Human Biology Specialist at University of Toronto (Scarborough)
Brandon (Year 2)
Brandon Yu (YouTube)
What did you wish you knew before going to your university? What made you choose this institution over all others? What are the advantages and disadvantages of your institution or campus? List any advice for incoming first-year students about your university.
Prior to university, I really wish that I had learned the abundance of opportunities that were available at UTSC, and UofT broadly. I say this because my personal view of the undergraduate degree's purpose is to build up your network and exploit opportunities that further determine your future academic/career trajectory. Understanding the availability of opportunities helps you prepare for that more proactively.
UofT has a stigma of being highly cutthroat and competitive, and I did not experience that at UTSC at all. I would argue that everyone is quite collaborative and in the same boat as you — wanting to make friends and get along with everyone. That being said, there is a healthy form of competition, where "UofT opportunities select" for the best (most fitting) students for each opportunity, which helps every individual elevate their game and continue to stay motivated to get better.
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.
At UTSC, the life sciences programs do not have as many options as the larger St. George campus at UofT, not surprisingly. I found myself to take a lot of program-required courses that I would have not considered without being in this program (Specialist in Human Biology), such as evolutionary biology, plants and society, and ecology. I would ideally want to focus on the program topics (which in my case is Human Biology) and have less prerequisite courses so that students would have the ability to pivot and take courses that they are genuinely interested in.
Advice for my program: learn how to study for every course. Take some time to focus on things outside of school (getting into labs/internships, extracurriculars) and don't base your entire identity on your grades. Foster those relationships with your professors and TAs because they are the ones who will ultimately help you out with reference letters and lab positions.
What was your favourite university experience?
My best university experiences always come from meeting new people. I've been able to start iAscend (with people from UTSC/UTSG) and BioDojo (with people from UTSG) — both of which are successful groups having a huge impact in their respective fields.
Being inspired by my friends is something that I actively seek, whether that be academically, through sport or music, or through their character. Being at university and being exposed to such a plethora of people is one of the best environments, in my opinion, to continue developing yourself as a student and as a future professional. Plus, there are lots of opportunities and the freedom to basically grow your craft and build up on various interesting projects of your interest.
What was your least favourite university experience?
COVID shutting everything down. I love being around people and being around my friends at UofT has been really fun — going to the gym together, hanging out after classes, and just vibing with everyone. We would also study together and work on problems that we encountered as a group. Going through a year of online school was tough in the sense that we very much were silo-ed up, with everyone doing their own thing and with limited interactions being done between students.
What is the hardest part about your program and what were the steps that you took to overcome any difficulties?
I would say that the hardest part of my program is definitely balancing academic life (ie. studying) with everything else I want to do outside of school (ie. extracurriculars, socializing, internships, etc). I think this would actually be the common denominator between the majority of students, as you often hear that post-secondary is a "battle against time."
I've been doing a lot of introspection towards that and I believe that there have to be appropriate sacrifices made within each realm. For example, you can't expect to work a full time job and get the same grades as someone without any extracurricular involvement. At the end of the day, it comes down to what you are prioritizing, what you want to get out of your time in undergrad, and what sacrifices you are willing to make.
Additionally, optimizing your schedule and being efficient with everything that you do is one of the best skills a student can develop, in my opinion. If you can do more with less, you'll be able to get a lot more done. I talk about this further on my YouTube channel (Brandon Yu) if you're interested in learning more.
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 in first year was PSYA02 (psychology course) just because of the translatability of the material that was taught, and being able to learn at a macro level of all of the psychological disorders that may take place. This is in contrast with a lot of my other courses which often delve into details taking perspective off of the broader applicability of the content that we learn.
Going to post-secondary is going to be a very critical part of your life. If I had to leave you with some last advice, it would be to stay true to yourself and know your priorities. Like aforementioned above, there are sacrifices that can be appropriately made so that you will better fulfill your priorities whilst in post-secondary. Consistently revisit and revise them so that you will ultimately put your best foot forward at all times. Good luck!