The Mentorship Spot
First Year of Western Med Sci During a Pandemic
By Kushvir Saini
Having finished my first year of Medical Sciences at Western University completely online has been an unforgettable and unique experience. The pandemic had brought many drastic changes globally, and it was definitely one I had neither expected nor prepared for about a year ago. Nonetheless, through all the gloom and despair came a lot of lessons learned which may have otherwise never bloomed, and I hope to share them all.
Transitioning From High School to University
The transition from high school to university was very difficult especially when it was coupled with the pandemic. On top of that, when the first wave of the pandemic hit Ontario, prompting a province-wide lockdown, I and many others were still in high school. For that reason, schools had shut down very early, prompting a swift and choppy transition to online learning in March. Hence, when University began in September 2020, it had been 4 months since we had experienced any rigorous and formal form of school.
Thus, the first week of school completely through me for a loop as I was extremely unprepared. But all this chaos prompted me to develop my organizational and planning skills. Throughout the year and to this day, I continue to experiment with techniques, technology, and apps which helped me organize and manage my time more efficiently.
Another challenge I faced during my first year was figuring out what was the best and efficient way to learn. It took me a while but I realized that the process of learning is very subjective, and one must attempt to experiment with study techniques and strategies to find what works best for them.
It is worth mentioning that the number of resources and support at my disposal were extremely helpful. I would recommend getting upper-year mentors during your first year that are available through programs that most universities provide. A lot of the study strategies and organizational techniques that I experimented with came from talking to my mentors.
Program and Courses
Reflecting on the program and the academic aspect, I do not regret my decision of selecting Medical Sciences as my program of choice. Despite all classes being online, I thoroughly enjoyed learning. It is worth mentioning that there was a large amount of independent self-learning, which meant that you had to be accountable for staying on track. However, there were a lot of opportunities to ask for help from professors and TAs.
Due to the nature of the program, the majority of your courses in first-year are pre-determined; however, you do get to choose between some courses which vary in the content taught and difficulty, as well as an elective each semester. That being said, due to the breadth requirements, it is very common for first-years to take a course that satisfies them.
One of my favorite courses was biology during second semester, which is one of the required courses in first-year. This course especially stood out to me since I had already taken biology during the first semester, which gave me time to adapt and discover my learning style. Because of this, I was able to take the most out of this learning opportunity. Moreover, biology is something I have enjoyed since high school. It is worth mentioning that the professors were great who genuinely cared about the success of their students. On top of that, the lab portion of this course was different from any other courses which relied solely on online learning modules or worksheets. The labs for Biology had us working with groups to tackle a variety of tasks. Lastly, the Biology Mentorship program is a club affiliated with the course, and it was a very helpful resource.
I believe that what makes your university experience and makes you stand out during your educational career are the things you do in addition to school. This is something that I have heard since elementary school, high school, university and even with the adults I interact with outside of school.
COVID-19 made it difficult to get involved with extracurricular activities with the added limitation of accessibility. However, with this hardship came the need to adapt by learning how to network with people online to find opportunities, and seek social media platforms for these opportunities.
It is worth mentioning that there are a variety of clubs offered at Western to choose from whether it be related to your program, sports, or culture; there is something for everyone. Clubs are a good place to get started with an extracurricular and every now or then. These clubs would go through a recruitment phase, providing an opportunity for you to get involved. However, clubs are not the only extracurricular one can participate in. I volunteered at a hospital throughout the year. In addition, one may also decide to work part-time throughout the school year which was something else I did.
However, I would recommend to avoid falling into the trap of pursuing an extracurricular activity exclusively due to extrinsic motifs such as resume padding. Speaking from personal experience, it can get stressful and you do not want to put yourself in an extracurricular position that you do not enjoy. School can get hard so you want to pursue something you enjoy that does not add to your list of chores. Moreover, do not take rejection or failure personally, rather take it as a learning opportunity to improve yourself for your next application and come back stronger - learn how to clap for the success of others and your time will come.
Western University is notorious for its social life but unfortunately, the pandemic placed an abrupt blockade to this aspect, especially as I was online. Nonetheless, the university and students tried their very best to embark on a sense of involvement. This includes hosting game nights, movie nights, etc. On top of that, my friends from high school that went to different universities were also staying at home so I was able to stay in touch with them throughout the year. Nonetheless, this is one of the biggest downsides of the 2020/21 academic year which I hope to redeem in the upcoming year with classes returning in person.
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