Computer Science and Linguistics at McGill University
Lindsay (Year 2)
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.
Before going to McGill I wish I knew about a few things. Firstly, McGill's campus is built on a hill so sometimes distances on maps can be deceiving and this is something important to take into account when choosing classes (ex. you can't get from Sherbrooke 688 to McIntyre Medical Building in 10 minutes, it's all uphill), though this only really applies if you are unfamiliar with Montreal, as I was coming from Northern BC. Additionally, I wish I knew that a lot of things I was anxious about before starting ended up being non-issues. I was worried about not knowing what to major in right away, how I was going to find housing for second year as an out-of-province student, and that the workload would be way too much. These all turned out to not be a problem as students don't declare a major until after first year, there is a lot of decently affordable apartments in the McGill area and everyone has to find housing after first year, so you have people to go apartment searching with, and the workload varied per class and the teaching staff genuinely want their students to succeed.
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.
Before choosing my specific program I wish I had known that it is really easy to see an academic advisor for the BA&Sc program, and it is incredibly useful to do so. I don't know how it works for other faculties as ArtSci is relatively small, but I was able to see an academic advisor within 20 minutes of the drop in time starting. Tania (the ArtSci advisor) was very friendly and knowledgeable and made it really easy for me to figure out my second semester and plan for my degree requirements in the future. I really wish I had seen an advisor even sooner, as I only went a couple days before second semester started. BA&Sc schedules and degree planning can be a little eccentric at best and horribly confusing at worst, and especially as a double major instead of an ArtSci specific degree like Cognitive Science, mine was closer to horribly confusing. I ended up taking Physics, Intro to Linguistics, Ethnography through Film, Calculus, and Russian Language all in one semester in order to meet the first year program requirements. That being said, I got a lot of variety in what the university has to offer in different fields and I felt like my education was more well rounded than a single faculty degree may have been, and I had more opportunity to discover what I enjoyed studying. I also wish I knew literally anything about linear algebra before taking MATH 133, as I was incredibly lost for the first few weeks because the BC high school curriculum teaches you nothing in this field of math. This was especially frustrating as math was my best subject until this class and I ended up with a B+, which is not bad to be honest, but was my worst math grade since middle school.
What was your favourite university experience?
My best experience at university was meeting all sorts of new people. I went to a tiny school and had a grad class of 13 so going to a university with around 35000 students allowed me to find people with a variety of different experiences from all over the world. I was able to find a friend group that I clicked with better than anyone from my high school.
What was your least favourite university experience?
My worst university experience was the first week of exams in the first semester. In my Russian class I had a group project due Monday, and my oral exam on Tuesday which was also my birthday, my linear algebra final was on Thursday, and I had a comp assignment due Friday night. My group project and oral exam went well, but took up time from working on my comp assignment and studying for linear algebra. My linear algebra exam was probably the worst exam I have ever taken and to this day I still don't know how I passed if it wasn't curved, and I only had one day to write my comp assignment. Everything that could've possibly gone wrong went wrong, I didn't have time to debug the last module, I didn't eat or leave my room for 15 hours, and I missed a module while finally submitting the assignment and didn't notice for another week. So that wasn't great...
What is the hardest part about your program and what were the steps that you took to overcome any difficulties?
The most difficult part of my program has been keeping track of everything. With courses that are vastly different from each other and a heavy workload in most of them, you have to schedule all your work in advance, and make sure you stick to the schedule. If I had three midterms in one week, but an essay due the week before, I would assign myself less review questions on the days I was writing the essay, and then do a lot more after it was finished. Also, if one of the midterms was memorization based, psych for example, then I wouldn't work on my vocab for a language class on the same day so I wouldn't get burnt out. Likewise if I had a math or problem solving bases midterm, like physics, then I would do my math WebWork on a different day as well. It was also helpful to notice how I learned most effectively in different subjects. For example, when coding I get in 'the zone' and can code for hours on end without having to take a break, so I would do my comp assignments over a weekend and if possible, not work on anything else so I could just get it done and over with even though we had two weeks to do it. When it came to essays though, I worked better if I did a paragraph a day and worked in smaller chunks, so I would schedule it over a whole week or two up to the deadline.
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 COMP 202 because I learned that I actually really like programming and that computer science might be a good subject for me to study further. I also really enjoyed being able to help my friends who took the course after me, and I feel like I actually learned something with practical applications. I also really liked the prof, Giulia Alberini, so if anyone reading this is looking into McGill comp sci, Giulia is fantastic! It was really encouraging to find a course I was good at and genuinely liked when I wasn't doing as well as I had in high school in other classes in the same semester. I also really enjoyed taking RUSS 210 and 211 (Elementary Russian Language) because I have always been a huge language nerd, hence linguistics and comp sci, and Russian is a really cool language. If anyone is looking to learn a new language in university, Russian is quite difficult but the classes are small and the professors are great so I would highly recommend it!
McGill has a lot of extracurriculars, from intramural sports to dance teams to politics clubs there is a lot to offer. Having a hobby is a really great way to relax from the school stress associated with going to a competitive university, where it often feels like there are high stakes for all coursework. I think it's also important to note that especially at the beginning of the year it can feel like everyone is competing with each other and impostor syndrome can result from that. McGill is one of the best universities in Canada, and everyone here was the top of their class and has APs or IBs or university credits and were involved in clubs or whatever, but ultimately it doesn't really matter. My high school was too small to have AP or IB but I still did fine without them, and past admissions your transcript doesn't matter. Just do your best in university and focus on the future. Don't expect to get the same grades as in high school, but doing well isn't unachievable. On another note, there is a lot of nightlife in Montreal, especially with the campus located right downtown. Lots of people go clubbing mid week and there are some residences with floor parties frequently. Just remember that other people are probably trying to get work done, and you probably have work to do, and alcohol can be expensive, so be courteous to others and prioritize the right things.