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Civil Engineering at University of Toronto (St. George)

Sarah (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. 

Like I always say to the people who asked the same question, the deciding factor for me in choosing UofT is that the school offers a PEY (Professional Experience Year) program for engineering students. Also, it being a university that is well-known for engineering. The PEY program allows the student to take a year off to work in industry, rather than working just for a few months. I think this is a really great opportunity as having an experience in industry for a year may allow the students to be more involved in projects. It is also helpful and advantageous that the university is located downtown, where there are lots of companies/firms to apply at. 

From my first-year experience, the thing that we were always reminded of and the thing that I realized the importance is time-management. So, my advice for the incoming students will be to learn and improve your time-management skills. I am not familiar with what kind of schedules other programs in UofT have but engineering is a program where you have a packed schedule. Having a packed schedule, I was really intimidated. Even told so many times, I was bad with time-management. I found myself with my works piled up and me spending hours and hours with my work (this varies in every person). Luckily, I talked with my advisor and advised me to get help from specialists. There are people in UofT that help students to enhance their time-management skills and find suitable study habits. Therefore, having a good time-management skill is important. Efficiency is also important, time is gold – they say. However, do not force yourself to solve everything, always ask for help and there are lots of people in university that are more than willing to help! Whether your friends, TAs, instructors, professors, academic advisors and more! 

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.

As a first year, all my courses were foundational courses. There was not any course that was just for Civil Engineering only. But what I would try to correct and would’ve wanted to change were comparing what I do not know to what others know and being intimidated to ask questions. Some of my friends already know how to integrate, how to code etc. They learned some topics that I did not learn from high school, that was the time that I wished I also learned those topics and thought that maybe I would not struggle that much. As a result, I felt intimidated to ask questions during class and (sometimes) even during office hours. Reason being is that I feel embarrassed and insecure that the question I will ask is already something that other students know. Being intimidated and hesitant to ask is dangerous, because you are taking away your chance to learn more, to grow. However, this is normal, it won’t be just you to have this problem. Therefore, if you can avoid having this mindset just avoid it! But if you ever find yourself in this situation, it is okay and normal, do not hesitate to ask for help! 😊 Having a growth mindset is a key. 

Civil Engineering might not be the most competitive type of engineering, but it is still a competitive program. However, it is competitive that you compete with yourself and not with other people. Competitive program that also requires teamwork, the disadvantage and advantage of being in engineering. The midterms and exams were the hardest for me, it requires a lot of comprehension and problem-solving skills. It was a goodbye for plug and chug for me and hello to problem dissection and then solve. I really had a huge adjustment from my experience in high school to university. However, you are not alone. You will have friends that will study with you, your professors and instructors that hold office hours to give extra help and your TAs as well. If you are used to working alone in high school that may or may not work in university. So do not try to handle everything by yourself! 😊 

Here's one of the quotes that I like - > “If you get a chance to cast the dice, just do it. Once you do it, you get at least one step forward.” – Suits (Korean Version). I treat that dice as like asking questions or anything that you are given a chance (opportunity), and in university, you are most and always given the chance to ask questions. Do not hesitate to grab that chance, because if you do grab the chance, it is just one step to many things (knowledge) you will gain. Remember, just like what they say – the first step is the hardest. After that first step, everything will (hopefully) get easier. 

What was your favourite university experience? 

My best experience in university will probably be meeting and being surrounded by amazing people in my first year. I am one of the students who came to the university who does not know anyone in the faculty. Some students may have their classmates or schoolmates and that is awesome! However, I also like that everyone was new to me because that gives me a chance to step up and meet new people. My friends become my supporters (as I am to them), my professors/instructors were really good at what they do, the TAs they become your friends as well and advisors were really lovely people! I am lucky to meet and become friends and acquaintances with these people. My university life will not be very meaningful without meeting them! I skated for the first time (ever since I arrived in Canada) with my friends at Nathan Phillips Square, I went to the aquarium (here in Canada) with my friend and had a hot pot for the first time. These were the stuff that you will not want to miss! Having good times and not just stressful times in university. 

What was your least favourite university experience?

My worst experience will probably be finishing the school work just because I need to. It became just a checklist that needed to be done within the deadline. The knowledge that I am supposed to learn from that schoolwork does not remain in my brain because I rushed doing them and did not really understand them fully. This is what I disliked the most, thus my worst experience. Rushing schoolwork and not understanding them fully have drawbacks. It will require you extra time on studying when you will have big assessments like midterms and exams. Therefore, it is important to avoid schoolwork to pile-up.

What is the hardest part about your program and what were the steps that you took to overcome any difficulties?

The hardest part in engineering is the academic aspect of it. As I mentioned before, comprehension and problem-solving skills are important, they are essentials. I will say, what you learn in lectures are the gist of what you should know, and you really must pay attention. It was hard to pay attention and take notes during class. So, multitasking is important. However, I still reread my class notes after, write down what I do not understand, if there is a textbook that can help, I use it and even watch YouTube videos. It is up to you, to check upon yourself if you understand the topic or not. I solve problems as a check if I understood them or not and there were times that I mostly don’t. That’s the time we need to ask for extra help from other people, whether your friends or professors. I also suggest that you do not look at the answer keys given to you because that will not really help. Try and struggle on the question first and then ask for help if still you find yourself staring at it for hours. In that way, you will learn the whys of each step taken, and what will help you for assessments. Make sure that do not wait until the day before the assessment is the time you will try to understand a topic, this may happen, and may or may not help you. These were the things I was told to but still avoidable. Now that I experienced it, I learned my lesson. The key is always trust yourself first and then ask.

My first year will be extra hard without my friends. They are the ones who are the closest to me, they are the people who comfort me and cheer on me. I’ll say, having friends or even just a friend is a need! University life will be extra extra hard if you’re alone. You need friend(s) to be there for each other and make your life in university a ‘life’. 

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 MAT187, it is Calculus 2. To be honest, I also struggled in this course but the way the course was designed and how the instructors lead the course is what I enjoyed and made me like it behind all the stress and struggle. Aside, from what I learned in Calculus 1, I do not know anything else and I was still challenged by the topics I learned in Calculus 1. In my first year, in our tutorial, it was designed as we were in groups to answer a problem set within the 50 minutes time frame of that class. There, 50 minutes felt like 10 minutes (for me). We had to explain thoroughly each step we did and they were not simple problems. It required lots of thinking and most times we do not end on getting the final answers. However, that is okay, because the questions were designed for us to think thoroughly and communicate our knowledge. If you get the answer, that’s great, but if you do not get the answer, it’s all good, as long as you explain everything and even your challenges. That is what I like about this course, they challenge you and cheer on you. The instructors also made the lectures enjoyable, there are lots of interactions with your peers as well. 



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