3 More Take-Aways From My First Semester @UofT
And here we go again! After my previous article on the matter, it came to my attention that the ideas I was sharing didn’t entirely reflect my first semester at UofT. I felt as though I was covering up a lot of my early struggles, which will be the main talking point of today’s segment. University is academically rigorous, a steep incline compared to high school. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to most students, but there was an added obstacle this year in that we had to adapt to the ongoing pandemic. As we’re 2 weeks into second semester, I found myself adjusting quite well to the newly integrated academic system, and thus I am better able to prepare for assignments and exams. This is due to my experiences from first semester. They helped me set the bar for what I should expect and for how I should realign myself with those expectations to increase my chances of success. So, without further ado, here are 3 more take-aways from my first semester at UofT.
- Online school sucks (for me anyway). If you’re a proponent for online classes, fair play to you, because I can’t do it. I know that online classes do present themselves with a wide array of benefits. For instance, students are able to watch lecture videos at their own time, at their own pace. There’s no need to rush note-taking and if you’re ever stuck on a concept, you’re able to rewind and rewatch the professor explain. Nonetheless, I would argue that online classes have more setbacks than benefits. Before I begin, I want to preface that I have no reference point of what in-person lectures are actually like (so I’ll base it off of high school experience and what I expected it to be like) and I do acknowledge the fact that there are no other options available. Online classes suck the motivation out of me. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m no longer as bothered by it, but it was a real struggle for me at the beginning of the semester. Being successful in an online environment requires you to be self-disciplined and conscious of the tasks that need to be completed for every class. You have to constantly remember to check your class portals for announcements or to review when the next due date is (or just turn on email notifications like me and get bombarded by 50 emails a day). My biggest fear was forgetting to do a quiz, assignment, join lectures or hand in labs just because it was hard to keep track of due dates and time. It wasn’t easy to interact and form connections with my professors, TAs, or classmates and I was left feeling alone in my journey. Not to mention that learning online gives off a sort of artificiality that disconnects me from the material. I questioned the value of the education I was receiving (this applies to all universities) because I was essentially paying for weekly videos. I didn’t feel as interested and immersed in the content as I’d hope I was. This is especially significant coming from a science program because in-person labs are integral to learning (for both soft skills and course content) and is often the most exciting component of class.
- Sometimes you have to make the first move. This statement can be applied to virtually anything in life, so allow me to be a little more specific. Branching off of online classes, universities offer courses in one of two formats: asynchronous and synchronous. An ‘asynchronous course’ means that course content is taught solely with pre-recorded videos. A ‘synchronous course’ on the other hand, refers to course content being taught live, as well as having some pre-recorded content too. All of my courses fell into the second category. As such, my lectures were all live on zoom. This made for rather interesting moments because many of my professors insisted on creating breakout rooms (on Zoom) for students to work together and discuss/solve problems. The issue with such an arrangement is that just about every student seemed disinterested in having virtual conversations with others (myself included). I mean, I can see the reasoning behind it. Why would you talk to people you don’t know, when you could just go on your phone or work alone unbeknownst to them? Being an introvert, it should’ve been like a dream come true. But, surprisingly, I felt guilty. I was eager to meet new people and I didn’t want to feel like I was wasting my time. I decided to made the effort to introduce myself and get a discussion going. Don’t get me wrong, I gradually stopped trying as hard and I was really only trying like 50% of the time, but I don’t regret any of it. I’m not going to say that I meet long-lasting friends, but got a chance to connect with the peers around me and hear their stories. I was eye-opening to how different my semester could have gone had I not decided to make the first move.
- University employs a questionable marking system. If you’re currently in high school and university is just around the corner, this is the one lesson I want you to take away: don’t stress too much about your marks and don’t let them define you. You will most definitely (like 90% chance) experience a drop in your marks and let me tell you that it may not necessarily be because you’re “dumber” than the year before. University-level content is harder by nature and a lot of it has to do with the fact that class averages are kept in between a range (usually C to B-). Tests questions can get really specific and open-ended/written questions are usually marked quite harshly.
Being exposed to these learning experiences has allowed me to better prepare myself for the second semester. Some of these challenges were unique to this year and I know many students may be more anxious and ever, so I hope this proves to be helpful for those heading to university soon!