Category Archives: Academic

Five Rules for UBC

As I pack my bags to leave campus this week, I think about the past five years at UBC and what I’ve learned.

Inspired by Five Rules for Life, a website that collects different people’s five “rules” or guidelines on how to live a life, I decided to try and sum up my own guidelines for making the most out of your time at UBC.

Everyone’s journey is different and this is not meant to be any kind of exhaustive list or dictum, but these are the principles that I wish I’d known to follow when I first got here. Some of these are principles that worked for me; others are what I wish I’d done. I’d be happy to hear what you think of these guidelines below, and any suggestions for what you think would make for a satisfying, memorable time at UBC.

1) Whenever possible, study a subject that you love.
This is one of the most amazing experiences and privileges that a university education has to offer, so take advantage. Even if you aren’t able to pursue your preferred subject as your major, do your best to at least take an elective that you like — when you enjoy your studies, you are more likely to do better in class, struggle less with the material, and feel more confident about your abilities.

  • Not sure what your options are? Take a look at your faculty’s page on the UBC Calendar and find a full list of degrees conferred.
  • Don’t know what you can do with a specific degree after graduation? Speak to Career Services and check out suggestions for what you can do with your major.

2) Get involved. Find your niche.
UBC is a big campus and it’s easy to feel lost and alone amidst a sea of thousands. Combat the temptation to stick solely to your books (especially for commuter students) and find out about engagement opportunities. Try these out until you find a community of like-minded people you are comfortable around. If you don’t find your niche on the first ten tries, keep trying until you get there.

3) Try one or two new things every year.
Whether it’s taking a class in an unknown subject, a new volunteer opportunity or an original project, make a point of trying to push yourself beyond your comfort zone at least once or twice a year. University is a rare time when you’re at liberty to try different things with little risk of consequence, so make the most of it. Give yourself the chance to have mind-expanding, ‘woah’ moments.

  • A program for your radar in second year and above: Student Directed Seminars (not mentioned in the CSI list).
  • If you can afford it, seriously consider going abroad for a part of your degree, whether for an academic exchange, research, or international service learning. Visit Go Global for travel and funding options.

4) Work, study and play in moderation.
Get work experience before you graduate — this is what counts most when you’re looking for a job. At the same time, don’t burn yourself out: after working almost non-stop for the last five years while a full-time student, I wish I’d given myself more breaks. If I could do it again, I’d either work full-time during the summer and study full-time during school with no part-time work, or worked part-time while at school full-time and taken the entire summer off.

  • The UBC Learning Commons gives good guidance on questions like time management, effective study methods and presentation skills.
  • Find out about co-op opportunities in Arts, Commerce, Engineering, Forestry, Kinesiology and Science at the UBC Co-op website.

5) Be good to yourself.
Your time at UBC will not be all rainbows and sunshine. Hard times happen. When they do, don’t be afraid to reach out and get the support you need, and don’t beat yourself up for it. Fellow Blog Squad member Miriam once wrote a letter to first-years that I think sums up everything I want to say.

  • Do you have concerns about your physical or mental health? A list of resources you can access is available here.
  • AMS Speakeasy is a confidential peer support service where trained student volunteers will listen to your concerns about anything and will point you to both on- and off-campus resources as needed.

To all new and returning students, I really hope you enjoy your time here. I’ve had the great good fortune of being part of the UBC Blog Squad since its inception in 2007 until now. As the Blog Squad moves in new directions and as I move on to the next chapter of my life post-graduation, I hope these last comments function as a useful closure to this blog. It’s been grand.

For those of you wondering what’s next for me: I’m moving off campus this weekend and am wrapping up my contract with the UBC Arts Co-op Program, which ends the first week of September. After that, I’m going to travel Western Europe for a few weeks and may visit Asia again before I come back to Vancouver to hunt for a more long-term job.

And with that — goodbye, good luck and have fun!

Possible minors

Going through papers and files stockpiled over the course of my UBC years, I found these notes on possible minors I considered a few years back. Some of these I’d never heard of until I started researching, so here’s some food for thought to those of you looking for less obvious choices:

  • Anthropology (can emphasise Archaeology)
  • Asian Languages and Culture
  • Canadian Studies
  • Critical Studies in Sexuality
  • Family Studies
  • Health and Society
  • International Relations
  • Migration and Globalization Studies
  • Religion, Literature and the Arts
  • Women’s and Gender Studies

A full list of options for Arts students can be read up through the UBC Calendar. I highly encourage you to take a look at them and consider the different possibilities even before you need to declare your specializations — I didn’t know of half of these minors until I had used a good deal of my electives to do a bunch of language courses and had run out of space and time. With a little earlier planning, I could probably have fit in a minor around the rest of my degree — while I loved the English Honours program, in the last two years I often found myself wishing I’d done a more interdisciplinary minor just to broaden my scope of understanding and to balance out a very specific focus.

How do you defend a thesis?

This post is a call to the kindness of any UBC folk out there willing to talk about their experiences with a thesis defence (especially if you’re an English Honours kid).

What do you do in your defence?

As far as I’ve gathered from my professor, the defence will be 60 minutes. The first 10-15 minutes is my talk about my project, how I got there, what I learned in the process, and topics beyond the thesis itself. Then there are questions for the rest of the period.

So my questions:

  • Does that above timeframe sound right with your experience of your defence?
  • Were you allowed to bring in any notes or cue cards at all? (I’m given to understand this is no Powerpoint presentation.)
  • How did you prepare for your talk? What went the way you expected and what didn’t?
  • What kind of questions did you find most challenging, e.g. was there a lot of theory involved?
  • How long should your answers to questions be?

I realise that for some of these questions, the answers will really differ depending on the person, and every thesis is unique. Still, I would love to hear other people’s experiences. (The English 499 package wasn’t very informative on the oral part.)

Tell me something sweet to get me by

This PhD Comics strip pretty much sums up my experience at the moment (except, y’know, at the undergraduate level). It’s also my latest reward between revising large chunks of my essay.

My brain feels like the mush we used to feed my rabbit when she was sick and couldn’t digest solid foods.

Someone told me if I stop reading other people’s articles, I’ll feel less stupid and inarticulate about my own. This may be true, but my inner nerd is coming out in full force — publications like Cultivating Canada: Reconciliation through the Lens of Cultural Diversity give me hope for the future. It makes for good bedtime reading.

(Also, one of my advisors told me to read it. Academic Life Tip: Listen to your advisors. Especially if they’re on your thesis defence committee.)

And every now and then, I listen to Sam Hart’s ‘Mario Kart Love Song’. It’s the most irrelevant music I could find to keep me going.


Watch this space…

…for The Garden Statuary, Issue 1.2, coming out this Wednesday!

On April 2nd, you can find the new issue on The Garden Statuary website, the English undergraduate journal that publishes not only poetry, prose and English academic essays, but also artwork, photography, film and music.

Come join us at the Launch Party, too! There will be readings from our authors, music, free pizza and $2 libations, so bring photo ID, even if you aren’t planning on drinking. We’ll love to see you there!

TGS Launch Party
Wednesday, April 2nd (5-8 pm)
MASS, Buchanan D