• The Mentorship Spot

My Experience with McMaster Life Sci (1st Year)

Updated: Jul 30, 2020

Written By Rachel Snelgrove


In this article, I will be talking about my experiences and my opinions based on my three years at McMaster University. I would like to stress that everyone’s experiences are different but I’m hoping that my experiences will be able to help people who are looking to go into the first-year LifeSci gateway at McMaster. If you are interested, please feel free to look at the academic calendar, which details the courses you’ll be taking if you choose this gateway program: https://academiccalendars.romcmaster.ca/preview_program.php?catoid=38&poid=20690&hl=%22life+sciences+I%22&returnto=search


What are the first-year lifesci courses like?


First-year lifesci at McMaster is a gateway program which leads to many second-year and two third-year specializations including but not limited to: Life Sciences, Biology, Chemistry, Biochemistry, Physics, Psychology, Neuroscience, & Behaviour (PNB), Neuroscience, Chemical Biology, and Molecular Biology & Genetics. As such, the courses are quite general and usually have large class sizes. For example, you take introductory biologies, chemistries, physics, psychologies, and maths. These are designed to give you an introduction into the specialization you may want to pick going into second year and provide you with general knowledge that will give you the background and scientific mindset needed to be successful in science. Most people prefer their upper-year courses because they get more specialized and smaller class sizes (I have classes as small as 11 people this semester!). However, having now lived three years of university, I know that the knowledge I learned in first year was important and provided me with a paradigm in which I can integrate the specific information I now learn. All of that is to say, first year will not have your favourite courses but they are important to set you up for the rest of university.


How busy were you in first year?


I think this really depends on a variety of factors. The courses that you take (electives included) will influence this, as well as how you’re adjusting to living on your own and having much more independence in how and when you do your work. I started first year by dropping all of my high school extracurriculars because I wanted to allow myself to see how much time I had before actually committing to too much. I found that I had enough time to commit 8 hours per week to volunteering in second semester, but I know other people that were involved in much less and much more than me as well, all with varying levels of academic success. There are people who volunteer and work 30+ hours per week while still achieving straight-A’s. I find that, as a third year student now, I can commit 25 hours per week to working and still keep my grades at around an A average. I don’t think I would have been ready to do this in first year because of my course load and because I wasn’t very good at time management yet. Rather, in first year, I worked 5–10 hours per week and volunteered for ~8 hours per week in second semester. In second year, I dropped this down to working 5–10 hours per week without any volunteering because I knew my course load would be tougher, and living off campus meant I needed to commit more time to cooking, grocery shopping, and keeping my life outside of academics going well. I think I’ve got a pretty good grasp on how much I can handle now and I try to push myself to do as much as I can without overwhelming myself. It takes time to find where this is for you and you definitely don’t need to stress if you don’t figure it out right away in first year — this can take years and that’s okay.


Will my grades drop? By how much?


Again, this really depends on the person. I think people underestimate how much the change to university life may affect them. It really is a completely different lifestyle when you’re living on your own — both in good and bad ways. You have much more responsibility for your own life and no one is going to tell you how you should do this. For example, if you feel that completing your coursework the night before it’s due or skipping class consistently, only reviewing the night before the midterm is how you work best, you can absolutely do this. Your sleep schedule is entirely up to you and there isn’t the ‘sound curfew’ that there is at most homes — if you want to go to the library or cook at 2am, you’re free to. I found this really freeing and I found I could be more productive because I wasn’t needing to be silent past 10pm, like I do when I’m at home. Instead, I would regularly sleep 3am-10am, giving myself the freedom to do work whenever I pleased. I enjoyed the independence that came along with university, but it can be hard to self-motivate. If you know that you value consistency, you need to actually force yourself to sleep and wake up at the same times every day and find a food and work schedule that works for you, and that can be difficult. Anyway, my grades did not drop too much — my grade 12 average was 94% and my university average after first year was 11.1/12, which roughly translates to high 80’s, or a 3.91 on a 4-point scale. I’m happy with this, even though it isn’t perfect, and I’m really glad that I’ve been involved in the work and extracurriculars that I’ve been involved in. If they’re the reason that I’ve lost ~1 grade point on a 12-point scale, I’m fine with that. If you find your grades drop a lot coming into first year, do not panic — there are lots of resources to help you. At McMaster, we have the Student Success Centre which offers lots of drop-in events to help you succeed (https://studentsuccess.mcmaster.ca/).


I hope these answers have helped with your university decision. If you have further questions, feel free to direct message The Mentorship Spot on Facebook or Instagram and I’ll be happy to answer them!


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