Some background info: I graduated high school in 2012, as a little naive 16-year old who obviously thought she knew what she wanted in life and was going to do what she wanted regardless of what other people said.
Unfortunately that was also the year I fractured my spine and broke my ankle. So the future I had been carving out for the previous 13 years wasn’t really in the cards anymore. This sort of pressure and stress can throw one’s life into a chaotic dance of uncertainty.
Throughout high school we had been indoctrinated with the fact that, unless you obtain a BSc or a BCom or a BEng, you won’t really go anywhere in life, with the long-standing joke that a BA was simply over-preparing you to ask “would you like fries with that?”
So, armed with a lack of experience and a young head on my shoulders, I entered the Faculty of Science in the fall of 2012 and registered for ten courses with the aim of becoming a computer scientist. Don’t get me wrong, I love coding and working with computers.
This very blog right here is a prime example of that. When an HTML code finally works after I’ve successfully located and destroyed the one solitary semi-colon that’s glitching the whole system, I’ve got cause for celebration. But I failed miserably in the academic world of it all.
My very first semester at university was also the first time in my life I had really ‘failed’ at something. Sure, I’ve failed to reach some goals in my past or not done as well as I could have done – but this one was a disaster. Math 180 (or calculus for the idiots who didn’t take Calc 12 in high school, as it was so fondly known) was the first breaking point of my academic science career.
I knew from the get-go of the class that I had no idea what I was doing. It’s funny because all throughout high school, not only had math been my favourite subject but also my best. Excuse the lack of modesty in this statement but I scored a 96% in Math 11.
I spent the first Christmas break home from school in a permanent state of sadness and tears. I had failed the final exam miserably, resulting in a failed standing in the class. After lots of comforting and “it’s just one class” from mum and dad, I returned in the New Year determined to do better.
Well, wouldn’t you know it but I failed two more classes that following semester. I finished my freshman year quite miserably; no longer the bright, excited, little hopeful who through the world was her oyster, but rather a disgruntled and frankly, depressed student.
Naturally, that’s when I started wondering if I was even cut out for uni. Those who know me or read my recent post about my career-ending injuries in the world of dance, know that I never really intended to go to school – it was just a backup plan. My future was on a stage somewhere (ideally Paris or San Francisco, but we’ll never know now).
I lived on campus over my first summer and attempted three classes to make up for the lost credits of first year. After having finally passed differential calculus in my second term, I registered for a summer class in integral calculus. I made the mistake of registering for the engineering version and promptly failed it (with a 26% as my final result).
I was beginning to realize that computer science probably wasn’t for me. However, with my high school mantra still stuck in my head, I entered second year in the same faculty, but with a different focus. I successfully declared a major in Cognitive Systems – a relatively new major focusing on linguistics, psychology, computer science and philosophy – and registered for all the appropriate classes. By the end of first semester, I had my fifth failed course under my belt.
I had some serious thinking to do over that second Christmas break. I decided, perhaps too late, that what had been ingrained in me was not true, and I looked for subjects in the course manual that actually interested me.
Finally, a step in the right direction. I successfully completed my first semester of university with not a single failed class and that second summer, I applied optimistically for a transfer into a BA. My GPA was just below the cut off to be accepted. Although I was upset, to be completely honest I wasn’t even surprised.
What with the infinite number of obstacles I had already faced from UBC, I deflected the stress and frustration that should have come with the bad news. Thankfully, that was the summer I had booked a spontaneous trip to Europe so I presume the excitement of that helped keep my mind off things.
Finally, after three years of stress and serious doubt, along with some hard work and determination, I transferred. So, I suppose the TL;DR is this:
To high school graduates: apply for the faculty you want to be in, not the one you think you have to be in.
To first years: picking a major is not a permanent choice, you can always change.
To second years: get through this year, it is undoubtedly the hardest.
To third years: be sure you’re doing what you really want to be doing.
And to everyone: failure at one thing does not mean failure at all things. I am literal proof of that statement.