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#MyFirstYear in McMaster Life Sciences Gateway

#MyFirstYear at Mac is probably going to be the most memorable year of my post-secondary career (especially with the latter half of my 2nd year and the entirety of my 3rd year being completely online). From listening to bad advice in the beginning of the year to LEAPing out of my comfort zone into a chemistry major at the end, my first 8 months were definitely a big learning experience 😫.

👋 Hi! My name is Chloe, and I’m going into my 4th (second last) year of Chemical Biology Co-op at McMaster. 💜

Here is me in front of our periodic table (with real elements!!) in the Chemistry building - ABB.

Coming out of high school with no goal in sight (except that I potentially had an interest in diseases and pathology), all I knew was that I never wanted to pursue chemistry because I had graduated with the lowest grade in my class that year. Throughout my first year, I joined clubs, talked to upper years and reflected on my first year courses (which included introductory chemistry). By the time it came around to choosing our specializations, I had set my mind on Chemical Biology, aiming to get into the co-op program in the following year. Highschool me would have never thought I could thrive in a subject that previously brought me 2 straight years of pain.

The Life Sciences Gateway program at Mac gives you a lot of freedom - and that means you need to be on top of your game, doing your research on what specializations and what prerequisites you’ll need for the courses you want to take later on ⚡.

📚 Here are the courses that are typically taken by a first year life science student:

*note: just because others take it, doesn’t mean you need to!

There are no required courses for your first year, but you’ll need to account for admission requirements into your second year program, so doing research before your first year about 2nd year requirements will save you lots of stress. Luckily, there is a lot of overlap on the courses they require, so you don’t have to worry about missing out on some!

🧪 CHEM 1A03 - Introductory Chemistry I

  • Try not to fall prey to unwarranted hate surrounding this course (and its administrators). It'll be hard but that's the reality of first year 😕

🧫 BIOLOGY 1A03 - Cellular and Molecular Biology

  • I did not personally have a good time in biology hence why I went into chemistry - but I think the difference between the two really lies in your strengths. Are you good at memorizing🧫 or do you actually need to understand material🧪?

🐒 BIOLOGY 1M03 - Biodiversity, Evolution and Humanity

  • Not my greatest course, but that's probably because the first half made me let my guard down (my year, we had two profs that switched halfway - may still be like that now!)

🧮 MATH 1A03/1LS3 - Calculus For Science I

  • I relied a lot on people around me for this course - make sure you're getting into those class group chats! (I think people use Discord now 👵)

🧲 PHYSICS 1A03/1C03 - Introductory Physics

  • Depending on whether or not you took Grade 12 physics, you're going to take a different course. I walked into this with no physics knowledge, but if you have a good prof or a good study strategy, it'll be a smooth ride! (I had Kari 💙)

🎭 PSYCH 1X03 - Introduction to Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour

  • Everyone loves the psych department - they give us plenty of methods to learn, and it’s interesting material! Just stay on top of your game and don’t fall behind.

Mac has all this information compiled for you - use the academic calendars to do your planning! You can also find everything about choosing your 2nd year specialization here.

👩‍🏫 Here is how I plan my specializations:

(I went overboard by copying down all the courses I would/could take to figure out which ones I particularly liked more. But being really detailed also helped me find any questions I had.)

I would also have my requirements planned out for all 5 years, so I could move courses around depending on their workload and difficulty.

This is where I listed out all the courses I could take - it’s basically my course bank.

This is where I made my course enrollment decisions!


1. Check out the minors and certificates Mac has to offer! It’s an easy way to choose your electives.

I don’t know about you, but my indecisiveness led me into a trap in first year when I took the electives others recommended to me because I had trouble picking them. This past year, when I was looking for more electives to take, I came across the sustainability minor. I just kind of wish I did this research earlier, so I wouldn’t have to rush to qualify for the minor.

2. Take advantage of Personal Interest Courses (PIC)! 😇

Want to take an interesting elective, but you’re worried about it being hard? Make it a personal interest course! The course will be assessed on a Pass/Fail basis, and will still count as an elective or towards a minor. (note that you can use this option after first year)

🚩 Warning: Please do your research if you’re planning to apply to professional schools. Minors also have a limit on the number of PIC courses it will allow. It also needs to be declared within the first weeks of classes, so get planning!

3. It’s easy to bandwagon in such a big program like lifesci - don’t do it 😡

“Bird courses” 🍗

As I revealed in the first point - I heard that ANTHROP 1AA3 would be a bird course (meaning, you can get an easy A). That one course still haunts my GPA to this day 😭, and I’ve stopped taking proclaimed “bird courses” since then. I also realized some courses are much easier for some than others depending on your interests and strengths. Do your own discovery and research, and don’t take courses just to boost your GPA 💥.

Choosing your specialization 🌠

Too many times have I heard about students choosing Biochemistry or PNB (Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour) because that’s what their friends are doing - or that’s what is going to get them that high GPA for med school. Try to disregard what people are doing around you and evaluate your interests and strengths. Who knows? Maybe you’ll do well in Chemistry! 😉

4. Join clubs with people you want to work with 👩‍👩‍👧‍👧

In the past 3 years, I’ve worked with multiple clubs (one being the Asian Federation of Charitable University Students), all with very different ideals and values in work ethic. As someone who likes to stay organized and prepared, there were a lot of instances where I ran into conflicts because my collaborators had opposite values 😥. Obviously, this is difficult to avoid, but I find that working with people who are equally as passionate about our work makes these conflicts much easier to resolve!

You can find clubs in the MSU club directory here.

Here is a picture of our general meeting held at the beginning of the year! Many clubs hold a general meeting once every term, and it’s a great way to learn more about the club and the executive team members. 🥰

5. Libraries don’t have to be the only place you can study 🤓

Our libraries have floors that are known for slacking (ex. the first floor of Mills’ Library is the place where people go to “study” but no one actually does. Personally, I use the first floor to eat lunch and watch KDrama 🤭).

Check out the other buildings on campus - there are so many empty classrooms that go unused! Here are some for you to get started: MDCL (if you can claim an unused lecture hall, that’s ultimate comfort 😎), IAHS (lots of smaller classrooms with big windows - when it isn’t exam season, there’s ALWAYS an empty room).

6. Don’t be afraid to take less than the traditional 5 courses

Science is hard 😫! And sometimes we can do better in certain courses if we just had more time. I went into my second year with only 4 courses in the first term (because I was scared of chemistry). Those 4 courses are my highest marks so far! If you’re like me and you don’t mind studying even in the summer, taking 4 courses in the summer instead of overloading yourself during the school year might help your learning. It also helps you free up more time for a research position or clubs! (Also, taking a full course load during the cold and wet winter is not it 🥶)

7. Consider going on exchange and start planning! 🌍

Before going into my co-op program, I had originally planned to take a term or two to go on exchange. I even took some upper year courses early to free up my later years. Exchange is an opportunity that’s harder to grasp as you get busier with more responsibilities - try to get it in early, so you can experience it! 🛫


There’s a lot of information and responsibilities you have to juggle going into first year, especially into a program where you have so much freedom to make decisions.

Luckily, LEAP has a program that can help you with everything you’re confused about! Check out our coffee chats and get some help planning out your post-secondary path at Mac :)

Otherwise, feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions! I plan my courses in my free time, so I would be more than happy to help 🧐

👩‍🔬 Chloe H.Y. Wu

Chemical Biology Co-op IV @ McMaster University

Marketing Advisor @ LEAP Canada


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