Ivy (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.
I wish I knew how crucial time management and structure are. In high school, I didn't practice time management strategies because I had a habit of sleeping very late. My lack of time management skills compounded with the sudden lack of structure in my schedule, and I ended up being very ineffective at studying. I suggest making a daily schedule of some sort to keep some structure and discipline in your studying. A daily schedule was very helpful for me to also schedule in gym time or social time with my friends to unwind during the week.
Talking more generally about universities, the reason why I chose McMaster was because it was a small campus and I wanted to go somewhere with a small-community feel. Additionally, Mac's campus is also surrounded by a lot of nature. Directly next to campus is Cootes Paradise, and just off-campus there are many trails and waterfalls. I loved to hike those trails if I ever got stressed. Although I love Mac and don't at all regret any decisions, something that I wish I considered more is the availability and variety of food on campus. Because Mac is a relatively small campus, it doesn't have many options for on-campus food, and a majority of residences don't have places to get food within them. However, there are food spots right across campus that accept meal plan cards, which I was not aware of in my first year.
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.
I wish I knew how friendly and open people would be. When I was coming into my first year, I had a lot of trouble asking for help or reaching out to others for advice because I had a misconception that the environment in my program would be super competitive and toxic. I quickly learned that to be the farthest from the truth; I would say that one major advantage of this program is the community of people within it. Had I realized this earlier, I would not have been hesitant about asking for help or advice. I would encourage any first-year students to reach out to upper years for help or advice because there are many capable and willing to help.
What was your favourite university experience?
Extracurriculars definitely created some of my most cherished memories in my first year. I was fortunate to find a community in a couple of extracurriculars I am passionate about. For example, as a responder on Mac's emergency first response team (EFRT), I had the opportunity to respond to medical emergencies on campus. Being able to help others in need, and the special bond shared between responders on the team were undoubtedly some of the highlights of my first year.
What was your least favourite university experience?
A lowlight of my experience was one particular week when all my school work and extracurriculars piled up. Because of my lack of time management skills at the time, all the different projects, group assignments, midterms, and extracurricular commitments really caught me off guard. During that week I was constantly stressed and overwhelmed, but I am grateful for that experience because it was what motivated me to start developing time management and prioritization skills.
What is the hardest part about your program and what were the steps that you took to overcome any difficulties?
The hardest part of the program is also the reason why I love it. McMaster Health Sciences has many non-traditional courses, a lot of which involve group work. At the beginning of the year, it was difficult because I was too caught up in panicking about the lack of traditional assessments, and didn't have many positive experiences with group work in high school. Since a couple of our assessments in our cell biology course focused on critical thinking and applying our knowledge to novel problems, I eventually learned that studying to understand is far more effective than studying to remember. I learned how to use active recall to study by asking myself a series of questions to judge my understanding of a certain topic. For group work, I learned that setting group norms and group expectations at the very beginning is very important. This leaves little room for ambiguity and fosters an environment for a positive group dynamic.
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?
Intro to Psychology (PSYCH 1X03 and PSYCH 1XX3) were two of the most interesting courses I took in my first year. The two profs that taught them were both amazing, and I could tell they really loved to teach the course. The courses themselves were structured in a unique way. They were blended courses which meant there were weekly online modules where students would learn a majority of the content, then in-person lectures were devoted to applications of that content in the real world. That combination of content and application really intrigued me because it allowed me to go at my own pace with the modules, and the lectures were always reinforcing the knowledge I learned earlier in the week.
There are generally a couple of key ideas I learned throughout first year, which I will list in no particular order. Join extracurriculars you are truly passionate about — they will give you something to look forward to and will brighten your experience. Study to understand, not only to remember — truly understanding a concept will allow you to apply your knowledge to a novel situation. Develop your own time management system — I personally use Google Calendar and Google Tasks to plan my days. Hope you found these helpful :)