Life and success in university

A sign board that says successA student perspective on everyday success at UWaterloo

University can be an interesting experience when you first start out. You have more freedom and more responsibilities! You realize that you are at complete liberty to attend or skip class and nobody really tells you that you have to go. This is great fun, but usually after your first round of midterms you realize that going to class, asking questions, and doing assignments is a lot better for your overall health than slacking off.

Before midterms, my friend was losing a bit of motivation. His assignments would be half done, he would skip hard questions, and he wouldn't go to office hours because he thought that as a student in a class of nearly 90, he'd just be wasting the professor's time - especially after he realized that one of his professors was a Harvard grad and another was the chair of some North American pure math association.

To top it off, my friend was the guy in high school who could breeze through class and understand everything with ease. He'd never really had to work hard for his grades let alone ask people for help. Then he hit university. It really was the most difficult thing for him; I'm not sure why. However, after he got some rather appalling grades during his midterms, he sucked up his pride and asked the questions he needed, even if they were from the first week of school. He also started asking friends for help, even though it was something he had never done before.

As any success story should go, he started attending class, doing extra questions out of the textbook for homework, getting assignments done well before they were due, and began regularly going to office hours. The change was immediate. He was happier and more successful (and his hygiene showed improvement too).

One thing he told me is that it really helps when there is a friend to push you in the right direction. Being independent is great, but in university, it really is important to build good friendships that can carry you through troubled times. Mathematics can be a difficult faculty to study in, as math in general is a demanding subject. Friendships are more than just for help. That human interaction keeps you genuinely happy and the people at Waterloo can be really good friends.

Finally, success also lies outside of school. My friend is in the co-op program and was wondering how to get a job in the first co-op term. After all, it is a difficult thing for first-year students, because the spring co-op is most competitive and first years don't have much experience to "wow" their potential employers. Employers will see everyone with good grades, but there has to be something outside of academic success to show personality. My friend’s complaint was pretty legitimate: "I'm already so far behind in my courses, I don't really have time to pursue extracurricular activities!" True enough, but there has to be something you like to do in your spare time, some little project you like to work on.

Halfway through the term we found this site called Project Euler, which is a place with a bunch of computer science questions. You have to make a program to solve the problem. It sounds a bit ridiculous - if you already have a lot of computer science homework, why burden yourself with more? The thing is Project Euler is like a game with a bit of healthy competition. The problems are cool and they really help you learn a computer language well. I know this is going off topic, but this is the part about developing something cool outside of school. We would compete to see how many of the problems we could solve and if the question was particularly tough, we worked on it together.

There is nothing better than the feeling of having worked on your code for some time, refining it to the point of efficiency and then getting it to work right. That feeling of accomplishment, is the feeling of success.

Story submission by Aishwary Gupta, a UWaterloo Math and computer science student.

If you want your success story to be featured, submit your success story (no matter how big or small).

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