Nov. 4, 2021
First-day advice: Fall Class of 2021 grads on what they know now
If we knew then what we know now, life wouldn’t be nearly as interesting. But, it is fun to sometimes go back in time and think about what we would tell ourselves when we are at the starting point of a new goal.
We asked fall 2021 graduates what advice they would give themselves on their first day of studies. For some, it was their first day in post-secondary education. For others, it was the start of the next degree in their academic career. All of them cast their memory back with a sense of nostalgia and encouragement for future students.
Here’s the advice they would share.
“Check your university email right now and use an online calendar.”
“Don’t be afraid to ask people — students and teachers — for help. Walking around campus for the first time is intimidating; everyone seems plugged in and tuned out. What I’ve found over my years on campus is that people are very happy to help, and even walk with you to your next class. In my senior years, I was delighted to do the same. Tap on a shoulder and ask for directions. My first day of university would not have been so intimidating if I had done that sooner.”
“Roll with the punches and don’t be afraid of the unknowns. There are going to be lots of ups and downs throughout your degree, and lots of uncontrollable and controllable things that happen — and that’s a fundamental and important part of graduate school. Little did I know that these uncertainties are where I learned the most about being able to adapt and problem-solve under pressure and use my experience to educate my peers.
“An example of a learning moment that I will always remember from the early days of my degree was when we were filming youth football for a study quantifying head-contact rates for players. Little did I know that, when the temperature was below -10°C, the camera batteries died quicker than the indicator showed.
"I remember the frantic panic and scrambling at the game’s half-time to find a power outlet, but luckily, we were able to successfully film the rest of the game and made sure an extension cord was brought for the next game. I learned a lot through my graduate degree. Being able to hope for the best, but plan for the worst, is a skill that you can never practise enough.”
“Time moves fast. Although this is my third degree at the University of Calgary, and my second master’s through the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape, my experiences in a thesis-based master’s were completely novel. Pursuing your own research is exciting and provides numerous opportunities to expand your interests, but it also comes with a necessary expectation that your time in it must be carefully managed.
“Remember that you are not the only one feeling the way you do. Many others are starting with you, and you will eventually be each other’s support system. Be kind — to yourself and to others — as you begin this journey.”
“Practically speaking, show up early, so you aren’t in a rush. Pick up a treat that you enjoy, maybe your favourite tea or coffee, and celebrate yourself for making it here today.”
“Don't be afraid to ask for help, whether it's asking a professor for a much-needed extension, or going to a TA (teaching assistant) for help with a difficult assignment or even just asking a classmate for a copy of their notes. Challenging courses and new experiences can become a whole lot less overwhelming when you realize that your teachers and TAs really do want you to succeed.”
“I highly recommend talking to professors directly to learn more about subjects you are interested in. Make sure to also get involved in student organizations and meet new people from a diverse set of backgrounds. That said, ensure you balance these pursuits with maintaining your health and wellness.”
“Be open to new opportunities and invest in experiences. We sometimes enter university with a mindset of already knowing what you want to do and who you want to be, which can come at the expense of seeking out novel experiences. There is no shortage of opportunities to avail yourself of; it’s just a matter of putting yourself out there. Learning is not confined to your classes or the laboratory.”
“I would tell myself to embrace every opportunity and new experience. Reflecting upon my pivot from a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) to a new journey in the field of business, it was easy to feel overwhelmed. However, the Master of Management program invites students with diverse backgrounds, an excellent reminder that problems can be approached in numerous ways.”
“My first day at the university was my second day in Canada and I had a lot of new things to learn from and adapt to. My advice, especially to international students in such situations, is to be very open-minded and develop a public-spirited character.”
“I would tell myself that going through graduate school is like repairing a uterine prolapse in a cow. You will need a lot of patience and you must trust that the outcome will be good, even when it doesn't feel like it. It can be a big struggle. There will be sweat and there may be tears. But just when it really, really seems impossible and you want to give up, everything will fall into place, quite literally, and that feeling makes it all worthwhile.”
“Take your time to adjust, work at your own pace and don't compare yourself to others! Also, keep applying for scholarships; there are many.”