6 Ways to Make the Best Out of Your University Career (and find your passion along the way)

April 22, 2018, 9:28 p.m.

I accepted my Health Studies undergraduate admissions offer at the University of Waterloo back in 2013. Then, I was just clueless and graduating from high school. Now, I am (arguably) less clueless and graduating with an Bachelors degree. Entering university, I had no idea what I wanted to pursue in my life.

I did have several interests though - health policy analyst? neuro-behavioural research? I knew I was interested in health and taking health-related courses did spark an interest - but I wasn't sure if I wanted to make a career out of it.

Here is a list of things to consider doing to narrow down your academic interests and make the best out of your university career:

1. Prioritize Your Health

Always #1. Eat well and exercise. Remember that your mental well-being is as important as your physical health. Reach out to people you care about. An important thing I learnt is that it is okay to take breaks if you do not feel mentally.

2. Create and Foster Connections

By far the most solid advice I can give you is to not only make, but also foster connections. You can do this by attending events hosted by your faculty, joining a club that you are interested in, talking to professors about their research and befriending peers with the same drive as yourself.

I cannot explain how many career-driving opportunities I would have missed out on if I didn't have the connections I had. Along the way, I also made some amazing friends.

3. Volunteer

At first, my bullet read, "get a part-time job." I changed it because in my first year (having 0 job experience), volunteering at a research lab didn't just get me the experience I needed, but also made me feel humbled and inspired through the people I met and the work they were doing. Volunteering also gives you easy and close access to observing a career you may be interested in.

If you are in the co-op program, pursue jobs that interest you. Or if you do not have the skillset for it, pursue jobs that allows for the most learning opportunity. If you are not in the co-op program, don't let any summers go "empty" - find something to do that aligns with the skills you want to gain.

The second I realized I was interested in programming, I knew my next co-op job had to involve that skill - which drove me to get a position that cultivated and reinforced my interest in programming.

4. Take Courses Outside of Your Program

Throughout my undergrad, I took courses ranging from creative writing to linear algebra - as electives. I did this as another way to further explore my interest in the subject. It's a good thing I did too, because I found that I was extremely interested in computer science after taking an introductory computer science course and continued pursuing it.

5. Have a "Side Project"

"Side project" entails not just programming-related side projects, but also hobbies that will improve your well-being and allow you to grow as a person. Personally, I consider my physical well-being an on-going side project along with reading classic novels that I didn't get a chance to read in high-school. I personally get a lot of fulfillment from my "side projects".

When was the last time you set goals, make time and do things that interested you - even though you didn't have to?

6. Be inspired 

Last and certainly not the least - let yourself feel inspired instead of envy. It is important to never compare your achievements with the achievements of others. Instead, I allow myself to feel inspired that they passionate about the work they are doing and making a difference - something I aspire to do myself. I found myself feeling inspired by my close friends, my professors and just people I see in school doing amazing things, even if it doesn't align with my interest or field. Not only did this mindset improve my mental health, it also kept my motivation and discipline in check.