Biology at University of Western Ontario
Ahman (Year 3)
What did you wish you knew before going to your university? What made you choose this institution over all others? What are advantages and disadvantages of your institution or campus? List any advice for incoming first-year students about your university.
I chose Western primarily due to the actual campus life and the architecture of buildings around campus; it seemed like more of a tight-knit campus with a comfortable atmosphere than most other universities I visited. One thing that I did not anticipate is how distinguished the campus itself is from the rest of the city, London. Usually, upper-year students live off-campus and London provides a very different scenario compared to the campus in terms of living, transport, etc. Areas around campus vary in terms of their safety and accessibility to campus so it is better to research the city itself and whether you see yourself liking the city. Like many other students, I would also provide a warning about the London transit system, which provides unreliable service (usual delays of 5-10 minutes almost every day) and avoid living downtown due to high traffic congestion and safety.
What did you wish you knew before choosing your specific program? What are the advantages and disadvantages of your program? List any advice for incoming first-year students about your program of study.
Something about the Honours Specialization in Biology is that in the first two years, which are mostly the same for all biology and medical science majors, the two senior years are really general and it is all up to you to decide which courses to select. For some people this might be a disadvantage, for others, this might be an advantage. Personally, I like this feature of my program because it allows me to take any biology courses I want in the 3rd and 4th year (granted I'm also completing the lab and course load requirements). Also, due to your limited restrictions in courses, make sure to take courses you are interested in the third year, especially if you're planning to do an honours thesis in the fourth year.
What was your favourite university experience?
I've experienced a lot of great experiences at Western. Meeting other students, the campus, and the opportunities Western provide were spectacular.
What was your least favourite university experience?
This definitely has to be the second semester of my second year. From the end of January to the start of March, I had an exam taking place every single weekend (7 - 8 consecutive weeks). Note that this experience is common for students in biology and medical sciences, especially in years 1 and 2 so you have to keep up with the work.
What is the hardest part about your program and what were the steps that you took to overcome any difficulties?
With year 1 and 2 of basic sciences and medical sciences, the difficulty of the courses are really variable. Some courses had really complex exams even though the course content was relatively easy to understand, such as second-year Genetics and Statistics. It was hard to get a good mark in courses like these even if you kept up with the work so it was essential to fully understand the concepts and perform the past exams (they really did help!). Another thing that was disappointing was how cutthroat and competitive the program is. Most students in the sciences are hoping to go into medicine or some other professional school in the future, which usually have high standards of academic excellence, which creates a competitive culture in these courses. This does not apply to everyone in the program, but I definitely had experience with uncooperative classmates or lab partners. Most courses in the first and second years also had relatively hard exams (mostly application-based) because the professors in most courses aimed to maintain a low 70 average, but there were exceptions to this (organic chemistry, cell biology).
If you were able to take electives, what was your favourite elective? If you were not able to take electives, what was your favourite course and why?
My favourite course was definitely Math 1229 because of how simple this course is. This is the most bird course at Western, especially if you took calculus and vectors in high school. The workload is really light (≈ 2-3 hours/week) and 1/3 of the course is just a review of high-school vectors, while the other 2/3 of the course just focuses on simple matrix properties and applications. The exams for this course were also straightforward and you are bound to get a 90+ if you do all the practice problems given by the prof and the practice exams posted.
Make sure to start looking for resources as soon as you join. Most of what Western has to offer can be found online on their website and on student run pages like the unofficial Western Facebook page (Must knows) to keep up with events taking place on campus, course suggestions, news about Western, and memes!