Life Sciences at University of Toronto (St. George)
Ermina (Year 2)
What made you choose this institution over all others? Did the university exceed your expectations?
If you asked me if I wanted to go to UofT two years ago, I would have given you a "No" within seconds. Originally, I was dead set on leaving Toronto and studying Forensic Sciences in a smaller city. Nonetheless, I decided to give UofT a chance. Prior to applying to universities, I went to open houses at the majority of the universities I was planning on applying to. As such, I ended up going to the Fall Open House hosted at UofT, and within seconds I was captivated. I loved the atmosphere and environment of the campus itself, and met plenty of passionate faculty who were ready to answer all of my questions with enthusiasm. I was also lucky enough to participate in a March Break Camp hosted by the Department of Medical Biophysics at UofT and realized that I wanted to be a part of the learning environment at the school.
Like many others, my transition to university ended up being a little rocky. I definitely expected UofT to be a competitive school where achieving top grades would be difficult, so I wasn't exactly shocked when tests in university reminded me of my high school exams. Before entering the university, I imagined that I would be studying all day, every day - which is what I was doing my entire first semester. But as I learned to refine and improve my study techniques, I found myself spending a little more time to myself while also maintaining my grades. Additionally, I did not have extremely strict expectations of the university, which helped me to enjoy navigating my first year of undergrad.
Do you have any lingering thoughts or regrets in your year as a whole (ex; application process, mistakes going into first year). If so, describe them.
My first semester could have gone a lot differently. Being someone who achieved top grades in high school by simply memorizing, I was hit pretty hard by the reality that memorizing simply doesn't cut it in university. The content is more about understanding the content and being able to apply to real life and hypothetical scenarios. I do wish I worked on my study skills a little more in the summer prior to starting university, and early on in my first semester.
Another thing I realized is that although I am in the Life Sciences, I wasn't restricted to only studying within Science. UofT has an option where you can complete your degree in one of three plans: A Specialist, A Double Major, or A Major with two Minors. I was set on pursuing a Biochemistry Specialist when I first enrolled at UofT, in which one of the course requirements was to take PHY131 (first-year Physics). Needless to say, I did not do well in the course and had to seek academic advising. In my appointment with my academic advisor I realized that instead of completing a Specialist, I could instead pursue a double major in two subjects of my choosing. After taking a course in Health Studies as an elective, I decided to switch into a double major: Biochemistry (HBSc) and Health Studies (BA). Long story short, I wish I kept my options open. At UofT you don't need to declare your major until second year, so I could have benefited from exploring my options further.
Briefly describe the academic rigour of your program (in terms of competitiveness, courses, professors, etc.)
Compared to a lot of other programs at other universities, I would argue that Life Sciences is quite competitive. Being the #1 university in Canada, expectations can be high at UofT, and you will find yourself in classes with young scholars from all around the world. Courses in the sciences tend to be very content heavy, while also expecting that you are able to apply certain concepts to a given case study. This might come as a bit of a shock to those who are expected to be tested only on facts or statistics. Majority of my classes took place in large lecture halls filled with 600 to 1200 students, which limits the interaction that the professor can have with the class itself. However, many professors leave time to answer questions either at the beginning, middle, or end of the lecture.
Despite how scary going to UofT might sound, it is very much possible (and common!) to find a community of people who support you in your academic, extracurricular, and personal endeavors. Whether that consists of classmates, students from other years, or even faculty members, you are surrounded by a community that cares about your success.
Describe the social life at your campus based on your own experiences (making friends, clubs + extracurriculars, party culture etc.)
If there's only one piece of advice you gain from me, let it be this: Go to Frosh Week! Some of the people you meet at Frosh might end up being close friends for the rest of your undergraduate experience, or even the rest of your life. Being in a big university like UofT definitely provides the opportunity to meet new people that can have a positive impact on your life forever. My experience with making friends in first year was actually much easier than I thought it would be. Taking classes with people from all cultures, countries, and academic backgrounds opens doors for you to learn new things from your classmates.
UofT has over 600+ clubs at just the St.George campus. If there's anything you're interested in participating, chances are you can find a club for it at UofT. Every September, UofT hosts a Clubs Fair that gives students a chance to explore their interests and potentially get involved in campus. And if there isn't a club for what you're interested in - make your own! You only need one other person to start a club at UofT. Clubs are a great way to meet people with the same interests as yourself, as well as build lasting friendships.
What are some of the best and worst parts of your university experience so far?
My first year was definitely quite the rollercoaster. To be honest, my first semester was absolute hell because I had no sense of direction and continued to use my high school study habits (and also, because I was taking Physics. But that's another story). This did not end well for me by the end of the semester. My grades had dropped significantly, and I wasn't in a good place mentally. Despite all of this, I had an amazing time meeting new people, exploring places on campus, and finding myself in a community of amazing people. These people were the ones who helped me get back on my feet and enter the next semester with a fresh start, in which I performed much better. So, my first year was like a double edged sword - everything positive happened because of a negative experience.
List three effective study techniques and/or habits:
www.ratemyprofessors.com is the best website to figure out how your professor is before you even enter the class. This is a great resource to decide whether you want to switch profs or even switch the course depending on how you feel about it.
Again, GO TO FROSCH WEEK! Whether you're commuting or living in residence, Frosch is an awesome way to meet like minded individuals who will have a lasting impact on your university experience.
Never be afraid to seek help. Contact your registrar if you have any questions, they are there to help you!
List advice for first-year students:
It might seem that everyone else around you has their entire lives together. This can't be farther from the truth. Everyone fights a different battle, whether you see it or not. Try not to compare your situation to your peers - we all have different tolerance levels and different situations going on in our lives.
As a commuter student, I found it helpful to be part of a 'commuter college' that offered resources for people like myself. (For anyone interested in which college this is, I was part of New College!) My college even had 'commuter houses', which work like Hogwarts Houses in that houses can compete against one another in various challenges, and the house with the most points at the end of the school year was the winner. Try to find similar environments that cater to your situation or lifestyle.