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Word on the Y: What do you wish you’d known as an undergrad?

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The undergraduate years are undeniably some of the most exciting—albeit confusing—years for a lot of students. To help students navigate this period of constant learning and discovery, The McGill Tribune reached out to current McGill professors to find out the valuable lessons they took away from their experiences.

McGill Tribune 

Laura Pavelka, Faculty Lecturer, Department of Chemistry

“The undergrad experience is really about learning who you are, what you like, how you learn, and the soft skills acquired along the way. Those are the things that will stay with you for the rest of your life. It’s ok if you don’t know what you want to do yet. As long as you continue to try new things, follow what challenges you, and take on interesting opportunities, a path will emerge. Just listen to yourself first and foremost.” (Western University, Class of 2004)


Penelope Kostopoulos, Department of Psychology

“This is the best time to explore, travel and meet interesting people. Attend lectures outside your classes, participate in committees and go on exchange programs in foreign countries. Introduce yourself to the professors and engage them in your learning. Take advantage of all the opportunities. Never in your life will you be immersed in such an exciting, diverse environment at an age when you are open minded, young. Exchange programs provide a unique opportunity to travel, learn and meet new people across the world. Find mentors that can help guide you. Don't be afraid to approach professors and ask questions.” (University of Patras, Class of 1999)


Oran Magal, Course Lecturer, Department of Philosophy

“One thing I wish I knew: Automatic online backups! This sounds silly, until that one time your computer gets wrecked or stolen. Put all your notes and essays in your DropBox or Google Drive folder and you'll thank yourself later." (Tel Aviv University, Class of 2003)


Michael Hilke, Associate Professor, Department of Physics

“As an undergrad student I took the minimalist approach and thought that many things we learned were useless, but it came to bite me later as a professor, when I realized that I had to learn all these things I thought were useless, except that now I have much less available time than I had as an undergrad. It would have been useful to inquire and learn about the bigger picture of how the different topics we learn are interrelated and where there are used in a modern context.” (University of Geneva, Class of 1990)


Chantal Westgate, Faculty Lecturer, Desautels Faculty of Management

“I wish I had spent more time going out, developing relationships. I was very focused on my studies because at the same time I was studying in a different language than my mother tongue.
I wish I had the time to do more sports. I was a little too unidimensional and very focused on studying.” (Concordia University, Class of 1982)


Frieder Schöck, Associate Professor, Department of Biology

“It would have been nice to know how much time is spent on trying to obtain money to do research—but this wouldn’t have changed my [career] choices. Or maybe that I should have been more proactive as an undergrad about talking to professors and inquiring about research projects.” (University of Erlangen-Nürnberg, University of Edinburgh)


Anthony Francesco Imbrogno, Course Lecturer, Department of Political Science

“Talk to your TAs and your professors! I really wish I had spent the time reaching out to professors about their research. Go [to] their office hours, and talk to them. They are there to have a discussion with you, so don't waste the opportunity.” (University of Calgary, Class of 2006)


Nikolas Provatas, Professor, Department of Physics

“As undergraduate students we often assume that undergraduate studies are about learning specific skills we’ll use in our future careers. While that is partially true, a much more important goal of [undergraduate] education is to teach us how to integrate knowledge to solve new problems we haven’t encountered before. In that sense, I think of [undergraduate] studies as a "mental boot camp” that helps one survive in the real world, where we are often called on to solve problems and make decisions without a solutions manual or someone to guide us. Had I appreciated this when I was an undergrad I would have been better prepared to approach some of the difficulties and frustrations I encountered.” (McGill University, Class of 1988)


Kenneth Ragan, Professor, Department of Physics

“Life more closely resembles a random walk than a well-planned journey. Have goals, but be flexible and opportunistic—serendipity can be one of life's great pleasures.” (University of Alberta, Class of 1980)


Richard G. Donovan, Professor of Practice, Desautels Faculty of Management

“I wish I knew all the opportunities available to me at McGill including courses, clubs and activities. [Also,] I wish that I had interacted with more students from other faculties. The richness of diversity here at McGill is tremendous. I [would have] done an independent studies course to further my depth of knowledge as well as leverage the experience of my professors.” (McGill University, Class of 1988)

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