Today is the first day of Reading Week for all of my friends and peers at university. Now that I’m working full-time in the “real world”, this weekend is just another weekend. And that’s okay. While there’s some nostalgia associated with the cadence of academic life, I feel pretty confident that now is my time to apply some of the things I learned at school, about the world and about myself. Over the year, I’ve started to see the results and repercussions of some of the university decisions I made in my four years at Queen’s. I’m particularly proud of some of those decisions, as I can see them paying off both now and in the future. A couple were just a fluke that ended up having more of an impact than I had expected, in a good way. Of course, I’ve made lots of mistakes as well. But if I could go back and do it all over again, these are some of the choices I wouldn’t want to change.
Living away from home
This was one of the first decisions I had to make when it came to university life: where would I apply, and where would I accept? I decided before completing my applications that I wanted to attend a school that was far enough away from home that living on my own made financial, practical sense. At the time, my analysis was fairly shallow – I wanted to get away from my family for a while, and to not have mandated chores, events, or a curfew. Fair enough, I guess. But the real benefits came later on. Living away from home forced me to exercise my self-motivation and self-restraint, especially considering my high personal standards. It also helped me think outside the box when it came to planning a future for myself that didn’t involve living at home once school was done.
Taking computer science courses
I took four computer science courses during my time at university. Each one was an introductory course in a different coding language. So while I didn’t become a proficient programmer, I did benefit in a number of ways from these courses. I became much more comfortable picking up new computer skills, as I’ve practiced a similar learning process four times now. It gave me a better understanding of computer logic, such that I have a grasp on what’s possible and what will be more challenging when it comes to implementing technological change in the workplace. And honestly, it’s a nice thing to have on a resume (though for now, I list them as courses I have taken rather than actual proficiency, since my memory of the syntax from each language is pretty shaky and I’d need a refresher first).
Participating in the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)
For an overview of NaNoWriMo, check out this post.
In my first two month of university, I panicked quite a bit about participating in NaNoWriMo again. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to get good grades and not slack off. But at the same time, I had this feeling that I would be able to handle the extra workload of writing a 50,000-word novel in the month of November, while studying for midterms and working on final assignments. Was I crazy? Maybe. But I found that having more to do during that month made me much more efficient with my time, and I discovered that I actually had a lot more time to work with than I thought I did. I was so convinced of this that I ended up participating in every year of my degree. In fact, I volunteered as the NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison for Kingston in my third and fourth years, which meant I scheduled and attended almost every local event and managed the group forum. And somehow, I didn’t really feel that any of this interfered with my education. Sure, I had a little less time to play The Sims. But did I really need that time in the first place?
Getting a pet
As I’ve mentioned before, I got a hamster named Henry in my third year of university. While hamsters aren’t really that much work, I found that having a living, breathing, fuzzy little being around did wonders for my mental health during stressful times. If you’re interested in my reasons why hamsters make the best university pets, check out this post.
Writing a thesis
By the time I reached fourth year, I had made the decision that pursuing a physics career wasn’t for me. (For more on that, see this post.) But I simply couldn’t fathom completing a degree in physics without writing an honour’s thesis. It just felt like the epitome of physics study – how could I not do it? And while it was a lot of work and totally not required for me to graduate, completing my thesis project was a great experience and gave me a real sense of closure upon graduation. This is one of the university decisions of which I’m most proud. I mean, look at this beauty!
Out of the university decisions I made at Queen’s, these are the ones I would do all over again – and would recommend to anyone else, if they relate to my sentiments.
What choices in your academic experience would you recommend?