Don’t Panic

Advice from Science Undergraduate Society President Neil Issar

Neil Issar is majoring in Biology with a minor in Anthropology. He is shown here with Martin Grant, Dean of Science. Photo: Owen Egan.

Neil Issar is majoring in Biology with a minor in Anthropology. He is shown here with Martin Grant, Dean of Science. Photo: Owen Egan.

For those entering McGill in September, you will begin walking on a well-traveled road paved with opportunities for learning, insight, and understanding. For those returning to McGill for another year, you know that the road is more akin to rapidly shifting quicksand, filled with impending deadlines, absurdly thick textbooks, and haemorrhage-inducing papers. However, for both new and returning students, I’m going to quote some straightforward words of advice made famous by Douglas Adams: Don’t panic.

Ask any student who has sat in a first year class in Leacock 132 or pushed through the frosh groups on lower field in August. Year in and year out, McGill manages to attract an enormous crowd of students from all across the world. Not only is this crowd one of incomparable diversity, but it will undoubtedly include musical virtuosos, published researchers, athletic prodigies, and academic geniuses. So, how is one supposed to survive, let alone thrive, on the difficult road facing every science student when it is filled with so many extraordinary individuals? Simple. Don’t panic.

Now, I’m not saying that things will be easy or will automatically fall into place. There are definitely going to be nights when you’ll be convinced that the pages of your first-year science textbook are a viable alternative to toilet paper. And there will be days when it seems everyone else around you has a life coming together perfectly while you’re stuck struggling to scrape together the monthly rent. However, after three years of being a science student at McGill, I’ve learned that sometimes you simply need to take a step back and realize that there is an abundance of people and services to help you.

While drowning your exam sorrows with a pitcher-buying spree at Gert’s might be one method of forgetting your problems, you could also turn to the free Peer Tutoring service offered by the Science Undergraduate Society. Or you could talk to a Peer Advisor at the Science Office for Undergraduate Student Advising. You could even sign up for a Freshman Interest Group and have the opportunity to talk one-on-one with professors and upper-year students who have already experienced many of the hurdles you are facing.

Moreover, you’ll come to realize that the academic environment at McGill is not as cutthroat as you may initially think. If anything, the people I have met over the past three years are some of the most helpful and supportive I know. They won’t be the ones you’ll be competing against. Instead, the friends you make will be the ones who help you laugh off social etiquette and ignore the consequences of your actions (at least temporarily). They’ll be the ones who convince you that your financial shortfall isn’t because of money spent at bars and clubs but instead due to inevitable economic trends. And they’ll be the ones who blow away the once-intimidating aura of the crowd you’ll encounter in your first few weeks at McGill.

Soup and Science: Another great way for students to connect.

Soup and Science: Another great way for students to connect.

Overall, the trials you face as a science student at McGill University will test your strengths, uncover your weaknesses, and help you grow into stronger, more valuable members of the community. I think American writer Orison Marden put it best when he said, “Success is not measured by what you accomplish, but by the opposition you have encountered, and the courage with which you have maintained the struggle against overwhelming odds.” So, relax. You know that you have a difficult road ahead of you. But also know that you have a huge array of resources at your disposal. Combined with the amazing people you’ll meet, there’s only one thing you need to keep in mind: Don’t panic.

For more information, check out the following links:

Science Undergraduate Society
Science Office for Undergraduate Student Advising
Freshman Interest Groups

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