Fiona (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 University, I wished I had better time management and a better work ethic. The idea of “working smarter” was a prominent lesson that I have learned throughout my first year in University. During my first couple of months, I had tried to become a “do it all” kind of student, meaning someone who reviewed the lecture slides many times (before and after learning it), reading the textbook, doing all the practice questions, etc. However, I started falling behind due to the overwhelming stress I was feeling from the workload and my inability to manage my time effectively. While I was focused on doing every single question in the textbook, I forgot to leave enough time for assignments, which resulted in me cramming to finish those assignments in a shorter period than planned. Through that experience, I decided to change working habits by cutting out unnecessary work and placing my focus on more important aspects. For example, in one of my courses, there were a ton of readings that needed to be done, however by midterm season, it was clear that none of the reading content were being tested and they were simply assigned as a bonus. Instead of putting all my focus on those readings, I could spend more time socializing with friends and self care. Furthermore, I chose University of Waterloo due to its renown Co-op program, and the amount of opportunities and clubs that are offered.
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 really enjoy my program, due to the amount of topics that we learn. Health Studies is essentially a program that focuses on the main aspects of the Sciences, which includes Biology and Chemistry, but also the different aspects of the health industry and public health. The professors I had were all very enjoyable and made me excited to learn more about the topics. Many of the health courses focused on interesting topics such as the history behind the health care system, the impacts of drugs, the importance of urban planning with regards to its impact on an individual’s health, etc. Furthermore, there are many guest speakers that specialize in different aspects regarding the health care system, are brought in to speak about their experience and the current issues we are facing. For example, the issues that indigenous communities are continuing to face, the impacts of a more sedentary society, the economic issues regarding health care, etc. However, if you prefer to focus more on the biological aspects of health and less on the social aspects, then this program may not be for you. A disadvantage would be that for the first year, many of the courses are chosen for you, so you don’t get as many electives.
What was your favourite university experience?
During my second term, on most days, my classes would finish at about 2 pm and afterwards I would go to the ENV3 building to study. There was a cafe on the first floor that sold smoothies and delicious sandwiches which I would frequently enjoy while I worked. The view was also nice and calming on the 4th floor and it's usually not that busy. I would go with my friends and we would either chat about some random event that occurred that day or we would grind for a test together. :)
What was your least favourite university experience?
My worst university experience would have to be waking up for my 8:30 lectures. I would have to set multiple alarms in the morning and drag myself out of bed. Furthermore, about twice a week, I wouldn't have time to grab something to eat due to my class schedule, so I had to wake up extra early to pack a lunch for the day. Through this experience, I had to find clever solutions to cut my morning routine down (preparing some of my lunch the night before, etc.) and to manage my time effectively.
What is the hardest part about your program and what were the steps that you took to overcome any difficulties?
As mentioned before, I had a weak work ethic and a hard time managing my schedule. To overcome this issue, I would plan a weekly schedule where I included what needed to be done by the end of the week. For example, on Monday I would write the draft for an assignment + review my notes. I also had a monthly white board calendar where I included all my due dates. Once I completed the tasks for, let's say Monday, I would either start on my Tuesday tasks, or (more likely) take the time for myself where I would do some of my hobbies or relax by watching Netflix. At the end of the week I would evaluate my plan and change it according to the results. For example, I usually feel more motivated at the beginning of the week, thus I would have a heavier workload on Monday compared to Friday. I also had club meetings on Wednesday, so I would have a lighter workload on that day. This method really helped with my management skills because I knew exactly what needed to be done. Before I started planning my weeks, whenever I would go to the library, I would be spending quite a lot of time just thinking about what needed to be done and most times I would forget about something important. Overall, I believe that it is important to find a schedule that works best with you and something that you can stick with.
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 so far, would have to be the intro class for Psychology (PSYCH101 w/ Prof McCathy). The course was really informative but a lot of work. Usually, the psych course is split into 2 courses that are taken during term 1 and 2. However since Waterloo offers the co-op program, the course is 1 semester long instead. Thus, the material is ½ in class lecture and ½ textbook readings. The midterms + final exam is pretty split as well, meaning that about 50% of the material would be lecture slides and the other 50% would be textbook material (also depending on your professor). Although the class was rough, the material was very enjoyable, and the textbook was easy to understand. To be specific, the textbook readings were long (each chapter had a part A, B, C, etc.), however the examples given in the textbook really helped clarify the information and helped the reader build a connection between the new material and what they already know. Furthermore, the visual diagrams and tables included were very helpful as well. Professor McCarthy was also a great professor and provided many visual aids, such as videos of famous experiments, and in class demonstrations which really helped with the learning process. Topics that we focused on included, biological aspects such as how a sound wave travels through the ear to our brain, the different parts of the brain, different parts of the ear, etc. Other topics include different psych related experiments, psychological disorders, mental health, etc. Overall, the course was enjoyable, and I highly recommend it (it was also a mandatory course for health studies students).
Overall, I wish you luck! There's still a ton of learning and work I need to do in regards to my time management and work ethics, but I hope my tips were helpful :) Also I highly encourage joining a club that you are passionate about, which would make your university experience even more enjoyable. I personally joined a club that focused on the importance of the environment and sustainable living since that was something I was interested in. Through the club I was able to meet many students that were in the environment faculty and was able to learn a lot and even implement my learning into my daily life. Furthermore, before going to university I had many questions on how students would take their notes in class, and I would say that the majority of students are typing out their notes while the professor is speaking, however there is also a good amount of students (including myself!) who are handwriting their notes on a tablet/ipad (aka digitally!) or simply on paper. I personally prefer writing my notes out, however whenever I would print the lecture slides out on paper, I would either run out of space to write or the diagrams were so small, I had a hard time understanding them. A good compromise was to invest in a device where I could write my notes digitally. The benefits include the unlimited “paper” space and I no longer needed to bring a binder around; I simply needed to bring my device. I needed a new computer for University, so I decided to invest in a Microsoft Surface Book 2, which is essentially a laptop + tablet combination. If anyone is interested in learning more about the device, lmk! Waterloo is a great school and I wish you luck again on your future university journey!