So, as the new school year rolls around and students once again fill the campus in a flurry of activity, I’m in a strangely different position. This Tuesday, I finally handed in all the paper work necessary for the completion of my Master’s degree, wrapping up a 6 year stint here at the University of Toronto. I can’t help but feel a little nostalgic already. It’s been quite a learning experience indeed, and I know I’m going to miss it. So, before I leave, let me share with you 6 things I learned in my 6 years here. It took me a while to figure these things out… but you know what they say, better late then never.
Well, better earlier than late! You get to know them now if you read on.
1. Marks don’t matter… for most things. First, let me tell you the things for which marks do matter: grad school, med school, law school & other graduate programs, in addition to some prestigious jobs fresh from graduation (e.g. investment banking and management consulting). Yes, marks matter for the above things. And by matter, I mean, they are part of the evaluation criteria (but certainly not the only evaluation criteria).
So sure, study hard and get good marks. I certainly tried to. Good marks are not going to hurt you. However, if you’re so focused on getting good marks that you’re afraid to do anything else while in school, then you’re definitely hurting yourself. This was what I did for a good part of my undergrad at U of T, and I am very sorry for the lost time.
For just about everything else in the real world after school, your marks are not going to hold any weight. The other skills you pick up while you’re in school are what’s going to help you. There are things you need to learn outside of the classroom. This leads me to my next point.
2. The most important things you learn are usually not taught in class. Classes are great, and through course work and classes, you will certainly learn a lot. But the most important things you’ll need to learn are usually not in the notes on the black board. How to interact in social situations, how to definite and achieve your own goals, how to work in a team, how to communicate a message… these are all essential life skills. The best way to learn them is to engage your environment. Don’t be content to go from classroom to library to your room. Be open and receptive to getting involved in activities outside of classes. Actually, be proactive about it. Go seek them out. Ten years from now, you’re not going to remember what you learned in MAT359, and it’s not going matter. However, the skills you pick up in school will stay with you for life.
3. Always challenge yourself. University is the best place to do it. Step out of your comfort zone. Try something you’ve never tried before and do for kicks. Nothing catastrophic is going to happen if you screw up. Hell, how do you think blogUT started? I just decided to go ahead and do it one day. I didn’t have any “experience” of any sort to speak of, but I am damn glad I went ahead and did it anyway. The sense of accomplishment, the learning opportunities, and the fun I had were all because of that decision.
4. Keep an open mind. You’re likely going to encounter a lot of new things in university. You’ll get the most out of these new experiences if you keep an open mind. Try to understand something, give it a chance and try it out before making a judgment. You’re only limiting yourself if you stick to your prejudices.
5. It’s really about who you know. From professors, to mentors, to friends, who you know is going to greatly shape your future. They are your sources of information and your sources of opportunities. Looking for a job? Well, it’s going to be a lot easier if your professor or your friend has an industry connection and recommends you. You learn from the people you know. Know a friend who’s exceptionally good at managing her time? Talk to her and learn. Know someone who’s very fit and athletic? Ask him to show you around the gym and get you into a workout routine. People are probably the most important resource in your life.
6. Have fun. This sounds simple enough, but to be honest, having fun takes effort. To really have fun, you can’t just veg out in front of the TV or get smashed, puke and then pass out. You’ll need to cultivate your interests, which takes times and effort. You need to plug yourself into what’s happening and keep updated about events. You like films? Well, then you should keep a tab on the film festivals round town and seek out special screenings. Like music? You’ll want to discover new bands and find out when they’re playing live. Fashion, art, food, and culture all require similar investments on your part. Or if you’re like me and your interests cover just about everything… well, good luck! In that case, maybe you should write for blogUT. ????