you need to do?”
“No. Mum, it’s a bit like having your third baby,” I said, about to inform her on the complexities of something she, after all, has experienced, and I have not. I haven’t even had one baby, let alone three.
“By this point, I pretty well know how it goes. All I have to do is pick up a bag of diapers and drag the crib out of the garage.”
I had stolen this anecdote from a couple I used to babysit for, so it has some credibility, but my Mum still rolled her eyes.
Regardless, the moment reminded me that it hasn’t always been this simple. Now, I know exactly what I’ll do the moment I get to Ottawa, but two years ago, the city was a blank slate – on which I was actively projecting my most fantastic, but also most terrifying, notions of university life.
So I have utmost sympathy and compassion if you are a first-year university student, especially if you’re throwing up right now. I threw up too. It’s okay!
If you’re like me, the most terrifying part is probably not knowing what to expect once you get to school. I’m not the best person to inform you – I had approximately two friends for most of the year, and probably went to the grand total of one party (not a success story, per se).
But, especially if you’re going into residence, I hope I can provide a few pointers, or at least points of comfort, to start you off:
1. Think of it like high-contact summer camp.
The first few days of school can be a bit mad-cap, so it’s important to get off to a good start. If you’re like me, and find socializing with people your own age nerve-wracking, this is an important time to scrounge up all your courage and be at your most social. Friend groups (initial ones, anyways) are often made within the first day or two, so that’s game time. And, uh, it’s supposed to be fun.
2. Put yourself out there. Shamelessly, if required.
First of all, introduce yourself. No, really, it’s not that dorky. Almost everyone will be feeling awkward, and sometimes you have to make the first move. After all, introductions are a tried and tested way to meet people. Don’t be afraid to go to events alone, and don’t turn down invitations because you want to write your best friend or call your mum. You have the rest of the year to be homesick.
3. Don’t limit yourself to a friend group immediately.
You want to meet people quickly, but you don’t have to commit to them. It’s easy, and in fact quite natural, to find that mid-October, you’re eating lunch with people you met during frosh week, simply because they were the first people you met, not because you actually like them. And it’s also common to be eating lunch with a different group of people by mid-October, with those frosh-friends only a distant memory.
4. Don’t hook up with anyone on your floor in the first week.
Uh, yeah. It may be tempting, but it will probably haunt you for the rest of the year.
5. Find yourself a mentor.
This is an important one. You will find plenty of people to party with, but it can be a real life saver to have an upper year to show you around and give you advice. They are often especially helpful if they’re in your program or from your home town.
Mentors are not hard to find. But they will usually require you to leave your residence room, and the other first years. Program societies often have mentorship programs. At Carleton journalism, you can sign up for one – mine took me for coffee and edited my articles when I was having panic attacks.
Even if there isn’t a program, you can get a mentor just by hanging around and looking really lost. Some of these will become your closest friends (hey there, Laura Baziuk!)
Stock up on extracurriculars (I’ll elaborate on these another time.) I may be biased – but if you like writing, join your student paper. I was an editor last year, as was Jenn Pagliaro, and we were always keen to have new students to take under our wings. In fact, it was part of what we were paid to do. So don’t be shy!
6. Get started now
Like my Mum would say, sometimes a little preparation goes a long way. You may wonder how you can get started on any of this when you’re just sitting at home agonizing. But you can get yourself in the social mindset – start talking to people at the bus stop or in the grocery store to warm up. And if you know of someone who goes to your school already, meet up with them for a coffee, and ask if they can show you around once the year starts.
Of course, if you’re heading to Carleton this fall, I would be more than happy to show you around. And stay tuned, for in the coming days I plan to extoll not just my mother’s advice on leaving for university, but my father’s as well (spoiler: it involves salmon!)
Students moving away for university often cite more freedom as a motivator – but what does this really mean?
I write this post from Tofino, B.C., a small surf town on the beautiful west coast of Vancouver Island. I am on a final family holiday before moving across the country to start university at the end of August. One might reasonably assume that I would seize this opportunity to spend quality time with my dad and younger brother, enjoying their soon-to-be-rare company and our incredible surroundings. And yet, this simply hasn’t been the case.
I find myself almost constantly caught up by thoughts of my impending departure and thus very much removed from the present moment. This absence from the moment necessarily impedes my enjoyment of my family and the experience as a whole; obviously not the best way to spend my final days with them, but perhaps excusable given the relative enormity of the change ahead.
This has all lead me to consider what exactly it is about moving away to university that so excites me (and pretty much every other college-bound friend I know). What, truly, are the differences between living with and without your parents, and why are they so appealing?
The obvious answer, of course, is more freedom, but this too begs further investigation. Freedom to do what? At this point, most somewhat reasonable 18-year-olds I know enjoy the trust of their parents enough that they are allowed to do pretty much everything they want. So again, freedom to do what?
A concept that keeps coming up in discussion with fellow soon-to-be- as well as current university students is a desire to re-invent oneself. Of course, our parents aren’t forbidding us from doing this now, but the freedom that comes with moving away to a place where you don’t know (many) people makes re-inventing oneself a lot easier.
Before I go any further, I think it’s important to clarify that a desire to “re-invent yourself” need not carry a negative association with low self-esteem or an explicit dissatisfaction with your current self. To me, it represents a recognition that any negative behavioral trends or patterns are much easier to correct (at the same time as putting new emphasis on those traits you like) when surrounded with people who don’t already expect you to behave a certain way – and this is a good thing. This is what I think that notion of freedom ultimately means – a fresh start – and this is pretty exciting.
So as the countdown to move-in day begins, I’ll keep this in mind as I try to stay present and enjoy the last days with my family, friends, and old self.
It’s official. I’m now a Yellow Shirt
The first time I ever set foot on the University of Waterloo’s campus was last July, when I attended Student Life 101.Thanks to campus tours, informational seminars, and ASK-ME booths with current students, the day long event gave me a snapshot of what my life was going to be like for the next four years.
Every student who volunteered that day was wearing a yellow T-shirt. I couldn’t help staring. Not at the shirts. At them.
They were university students. Upper year university students. When my parents and I pulled into the parking lot, I saw some Yellow Shirts handing out maps and talking to other high school kids and their families. They’re a completely different species in the student genus. I was a post high school student. And yes, I was completely intimidated by them. I remember wondering how to approach and talk to them. As peers? As wise university mentors?
This year I changed species. I got my own yellow shirt.
I knew I was going to like my placement for the day. Not the garbage bin moving part. I had an out-of-body experience during those two very long hours. My team got to be in the parking lot when the new students first arrived. I was thrilled. I got to be part of the group that first welcomed them to Waterloo.
I’m not really one of those spontaneous people who like greeting strangers. I freeze and sound like a goat trying to talk. But this was different. I really care about my school and I wanted to show them what a great home Waterloo can be. I was happy and proud to greet these new students.
Until I had an internal nervous breakdown and got performance anxiety. I had no idea what I was going to say to these new kids.
“Uh, hi. Um, Welcome?”
I tried to think of warm and engaging sentences of welcome that I could bestow upon these new students. But every great idea went goat. I was still chanting sentences in my head when I heard someone say, “Come on Andy.” I turned and was facing a new student and his parents.
I took the scene in. The parents were staring at South Campus Hall, a huge building on the hill behind me, looking a little afraid. ‘Andy’ was four feet behind and to the right of them, looking at the ground, then at the sky, anywhere but at us Yellow Shirts. I was standing in front of them with a map of the campus in one hand, and a name tag on my shirt with “Hi, I’m Jenny” stamped on it.
I was frozen. Then I made eye contact with Andy and lost any chance of passing them off to someone else. I resigned myself to knowing that I was going to sound like an idiot.
I think I smiled, maybe too much, because he looked kind of scared of me.
“HI! Uh, hi. You’re in Parking Lot A. Yeah. Oh, here’s a map of the campus. If you follow the red line, on the map there, you’ll get to the Student Life Center for the opening presentation. Um, have fun?!”
As Andy and his parents walked away, I barely had enough time to agonizingly re-live my terrible greeting 1000 times when someone tapped my shoulder.
“I’m sorry, where is the Bookstore?”
After I took the map from the lost student and turned it the right side up, I told them to cross the street, go up the steps, and take the first door on the right.
“Oh! Oh, okay, thanks!”
I think it was 40 minutes later, when I had to go refill my stack of maps, that I realized what I was doing. Maybe it’s part of my first born bossy complex. Or maybe our Yellow Shirts made us more extroverted. But by the end of the day, I was actually comfortable walking up to a complete stranger and saying “Hi, can I help you find anything?”
And I was pretty sure I was enjoying it.
Last-minute cuts incense hundreds of students
It’s understandable that in tough economic times, governments will make funding cuts. The BC government’s latest $16m cut to education funding, however, is completely inexcusable.
Not only is it in clear violation of the BC Liberals’ May election platform promise (p. 26) to “maintain this year’s funding levels for student aid,” but according to BC MLA Gary Coons, “the Campbell government delayed telling students the programs had been cancelled… in order to hide the cuts until after the election.”
Indeed, several students who applied for the March deadlined Premier’s Excellence Award – a $15,000 scholarship awarded to the top high school students in the province – recently telephoned the Ministry of Advanced Education requesting the results of their applications. They were told that the judging process was complete and that the winners would be notified shortly.
When the news came that the scholarship was eliminated, most students, including myself, reasonably assumed that this year’s winners would still receive their awards and that the program would cease to exist next year. Alas, this was not the case.
After several phone calls to various government representatives, it has been confirmed that the program will be eliminated immediately, meaning even those students who applied and were apparently selected as recipients this year are out of luck.
This failure to notify students before they spent hours applying for the scholarship – or at least before they spent months anxiously awaiting the results – has been met with understandable outrage.
Other cuts include eliminating the Nurses Education Bursary at a time when the province is in dire need of more nurses, as well as the:
Permanent Disability Benefits
Debt Reduction in Repayment
BC Loan Reduction for Residential Care Aid and Home Support Worker
Health Care Bursary
Early Childhood Educator Loan Assistance
Eventually, the fork becomes a utensil for everything.
Eventually, the fork becomes a utensil for everything.
Important – and extremely challenging – advice for Freshman (and everyone else)
I gave a speech last week to the graduating class of my elementary school. Along with their teachers and principal, I imparted to them the best advice I could as they enter high school, a big, scary place full of countless insecure kids trying to fit in and be “cool.” Don’t conform, I said, be yourself: it’s the only option anyway. Get involved in something you’re interested in, I encouraged; you’ll meet interesting people and enjoy good experiences!
Afterwards, I realized that this advice is actually just as pertinent for graduating high school students entering university. I think this realization probably came about as my entire family gives me pretty much the same suggestions. And the more I think about it, the more important these suggestions seem. I like to consider myself pretty independent and therefore largely free from the influence of peer pressure, but it turns out that such pressure is often subconscious and therefore beyond our control.
In the 1950’s, a psychologist named Solomon Asch conducted an experiment in which he asked a group of 6 people to pick one of three lines displayed on a screen that was the same length as a line on a card they were given. Obviously an easy task, everyone quickly agreed on the correct answer – every time. But when 5 of the people were secretly told to intentionally choose the wrong answer, the last person went along with their obviously incorrect response nearly one-third of the time!*
This experiment illustrates how willing people are to conform to a group – even when they can obviously see that the group is wrong. There is even recent research suggesting that in these instances people are using the perceptual part of their brain, indicating that if other people appear to see things one way, we might actually see them that way too and not just be saying we do.
That’s a bit of a scary thought for anyone, especially those entering a new, unfamiliar phase of life, be it high school, university or a new job. It should encourage all of us to stay keenly aware of how our behavior is affected by others. The implications are greater than you might expect…
To be continued!
*From Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein (2008).
Solving humanity’s problems, one researcher at a time
I just spent the day at the University of British Columbia. I was meeting with a professor who does research in environmental policy, something I’m particularly interested in. We had a fascinating discussion about how the recent rise in popularity of “going green” provides many opportunities for businesses and governments to capitalize on the trend. This can be done while actually having a positive effect on the environment, rather than simply perpetuating the largely tokenistic “lifestyle changes” already being encouraged: driving a hybrid, turning down the heat a couple degrees, etc.
His job is basically to analyze complex and pertinent problems facing humanity and come up with innovative solutions. And there are 4,000 similar faculty members at a big school like UBC, all with their own fields of specialization but all with essentially the same noble pursuit of knowledge. As my professor insisted: “Ninety percent of what we think we know is wrong.”
That’s where academia comes- trying to figure out where we went wrong and how to put it right.
Later that day I attended a lecture in UBC by a Nobel Chemistry laureate, entitled “Challenges facing human society in the 21st century.” Here was yet another example of the ongoing discussion and debate between academics in all disciplines concerning the state of the world and how best to improve it.
After the lecture, as I was riding my bike home through the good-sized town that is UBC, I began to get excited about my own imminent plunge into academia. In just over two months I will find myself in the midst of the largest academic instituion in the country, and I’ll be joining over 60,000 other individuals who are constantly engaged in and surrounded by this exciting and important research and dialogue.
I can’t wait.
- photo courtesy of the Library of Congress
Opinions should always be taken with grain of salt. Sometimes two.
I held out for a long time before finally succumbing to the Facebook plague.
I finally broke down and signed up last year, after the rest of my friends had been enjoying it for years. I harboured some ill-defined notions of how Facebook brought the superficiality and conformity of high school to another level, how it facilitated gossip and cyber-bullying, how it was yet another sign of our society’s shift away from genuine human interaction, marked more recently by the Telus ad campaign urging us to check Facebook from our phone on the bus, in line, in cabs.
And yet, I too finally conformed, ultimately drawn by the ease of staying in touch with far-flung friends.
It has indeed proved to be a useful tool lately, at least for meeting soon-to-be classmates. I joined the Class of 2013 Facebook groups for the three schools I was considering: Bishop’s, McGill, and Trinity College at U of T. Discussing various topics and “meeting” people in these forums does indeed give you a general feel for the place, although it is almost certainly misleading.
While I have admittedly found myself concerned, my opinions changed, my decisions second-guessed by what people say in these groups, I have to remind myself how ridiculous it is to shift my perception of an entire university by what one or two people think.
Sure, those voices can sometimes be a sign of a larger, more noteworthy trend, but opinions must always be taken with a grain of salt; two if it’s on Facebook.
- photo courtesy of Christopher Walker