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University Life: Recipe for Success

Naina Grewal Darpan, 27 Sep, 2022 12:59 PM
  • University Life: Recipe for Success

University Life: Recipe for Success

University can be a time of transition, with an arguably steep learning curve from both an educational and personal lens. As students enter a new phase of their lives, tips and tricks can come in quite handy to navigate the halls of their campus and beyond. DARPAN chats with current and former students to shine the spotlight on how students can make the most out of their university career and set themselves up for success:

Dr. Michelle Mann

Field of Study / Degree: Optometry/Masters of Public Health

University: Simon Fraser University (completed BSc) in Burnaby, BC and MCPHS University (completed dual degree Optometry/Masters of Public Health) in Boston, Massachusetts

Current Occupation: Optometrist

1. What are your top 3 Do's and top 3 Don'ts for university students?

3 Do's:

  • Ask for help/questions: Attending post-secondary can be intimidating. However, your professors and TAs are there to help you.  If you are shy about asking your questions in a class room setting, go to their office hours. This way, the professor/TA get to know you and you don’t have a whole audience watching you.
  • Keep busy: Keeping a busy productive schedule leaves you no time for distractions.
  • Get involved: Being involved in school clubs, volunteering, or having hobbies outside of school is a great way to expand your social network but also helps with graduate school application.

3 Don'ts:

  • Don’t pick classes that everyone else is taking: This will encourage you to meet new people and push you out of your comfortable social circle.
  • Don’t study in large study groups: Typically, a productive study group size is around 3-4 people.
  • Don’t procrastinate: When you are organized, you can plan better for certain hiccups that would prevent you from handing your assignments on time.

2. What is a myth about university that just isn't true?

A myth that is not true is that you have to pull all-nighters and be sleep deprived zombies. Get your rest and take of yourself. Healthy Student = Healthy University Career!

3. What should the criteria be for picking courses (required and/or electives)?

One criteria that I would suggest is to meet with a counsellor every semester to keep you on track.

4. How do you bounce back from academic hardship?

As I went through undergrad and graduate programs, I struggled a lot more in optometry school in the beginning (especially second year). A key component was that I did not evolve my studying habits. Your study habits need to change because how you study in high school is not going to be the same how you study in undergrad or how you study in graduate school. So, how I overcame this was asking the top performing students in my class how they studied and what they all had in common is that they made a schedule and they studied like it was their job. So, I started by evaluating my most productive study hours. I am not an early riser studier and that’s okay so I arranged my study hours from 10:00AM to 6:00PM with breaks in between. After I would study, I would go for runs. Keeping a busy productive schedule leaves you no time for other distractions. There were a lot of family events and social gathering I missed out on, but I do not regret it one bit because it led me to where I am today.

5. How do you maintain a good school/life balance?

Being a competitive athlete most of my life, it taught me the importance of time management. It may sound odd but I felt that the more I was involved in clubs, volunteer opportunities, working a part-time job while going to school full-time FORCED me to make a schedule and be organized.

Gurbaz Singh Grewal

Field of Study / Degree: Bachelor of Science

University: University of British Columbia

Current Occupation: Student, Radio Host, Vancouver School Board Instructor, Fraser Health Crisis Line Volunteer

1. What are your top 3 Do's and top 3 Don'ts for university students?

3 Do's:

  • Do prioritise an extra hour of sleep over an extra hour of studying/reviewing. University life is a game of marginals. One of the most important skills to adapt in university is to consider the marginal benefits of two options and decide which to select.
  • Do register yourself on class forums and online groups. Whether it be university mediated discussion forums such as piazza or student-run group chats on social media platforms, having a virtual space to communicate with your peers from your classes is instrumental in academic success.
  • Do diversify your student life. As with high school, a well-rounded student is a great student. It is a good idea to find clubs, teams and opportunities in university that interest you.

3 Don'ts:

  • Don’t overwork yourself. Whether it be skipping out on meals, workouts, or sleep, sacrificing your health is never a good idea. Your brain works efficiently as long as it lives in a healthy, thriving body.
  • Don’t study every single thing. As counterintuitive as it sounds, in university, you must be able to recognize the larger topics at hand and rule out the meaningless details. Know what and how to study.
  • Don’t fade into the background. Making yourself known to your peers and professors is important. When you are an active member of your class, this leaves a lasting impression on those around you which makes it much more likely for you to obtain support.

2. What is a myth about university that just isn't true?

A common statement we hear is that in university, nobody cares and you are just a number. Although university does call for increased accountability and self-study, it is not as daunting of a place that some may make it seem. Just as you hear in Harry Potter, “Help will always be given at [university] to those who ask for it”. So don’t be afraid to ask for help, whatever it may be for!

3. What should the criteria be for picking courses (required and/or electives)?

When it comes to electives, it is always a good idea to take electives that set you up for academic success. Course loads can get heavy in university, so when you have the choice, pick electives that both interest you and are easy to manage. Electives allow you to be more flexible with your degree, so it is a good idea to take some electives that may not exactly be in line with the field you are studying so that you are able to broaden your student profile and apply other areas of your knowledge as well. A glance at the professor, course outline, and grading scheme also helps determine which courses are most appealing.

4. How do you bounce back from academic hardship?

As with your courses, university life is a game of analysis. Bouncing back from academic hardship starts with acceptance. When it comes to bouncing back, you must analyse what went wrong in the first place. Did you study the important material? Did you spend too much time on theory and not enough practicing? Did you leave yourself enough time to study? Whatever the reason may be, recognizing it and rectifying it are crucial in bouncing back academically.

5. How do you maintain a good school/life balance?

As with all other university related areas, planning is key. If you are able to manage your assignments, quizzes, exams, etc. this frees up time for yourself as well.  One way that I strike this balance is studying in groups with my friends; this allows for fun study breaks, and sets you up to do any activities after you are done studying. Most importantly, studying with your friends saves you from the isolation that your four-wall bedroom imposes when you decide to study there. It is important to be a well-rounded and whole human being!

Shania Smagh

Field of Study / Degree: Theater Performance / Physics

University: Simon Fraser University

Current Occupation: Student, Teaching Assistant, Let’s Talk Science Coordinator

1. What are your top 3 Do's and top 3 Don'ts for university students?

3 Do's:

  • Have a weekly and daily to-do list or a study schedule to keep track of all assignment dates.
  • To fund your tuition, look for jobs in the university. This saves a lot of time and helps build connections with the academic work. For example, I work with SFU’s temporary pool where I have an opportunity to work with different departments.
  • Talk to your professors. This will go a long way in achieving success. Not only will it help you build connections with them (which may result in landing a job in the future), but it will also help you understand what the professor wants you to get out of the course and why they want to teach. This might be a hard task, but I have found that you have to be a little shameless and ask for what you want to get it.

3 Don'ts:

  • Don’t skip classes even if you think they are not helpful. They end up being helpful in ways that you do not know. For one, it will help you not forget that you are enrolled in a class. Have you heard of “out of sight, out of mind”?
  • Don’t be a lone wolf unless you are a socio-public genius. University is tough despite the type of your degree or major. Have some people you can rely on who help you through tough assignments and share your pains and rewards.
  • Don’t give up. University is all about persistence and resilience. Take one day at a time and one assignment at a time. Don’t compare yourself to others (this is extremely hard to do) and focus on your own growth.

2. What is a myth about university that just isn't true?

It is a myth that if you love your degree, it will not be hard. It does not matter how much you love the content that you are studying. It will be hard and exhausting.

3. What should the criteria be for picking courses (required and/or electives)?

Each university has certain courses that a student needs to take to complete their major. Not all courses are offered in all semesters. Make sure you know when your required courses are offered and take them in a timely manner to avoid delays in your graduation. Select electives you are interested in - something you have always wanted to take or something you would have taken if it weren’t for your current major. For me, my electives led to my second major in theater.

4. How do you bounce back from academic hardship?

Let yourself be sad, but don’t live in that place of sadness. Move on! Take all the steps you need to take for your mental health. Take time off, take electives, talk to loved ones who can offer you support. You can also talk to counsellor. If you are pressed for money, go to a university counsellor; they provide free counselling services. Evaluate if your major/degree is the right fit for you. If yes, take the steps the university requires you to take to continue your degree. Otherwise, explore other options like a different major or a different school/university.

5. How do you maintain a good school/life balance? 

Don’t overload yourself with courses. This can put a lot of extra pressure on you. It is important for me to go to the gy, and spend time with my family and friends. I also work part-time on top of studying for courses. So, I only take 3-4 courses per semester unless more are required by my major. For each course, it is recommended that you spend at least 9 hours studying a week. I always take that into consideration when planning my courses for the semester. This helps me keep a school/life balance.

Sukhmeet Singh Sachal

Field of Study / Degree: Faculty of Medicine, MD (UBC)- Grad Year 2023; Master of Public Health, MPH (Western); Bachelor of Science in Anatomy and Cell Biology, BSc (McGill)

University: University of British Columbia

Current Occupation: Medical Student

1. What are your top 3 Do's and top 3 Don'ts for university students?

3 Do's:

  • Go in with an open and eager mind willing to learn.
  • Meet people outside your comfort zone and surround yourself with people who are smarter and more successful than you, alongside finding a mentor.
  • Explore the city, community, and environment where you will be spending so many years.

3 Don'ts:

  • Don't be peer pressured into doing things you do not want to do.
  • Don't leave your assignments and studying to the last minute.
  • Don't let a no from any school professor or peer stop you from pursuing what you desire.

2. What is a myth about university that just isn't true?

Failing a course or doing badly on one course will end your chances of applying for a professional postgraduate school. That is simply not true. It is about the trajectory of your education such as having your grades improved over the years.

3. What should the criteria be for picking courses (required and/or electives)?

For required courses, you ultimately have no choice but to complete them to receive your Major and/or Minor for your degree. However, try to find ways to make the courses that you might not necessarily enjoy to be more enjoyable. You can ask for help from Student Affairs, find a tutor, or study with your peers. For elective courses, you should think about potentially exploring subjects that you may not necessarily have the chance to do again in the future. One of the courses I took at McGill was on the Theory of Music, which was very fascinating.

4. How do you bounce back from academic hardship?

This is probably the least talked about aspect of university. University is tough, even for the brightest minds. There are many external factors in addition to the academic stress that can play a role. While easier said than done, the most important thing when facing academic hardship is to reach out. Reach out to your friend, your parents, your school counselor or anyone you think would help you without being judgmental. When I faced academic hardship in undergrad, the best thing I ever did was to reach out for help. I learned better tips and tricks on succeeding in my academic courses.

5. How do you maintain a good school/life balance? 

Life is all about priorities. Going to undergrad really tests your abilities to juggle these priorities. I think more than trying to maintain a good school/life balance is to be adaptable. For instance, when exam season comes around, try and prioritize studying for your exams over going out somewhere. At the same time, find activities that bring you joy and help keep you sane when things are stressful with your academics.

Coming straight from those who have experienced and are experiencing all that the wonderful world of university has to offer, these precious words of wisdom can truly enhance the overall university experience. Remember that there is no one right answer and you hold the power to write your own, unique story. With all this valuable advice in your backpocket, oh the places you’ll go!

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