The Mentorship Spot
Switching Programs: Business to Science at McGill
This article features Sunjoy Xia, a second year student at McGill University in the Animal Health and Disease program. She switched into it from the Commerce program at the same university and discusses her experiences and perspectives on making such a large transition from business to science.
Can you tell us a little about the program you are in now?
Animal Health and Disease is a specialization within the Life Sciences Major at McGill. This program is in a secondary campus, similar to the University of Toronto Mississauga Campus (UTM) for UofT. It's in a smaller city and all the agricultural programs (ex. environmental sciences) are also in this campus. The campus is surrounded by green spaces and it has its own farm. The work is very hands-on with a lot of field work so that students have the opportunity to work with the animals on the farm, making it much less theoretical than mainstream science programs. As the program is fairly specialized, we have small classes and it is easier to form a tight-knit community. It is supposed to be very compatible for those who wish to pursue veterinary school because it provides lots of practical experiences and also facilitates internships. However, I only switched into this program in the middle of May so I still have a lot to learn about it.
Can you tell us a little bit about the program you were in before and why you initially chose it?
I initially went into McGill for its Commerce program which is part of the Desautels Faculty of Management. One of the main reasons for choosing this specific Commerce program was the location, as I had always wanted to live in Quebec. Also, I was interested in International Business, which this program is good for because it provides the bilingual experience (as a result of the prevalence of both French and English in Quebec) and also the fact that Montreal is the headquarters for a lot of international businesses. Further, the program is very structured, enables networking and introduces beneficial and relevant opportunities to students. I also liked that many of the clubs at McGill have the reputation of being elite student-led activities and the university has policies such as no classes on Fridays to help students dedicate more time to their extracurricular activities. I felt that in general, the program would provide me with an enriching experience that would prepare me well for my future career.
When and why did you decide to switch?
I made the decision to switch pretty quickly last October, it just kind of came to me one morning and I followed through with that instinct later on. For context, the week before I made the decision to switch, we had a job fair week in McGill where representatives from various companies came in so that we could interview with them and talk about internships and other such opportunities. I was talking to a representative from the company Purina and I was saying that I was interested in working with them because I'd always liked animals and if I was going to go into business, I'd want to choose an occupation where I'd be working with animals. I started to look at internships that involve animals but I found that they are pretty rare in Commerce, especially in entry-level positions. This is when I realized that if I'm looking so hard for these kinds of opportunities, why not just go into a career that focuses on animals completely. I figured out that working with animals was my priority, not business, and thus, I made the switch. I realized I did not want to continue in Commerce, researched the process of transferring and that was it.
Can you take us through the process of switching programs? Did you face any difficulties with this process?
I found that with McGill, the main priority lies in grades. So, if your GPA meets the cut-off, then everything else is secondary. Switching programs was pretty similar to how I applied to McGill in high school. There is a certain amount of people who are allowed to transfer in and out and if your GPA is considered high within that group of people, you are allowed to switch. There was also a supplementary application we had to complete. This part was not difficult for me because the minimum GPA to transfer into my program was very low, only 2.7 out of the 4.0 scale, so I did not face any issues. The hard part for me was fulfilling the course requirements because I needed two basic science courses to be eligible to transfer but I had only taken one. I ended up having to take the second general chemistry course without completing the first general chemistry course, something that I personally found extremely challenging. I also had to take a math requirement in winter which is usually taken in the fall and that was mostly a repeat of concepts I had already learnt, making it boring. So, completing the prerequisites was difficult logistically and I had a little trouble catching up but it wasn't impossible and I was able to pull through. I did not find the advisors very helpful and I had to figure out this process on my own which was very stressful, especially as the leap from business to science is very big. Nevertheless, aside from these issues, there weren't any other hindrances that prevented me from switching, so, I'm glad it worked out in the end.
Do you have any advice for students who are thinking of making such a leap?
The way I think about it is that what you study in undergrad sets you up for your future career. Of course this is not set in stone and you may choose to pursue something completely different later on but my policy is if you get into university and you are hesitating and considering switching, you should probably just take the leap and do it because that means you are not happy where you are. You only get one life and undergrad is four years of your life so you don't want to waste it. I think you should do something which will lead you towards a career you want, while also recognizing that university is not the be all and end all. Just do what you think is right and even if it doesn't work out, it's okay because you still have the rest of your life to do something else. Another thing I want to add is if you are thinking of transferring, try to not overthink and do it as soon as possible (preferably before second semester) because most internships open up around the end of first semester and beginning of second semester. Ideally, you want to transfer before then so that you can get internships in the field that you want.
Interviewed and transcribed by Bhargavi Venkataraman
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