How to Survive & Thrive During Your Undergrad
By: Victoria Sa
Queen’s Scientista’s Graduate Student Representative
As you come into another year, or perhaps the first year, of your undergraduate experience, you might appreciate some words of encouragement from a senior Scientista who has walked in your shoes before. In all my years at Queen's leading up to grad school, I have learned a few things (aside from what the textbooks taught me) that I would like to pass on to you.
My first piece of advice, I would argue, is the secret to surviving your undergraduate years and perhaps the rest of your adult life. This golden rule is simple: Remember that your path is your own and not a copy of someone else's. You may have created a recipe in your mind of what it takes to attain your dream life or perhaps the life of someone you look up to. However, the sooner you accept the fact that your journey will inevitability be unique, the easier your life will become. For example, your path may be more convoluted - and that's okay! It might open doors to something completely unexpected, leading you to a career that is more aligned with your idea of what success looks like for you. Avoid comparing yourself to others. Appreciating that we are all unique and that there is no right or better way to get to your goals is the first step towards ensuring a happy and dilemma-free undergrad life.
Hopefully, that gave you a sense of relief and opened your eyes to the fact that you are in the driver's seat, and there are no rules on the road of life. But, if this leaves you feeling lost, then don't worry - I have a solution for you. My next piece of advice will help you find your direction.
Check-in with yourself frequently and make sure that you are always doing something that you feel passionate about, or at the very least, something that will set you up to do something that you feel passionate about in the future. Of course, there will be times when you have to make sacrifices and do things that you don't like, but these things should not outnumber the things that you find true purpose in doing. When trying to make this distinction, weigh the sacrifices that you make against how they affect your overall happiness. Remember that nothing is more valuable than your mental and physical health, and keep in mind the golden rule. Perhaps there is a way to bypass a sacrifice that takes away from your quality of life by deviating from the current path you are on and taking the scenic route towards your goal.
But what if you don't know what your passion is? How do you find it? This can be as simple as trial and error. Try new things. Reframe failures as lessons. Developing this skill will come in handy during job interviews. Seek out opportunities that interest you. Make connections with people you admire. Take advantage of the resources that Queen's has to offer (especially clubs, which are a great way to connect you to your peers and faculty). Understand that passions and opportunities may arise from the most unlikely places, so don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Look for connections between the things you enjoy, no matter how different they may seem. Having a general idea of your passion, even if it is as simple as "working with people" or "discovering new things", is a great way to guide yourself. Another thing to appreciate is that your passion does not have to be your career. You may find more than enough fulfillment in some other aspect of your life, and your job may only be a way to support that.
The take-home message here is to trust that the universe has a plan for all of us. A book that I just read called "20 Something, 20 Everything" taught me to realize that everything in your life leading up to this moment has had an order and flow to it, so why can't that apply to the future as well? This doesn't mean that you can sit back and enjoy the ride the whole time; if you do this, you might lose momentum. Some decisions will be difficult to make and will require more attention, but if you follow these three points of advice, then you will learn in no time when to take command of your life and when to just put it in cruise.
Although this year brings many unprecedented challenges, disappointments and anxieties that none of us know how to deal with, much of this advice still applies. One thing I will echo is the importance of kindness, patience and compassion through this pandemic. If we all do our very best, we can make getting through this a lot easier for everyone.
I won't pretend to know exactly how these next years will go for you. One thing I can guarantee is that they will be what you make them, so be sure to put your best foot forward in everything you do. You will certainly still face challenges, but you will also experience success, learn independence, and have a blast at Queen's University.
Best of luck, and I hope that you enjoy your 2020-2021 academic year!