Monthly Archives: December 2013



Is there any other university that has hundreds of students flock to the beach for a last day of classes polar bear swim? I didn’t think so.

This teeth-chattering event was organized by The Calendar, a social team at UBC that has aimed to shake UBC’s (completely unfounded) reputation as a “commuter school” (read: no-fun school) once and for all. In addition to the LDOC Polar Bear Swim, the student-run group organized a UBC Pay It Forward initiative during finals to encourage students to do good deeds for one other and keep spirits up throughout exams. The Calendar was also responsible for UBC’s epic Harlem Shake video last year, which, if I do say so myself, was the best one put out by a Canadian university. (Not that it’s a contest. But if it were, we’d be winning).

This video is living (well, if you consider YouTube to be living) proof that school spirit is alive and well at UBC. (Smart kids know how to have fun, too!) Find out more about The Calendar’s creator, Rob Morton here, as he has just been recognized as one of the Student Leadership Conference’s Faces of Today – proof that this initiative has made a lasting impact on campus community at UBC.

Should I spend summer in Vancouver?

Around this time last year, I made a pretty huge decision: I was going to stay in Vancouver for the summer.

If I visit Kits Beach and don’t Instagram, did it really happen? 

This decision was partially influenced by my experience the previous summer back home. The summer after my first year at UBC, like most first year students, I headed back to my home in Ontario. While it was nice to enjoy all the comforts of home, it was hardly the summer of my dreams. I was working in a lab in downtown Toronto, and commuted an hour and a half to work every day from my home in the suburbs. I would go to work from 9 to 5, then head home where I would usually just head to the gym, eat dinner, maybe watch a TV show, and go to bed.

On the weekends, I often went out with my friends from high school or other summer students in the lab. It was nice to see my friends from high school, but I felt like I was missing out on all the amazing things happening in Vancouver. I found myself missing the mountains, the ocean, and the Vancouver lifestyle. I also hated the humidity and sweltering temperatures of the city.

So the next year, around winter break, I decided to remain in Vancouver for the summer. It ended up being a great decision, and I had

Step 1: Find yo’ crib.

There are a few housing options for you during the summer. First, you need to decide if you want to live on campus or off campus.

If you are looking to live on campus, you have a couple of options. The first is summer housing in Fairview Crescent. You can apply for summer staythrough if you are currently a resident in a UBC SHHS winter session residence (Totem Park, Place Vanier, Walter Gage, Rits, MD 5). The application opens closer to the end of second term. If you would like to live in residence in the fall as well, it might be a good idea to look into year-round housing. It is usually easier to get these residences than the winter session housing. The year-round residences at UBC are Marine Drive, Fraser Hall, Thunderbird, and Ponderosa Commons.

If you are looking to live off campus during the summer, a lot of students choose to sublet their apartments for four months while they return home. The most common neighbourhoods are Kitsilano, Dunbar, and Point Grey. Keep your eyes open for sublet postings on Kijiji, AMS RentsLine, and Craigslist starting around March.

Summer digs at Fraser Hall. Bonsai not included.

I ended up getting year-round housing in Fraser Hall over the summer, although looking back I wish I had gotten a place off-campus. Vancouver in the summer is absolutely amazing, and I personally did not enjoy living with 5 other roommates. The decision is up to you, though!

Step 2: Get a Job

This isn’t completely necessary if you grow money trees in your backyard or are a hotel heiress, but generally to pay for your accommodation over the summer, you are going to need some form of employment.

Start doing your research early – over the winter break, if possible – since a lot of labs, camps, and other common summer employers make their decisions very early on. If you are planning on doing part-time studies over the summer, a really great option for jobs is the UBC Work Study Work Learn program. I had a Work Learn job over the summer at the Child and Family Research Institute at BC Children’s Hospital, working in a UBC Medical Genetics lab. Granted, the job was mostly washing glassware and restocking pipettes, but I showed initiative and got to work on an additional project. These jobs come out around April on the Careers website.

Step 3: Make some friends

Vancouver has a ton of fun things to do in the summer, but you’ll get really lonely really fast if you don’t find some people to do them with. Things can be a little quieter around campus during the summer, and you can end up spending a lot more time alone than you’re used to. Be proactive – be  sure to find out who’s going to be around for the summer so you know to call them when you want to go out!

One thing that was really useful was The Calendar’s “In Vancouver for the Summer” Facebook group – they organized a bunch of UBC club nights and concerts around the city throughout the summer so there was always something to do on the weekends.

Step 4: Go exploring!

One thing that I loved about being in Vancouver for the summer was the opportunity to explore. Since I didn’t have school taking up all of my time, I had a little bit more time to do the more time-consuming things I couldn’t during the year. Among the highlights were:

  • Hiking the Eagle Bluffs at Cypress Mountain and gorgeous trails in the Washington Rockies
  • Road tripping to Sasquatch Music Festival in Washington
  • Taking the ferry to Vancouver Island for the first time to visit Victoria
  • Staying in a vintage trailer in Portland, Oregon

Mountaintop lake at Cypress Mountain

In my happy place at The Gorge Ampitheatre

Portland: the land of no tax, Voodoo Doughnuts, and homemade pinwheels.

If you love the outdoors and are looking for a group of people to join you on adventures, I suggest joining the Varsity Outdoor Club (VOC). They organize trips almost every week during the summer to some really cool places!

So that’s my guide to staying in Vancouver for the summer. Minor hardships aside, I had a really amazing 4 months here and was really happy with my decision to stay. Hopefully this helps you make up your mind!

A note to med school hopefuls

This is a little off-topic from my typical blog posts, so bear with me.

Earlier this week, there was an article in the Toronto Star about a 27-year old Toronto woman who was stabbed 16 times in her home in St. Kitts and Nevis, a small two-island nation in the Carribean. When she was taken to the hospital, she was bandaged up, and then placed in a crowded room with eight other patients and no air conditioning. The doctors were unable to do a CT scan or an MRI, as they did not have one in the hospital, but assured her that her wounds were superficial. This proved not to be the case when she returned to Canada and had a stroke. She had been almost killed, having suffered an injury to her carotid artery.

The irony of this story? She was a month into her education at a St. Kitts and Nevis medical school.

The Medical University of the Americas is a for-profit medical school aimed at training North American doctors who couldn’t get into schools back home. This is not an uncommon phenomenon – in fact, I know quite a few people from my high school who have opted to go to schools like this one. And it is easy to see why.

As a student in the life sciences I am surrounded by wannabe doctors—and the fact of the matter is it’s a tough path to follow. The competition is stiff, the MCAT is brutal, and a lot of worthy people do not get in. After receiving a rejection letter, many are eager to try again in another country where the requirements aren’t quite as rigid. However, this story shows that this is not a decision to be taken lightly.

If you are a medical hopeful at UBC, or any other Canadian university, I urge you to really think through your decision to get educated in another country. If you really want to be a doctor, you want to go somewhere you can get a solid education, access to excellent healthcare resources, and receive all the training necessary to be a well-qualified physician. You do not want to be trained at a money-grabbing school whose goal is not to make good doctors, but to make good money – much less in a country that has sparse medical resources.

Also, if you are jetting off to another country for medical school, do not expect yourself to be able to come back for residency. I know quite a few people who have gone abroad to study medicine since they were unable to get accepted to Canadian medical schools – this is actually an increasing trend among Canadian students. There are currently thousands of Canadians studying medicine abroad, and there is even a medical school in Scotland that is exclusively aimed at training Canadian students (for a $250,000 price tag). According to the Canadian Residency Matching Service (CaRMS), 90% of Canadians studying abroad hope to return to Canada. This is just not possible considering only 10% of residency spots are available to internationally trained doctors. So if you are going to get an international medicine degree, be prepared to practice there as well.

However, if you have a true dream to be a doctor, I am not saying that you should not pursue it. By all means, follow your dreams, but be sure to do your research and think critically about the future while you are doing so. As the famous psychologist Alfred Adler said, “Follow your heart, but take your brain with you”.

Integrated Science: the choose-your-own-adventure science degree

When I was looking into schools, I immediately fell in love with UBC. I loved the campus, the proximity to Vancouver, the community that existed within it, and all the opportunities it afforded. It was my dream school, and I wanted nothing more than to move to Vancouver and start studying science.

Unfortunately, they did not have the degree program I wanted.

The human body has always fascinated me, both on a large and molecular scale, so I decided that I wanted to study life sciences at university. I applied to a lot of Life Science or Biomedical programs at other universities, mainly in Ontario, and was accepted to all of them. However, the closest thing UBC had to a Life Sciences degree was the Physiology program, which is notoriously competitive and only accepts a handful of people each year. The Biology and Microbiology programs appealed to me a little, but they seemed to cover a lot of areas that did not really interest me, like plant biology and microbial ecology.

It began to feel like UBC was not the right fit. As I browsed through the UBC Vancouver Academic Calendar, I felt my panic mounting. I thought that I would never be able to study what I wanted to at my dream school.

But then I stumbled upon the Integrated Sciences program. 

Integrated Sciences is an interdisciplinary science degree that allows you to essentially build your own academic program. You pick two or three scientific areas of specialization that would not be offered together in a traditional degree program. Then, with the help of their academic guidelines, you pick and choose the third- and fourth-year courses you want to take within each discipline. All you need to do is design your own program and, with the help of a faculty mentor, write an application stating why those two disciplines should be studied together and how studying them will help you reach your academic goals.

This sounded perfect for me, as I had far-ranging interests within life sciences. Knowing that a flexible program like this existed, I went to UBC confident that I would be able to study anything I wanted.

I completed my first year of general sciences at UBC. Then, the summer after my first year, I applied for science specializations through the Faculty of Science online application. I indicated Integrated Sciences as my first choice, and was accepted shortly after. The process was not complete though: I had until the end of my third year to finish my application and get officially accepted into the program.

The application process was lengthy, albeit fairly simple. I emailed a few professors that had indicated they were open to accepted IntSci students to mentor, and received a response from a genetics professor in the Department of Medical Genetics. With his guidance, I worked on my application over the course of my second year, trying to structure my program and pick which courses I wanted to study.

I changed my mind a few times throughout the application process. Originally I was planning to integrate psychology and genetics, but after I fell in love with MICB 202: Medical Microbiology and Immunology in my second year, I decided to study immunology and genetics instead. I also decided close to the end of second year that I wanted to do an Honours degree, which would require a research project and additional credits in each of my disciplines.

I submitted my application to the IntSci reviewers, and received it back with some comments on areas I could improve. After making those revisions, I submitted it again, and was accepted officially into the program by the first week of my third year.

I really enjoy the Integrated Sciences program, as it allows me to be both generalized and specialized at the same time. I am able to study two different areas of science, which gives me a general understanding of how the two work together, but I also get to be specialized, taking only the classes that are meaningful to me and that will help further my understanding of the genetics of disease.

Now, in my third year, I have begun my first real year of my Integrated Science curriculum, and I absolutely love it. My carefully chosen courses overlap with each other perfectly, and it is very easy to see the connections between my different classes. I feel as though I am getting a well-rounded education that is perfectly aligned with my interests, and I could not be happier with my decision to come to UBC.

If you are a science student who is unsure about what to study, or who has interests that cross discipline boundaries within the sciences, I encourage you to look into the Integrated Sciences program. Aside from accepting my offer to UBC, it was the best academic decision I ever made.

For more information about the Integrated Science program, see the IntSci program website or the UBC Academic Calendar.

Unpopular opinion: why I love exams

Here’s one more reason to appreciate finals.

This may seem a little counterintuitive, but I find exams to be the most relaxing time of the year.

I can almost hear university students spluttering in disbelief. How could I possibly think that the weeks of the year characterized by sleepless nights, gallons upon gallons of coffee, and frantic cramming are relaxing? Hear me out, people.

My rationale behind this is twofold. First off, I finally have enough time to dedicate to really mastering concepts. One of the biggest challenges I encounter with my academics is simply not having enough hours in the day to truly understand and appreciate everything in my courses. I simply rush from one week to the next, trying to get things done. For the most part, I end up doing pretty well, but I don’t really have time to organize my thoughts and develop my own ideas about what I have been learning in the classroom. With exams, since I am nose-deep in textbooks from sun up to sundown, I get to really drill concepts into my head and learn things thoroughly.

Secondly, I love the freedom that comes with exams. During the rest of the year I am frantically trying to juggle everything that I have going on, balancing my extracurricular commitments with classes, projects, quizzes, and a social life, but during exams all of that is put on hold. My calendar is blissfully blank, and I can spend my study breaks doing things I enjoy. I have a ready-made excuse to say no to any unwanted engagements or commitments that might come up (“Sorry, I can’t – exams!”) and instead, I get to made use of what little free time I have by watching Orange is the New Black, baking cookies with my boyfriend, or adventuring around Vancouver.

For example, this morning, I got up for an early morning breakfast with some fellow Vanier Residence Advisors. We left at 7:30 AM, just as the sun was starting to rise over Point Grey. We ate a delicious meal at Sophie’s Cosmic Cafe on W 4th as the sun rose, watching the first Vancouver snowfall through the window. By 10 AM, I was back on campus, snuggled up in a coffee shop ready to get down to studying. It was a short break from the books, but one that re-energized me and will keep me going for the rest of the day.


I am telling you this to show that as stressful as the end of term can be, finals season does not have to be all doom and gloom. As with everything else in life, it’s just a matter of perspective.

How to organize your life

Another term at UBC has come and gone, and finals season is once again upon us. As with every new school year, this one has brought a lot of changes, both personally and academically. I have been taking on more challenging classes, balancing more extracurricular responsibilities, and developing new habits. This year, I feel as though I have finally figured out an organization scheme that works for me. I have begun to harness the power of technology to help me get stuff done, and it has resulted in one of my most productive and stress-free years yet. So now I’m going to share some of my favourite productivity iPhone apps in the hope that you will be able to become more productive, healthy, and happy throughout final season and the new year.

Wunderlist: If you love to-do lists but are tired of constantly misplacing your handwritten Post-it notes everywhere, this is the app for you. It is a simple, easy-to-use app that allows you to keep a master list of everything you need to do. For each task, you can set a deadline and even add alarms to remind you to get it done. You also have the ability to break down larger items into subtasks – so you can break down “Study biology” into items like “Review September 21 lecture” and “Read chapter 12”. It also has multiple lists, so you can have separate to-do lists for each aspect of your life. I have Personal, Academics, RezLife, REC, etc. as my lists. It is a seriously amazing, and I have gotten a bunch of my friends hooked on it as well.

Grades 2: Have you ever found yourself attempting to calculate what you need to get on the final in order to end up with a certain mark in the course? I know I have, and in doing so realized that I have completely lost my math ability since first year (just kidding, I never had math ability to begin with). Luckily, Grades 2 does all the dirty work for you. All you need to do is input the different syllabus items and their weights, set a target grade, and update your marks throughout the year. Sure, it’s a little disheartening to see that you need 104% on your English final to achieve your target grade, but overall this app acts as a helpful and efficient way to keep track of your marks.


It’s Focus Time: The Pomodoro method is my preferred way of getting work done – essentially you work in 25-minute chunks, broken up by 5-minute breaks. This app is forever running in the background of my exam study sessions, and really helps me buckle down and concentrate. The key is to ignore all distractions when you are in work mode – I like to have a pen and paper nearby so I can jot down things I want to do during my breaks. Also, if you don’t feel like shelling out the 99 cents, you can still use the online version for free.


Dropbox: Dropbox is one of the best online storage tools there is. I have all of my school documents on here so I can access them no matter where I am – no more emailing documents to yourself before you leave home! I also download lecture notes and organize them into folders, so I have access to them even if Connect is down, and access them from my phone if I choose to leave my laptop at home. It also has a bunch of sharing capabilities so you can send your lecture notes to your friends no problem.

Google Calendar: While not strictly an “app”, Google Calendar is one of the best tools I have started to use within the past year. I am not exaggerating when I say it has straight up revolutionized my life. I used to have a huge problem with writing down an appointment, meeting or engagement somewhere and then completely forgetting about it by the time the day rolled around. That problem has disappeared now that I have my gCal synced up to my phone and can see what I have planned for the day no matter where I am.


Do you have any organizational tools you swear by? Share them in the comments!