From Zero to Science Hero

Ever wonder what it’s like to complete an undergraduate degree at McGill’s Faculty of Science? Here’s your chance to find out from an insider’s perspective. Follow our student bloggers in From Zero to Science Hero, as they work towards Bachelor of Science degrees.

We begin with Alex Timofeev, who is kicking off a three-year program in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences.

Alex Timofeev

Alex Timofeev

Crunch Time Comes Before You Get To McGill

Some struggle with it, some leave it to chance, while others put it off for another time—yet every student faces this important decision at some point or another. What decision am I talking about? Deciding on a program, a major, a career, and ultimately what you will be doing in the future.

As many students finish their first few weeks at McGill, myself included, I can’t help but consider that the most difficult decision of my university life has been made. This is how it worked for me.

For the longest time, I had no real idea what I was going to do in university. I was always interested in science, so I followed the science path when it was presented to me and ended up going into Honours Science at CEGEP John Abbott College. Up to that point I was unconcerned about my future and had not really thought about what I was going to do.

One of the great aspects of my John Abbott program was a weekly, 90-minute session for first-year students where students, professors and others spoke to us about their experiences in different fields. I found out about engineering, physics, the life sciences and other areas. This experience taught me that if you are interested in a field, contact the University department, professor, or student in the program and find out about it.

One of the people I listened to was a former John Abbott student now studying geology at McGill. I found his presentation interesting, but I did not really think much about it afterwards. I had never really considered taking geology. In fact, for most of my CEGEP career, I was interested in becoming an actuary (a mathematician who uses statistics for finance). However, after careful consideration and some research I decided that it was not the career for me. Also, like many students, I was looking at large and well-known programs like engineering, medicine, biology, and so on.

A few months later I got in contact with a student from the Earth and Planetary Sciences department at McGill and learned a great deal about what was offered: small class sizes, interesting trips, even cookies every day! I got to see the department first-hand on a field trip. I discovered that even though McGill’s was a small program, it had everything I wanted. It just took a bit of time to find out about it. Discovering McGill’s Earth and Planetary Sciences department was a huge relief for me.

Now that I am finally at McGill I am almost certain that I chose the program for me. But I found out about the program almost by accident—and in retrospect, I probably should have thought about it a bit earlier than at crunch time.

At the end of the day, however, everyone’s situation is unique. Some people know what they want to do from a very early age, but from personal experience I would say that most students have a hard time figuring out what they want to do. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, many people choose to do something completely different later on in life, but there are many different possibilities that you can try out and I would encourage students to take a peek at programs that they have not looked at or considered.

You might find something you are interested in learning about (gasp!), and that could mean the difference between having an amazing and just an OK time at McGill.

Alexander Timofeev, currently in his U1 year in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, began his scholastic life at an international school in Sendai, Japan. Following a half-year at a Toronto middle school, Alex moved to Montreal, where he attended Kuper Academy and earned awards in two science fairs and graduated as the valedictorian of the 2007 class. Alex then entered the Honours Science program at CEGEP John Abbott College, made the Dean’s List twice, and graduated in 2009. He is presently one of four Faculty of Science recipients of a Suncor Energy Emerging Leaders Awards Program scholarship.

4 responses to “From Zero to Science Hero”

  1. Undecided says:

    Man, I’m happy for you that you found something you liked. My problem is that everything seems intersting but the only way I can really find out is by doing the program. I can’t decide between mathematics, physics, engineering, and atmospheric and oceanic sciences. Sure I’ve taken some 200 level science courses but There’s a huge difference between Calc 1 and Algebraic Topology. How am I supposed to know if I have the aptitude for advanced maths? I’m half way through U1 and I am still undecided..

  2. Victor Chisholm says:

    Dear Undecided,

    Choosing your program isn’t always easy, especially when there are so many things that interest you! Here are some suggestions that might help.

    Departmental advisors (in Math, Physics, etc.) may be able to help you better understand whether their programs/departments suit you.

    Faculty advisors (in SOUSA, the Science Office for Undergraduate Student Advising) can help you work through what your options are. For example, you may be able to choose your courses in a way that allows you to switch majors later; you may want to look into the flexibility of the liberal program to combine more than one program; with the traditional majors and honours programs, you may want to consider adding a minor. Our B.Sc. programs do leave you a lot of options.

    These are just a few ideas to start thinking about, but please consider meeting with a real advisor.

    Victor Chisholm
    Blog Moderator; Undergraduate Research Officer

  3. Undecided says:

    Although it is true that I haven’t seen an advisor yet, I have carefully looked at the requirements of each program carefully and took the courses that are common to the most of them, but I change my mind so often that it has kind of screwed me over. I just want to know, is it relatively easy to go from being a math major undergrad to doing a masters in an experimental science or even engineering?

  4. Victor Chisholm says:

    Remember that you can combine a minor with a major – one of these in math and the other in one of the “experimental” sciences that interests you, for example.

    How does a major in one program (with or without additional minors) prepare you for graduate studies in another related program? The best place to ask that question would be the graduate schools where you intend on applying, but (undergraduate) faculty advisors should also be able to help.

    Victor Chisholm
    Blog Moderator; Undergraduate Research Officer

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