New Year, Old Me, with Determination and a Card Tower…

With a new year comes a new semester, and the time for some serious reflection.

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Me having an existential crisis, a daily routine

All of the laziness and relaxing after the hectic first semester really got me to zone in on my strengths and my weaknesses. I had slacked so much that it felt like I was walking through a fog, or that there was fuzz in my brain. It made even simple tasks like basic math or simply paying attention incredibly difficult because I couldn’t bring myself to do anything.

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Ah, Mob, I relate to you so hard.

There’s only so lazy you can be before you’re just tired of being lazy. Because of my restlessness, I was able to kick myself in the butt and force myself to self-reflect. First things first: I needed to determine whether my marks were where I wanted to be, and to figure out how to give my final semester the push it needed for me to succeed so I don’t end up drifting like I did in first semester.

My biggest resolution? ORGANIZATION.

Getting lab reports done earlier, sleeping earlier, doing quizzes as soon as I can, putting a date on my notes, using my highlighter more often, you name it, I never did it in first semester. As a result, though my marks were alright, it felt like I was failing every single course.

This semester, I have a million extra things in addition to all of my school work. I have 2 jobs, a possible position in a laboratory, debate league stuff, and a new assignment/reading-heavy course. All of this will force me to become more organized in order to stay on top of my game.

That being said, here are my plans to kick my own butt and get into gear:

  1. START WORK EARLIER!

    • If any of you have lab reports too, just…do me and yourself a favour and start them early. You will save your health, sleep, and sanity.
  2. Review math notes and do problem sets dutifully every week

  3. Redo chemistry lecture problems

  4. Use my break time wisely

Other (more fun) resolutions worth mentioning:

  • Catch up on Gintama

    • This series is like 300 episodes long, and I’m only on episode 143…still got a long way to go.
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If you guys haven’t seen it yet, try it! It’s the silliest, weirdest humour you’ll ever encounter…ever.

  • Start a new anime series

    • You can never watch too much anime! Mob Psycho 100 was an amazing, amazing run and I want more like that.
    • (If you have suggestions, please comment with them!)
  • Draw more

    • A sweet friend of mine gave me a lovely sketchbook for Christmas, which I cherish now. Because of her small encouragement, I’m trying my best to get back on my drawing!
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My first drawing in my new sketchbook (which, of course, was a homage to Mob Psycho 100)

  • Be healthier overall (exercise, eating better, etc.)

    • All of the stress and studying during exams back in first semester destroyed my health because I stopped eating properly.
    • I barely exercised and basically sat around all day reading over my notes.
    • Now, I’m going to stretch more, use the stairs, incorporate more greens in my diet, and take small steps to a healthier lifestyle!
  • Build a card tower using every card I own:

    • During the break, I got into the hobby of making the tallest card tower I could using my UNO, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and regular cards. It started getting really intense, and now I’m trying my best to use all the cards at my disposal (although at this point, the card tower gets too heavy and just falls…hopefully I can find my way around that!
    • Here’s my little snap run showing my progress over the break (I’m sure my friends started to get sick of them, hahaha):

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Got any resolutions? Or are you thinking about just going with the flow? Share in the comments below!

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“Learning to Fail” Story 1: Perseverance

I’ll begin this multi-part journey with a simple story about rejection and perseverance.


As I said in the introductory piece to this series, I was a perfectionist and overachiever who beat herself up over even the smallest failures, like a single red X amidst my hundred green check marks. Obviously, this mindset is never good if one wants to improve, but I wasn’t interesting in improving. I just wanted everything to be perfect.

Of course, life has a way of taking your biggest fears and shoving them down your throat, and that’s exactly what it did to me.

One of the biggest experiences that changed this destructive mindset of mine was my experience in research, participating in the Sanofi Biogenius Canada Competition in grade 12.

This was a competition in which high school students designed and executed real world research projects with mentors from universities and hospitals. I had a project, but without a mentor I couldn’t enter the competition. So, I had to suck in my gut, stand tall, and email hundreds of professors begging to let me into their lab.

After a few days of constant researching, emailing, and telephoning, my email sent folder looked like this. LITERALLY THIS WASN’T EVEN ALL OF IT:

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Over the course of a month, I had sent hundreds and hundreds of emails and painfully waited for the responses to pour in.

After 1 week: nothing.
The second week: nothing.
The third week, some emails trickled in. Excited and filled with hope (chanting the mantra “I definitely got it, they totally loved my proposal, that was so easy), I clicked on them.All of these emails were filled with the same disheartening responses:

“Unfortunately, my lab isn’t taking any undergrads at this time.”
“Unfortunately, this isn’t my area of expertise.”
“Unfortunately, we do not have the materials you need.”

The weeks passed. Literally every single email I received had the same harsh rejection.

This went on for a while. The moment an email would start with the short preview “Unfort–” I would immediately put my phone down and re-evaluate whether I wanted to do this at all. There was even one moment where a professor had completely destroyed my proposal. This was his response to my proposal:

“Let me first say that the last thing I would want to do is to discourage someone interested in science…but there are several issues with your proposal.  First, although cancer is a really important issue, and I would never dismiss its importance and even though I am not a cancer specialist, I am pretty sure that the statement that “the incidences of cancers have been rising steadily in North America” is false.  …More important is the implied hypothesis of your proposal…”

He then proceeded to comment on every sentence of my proposal in one massive paragraph, then wrote at the end:

“As much as I hate to discourage people interested in doing research, and I have had one high school student do research in my lab, there are several reasons why I will have to decline this request.”

Well then. I was completely discouraged after this.

But no! Out of all the emails I sent, there was NO WAY I would let one silly email destroy my goals. This was a respectable competition with thousands of dollars in prizes, and I wasn’t about to let a few rejections get in the way of that. In fact, I forced myself to take the step I hated the most, the step I didn’t want to do at all, the step that I was sure would crush my flimsy pride:

I emailed him a thank you letter and accepted the criticism.

Of course, it crushed my soul. I wrote that email feeling worse than I did before, but even so, I began to feel my shattered ego start piecing itself together again.

It was okay. People get rejections all the time, and yet they’ve been able to pick themselves up and move on. Why couldn’t I?

Then a few days and some more emails later, a sliver of hope, peeking out from behind the mass of rejections. An email titled with words that made my heart beat a little faster:

“Interested in your proposal.”

This was someone who had complimented my advances, expressed interest in my research proposal, and asked to set up an interview.

And so I learned an incredibly important lesson about perseverance: if it had not been for those 999 failures, I would never have gotten that single position at the St. Michael’s lab.

Stay tuned for part 3: HONESTY.

“Learning to Fail”: How An Odd Paradox Can Help You Succeed

Failure is a hard concept to swallow.

Back in early high school, I used to be a high 90s student. I was at the top of the class, was close friends with my teachers, made honour roll every year, and lived the good life. I was that kid that went, “Oh, another 100? Meh, whatever,” and tossed it on the ever-growing pile of high marks. People looked to me for help with schoolwork, and I loved giving it. Needless to say, when you’re in that position, you feel like you can conquer anything.

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I FEEL INVINCIBLE!

When a person in a situation like mine finally hits a roadblock, it’s tough. Your ego takes a couple of hits, your self-esteem turns down a few notches, your future looks a little dimmer and it’s really, really, really tough to recover.

That feeling of failure…is a hard one to describe. Your stomach is churning, your eyes get blurry, your chest tightens a bit, and you begin an endless mantra of “I could have done better, I could have gotten a 90, if only I hadn’t slept so late, if only I wasn’t so stupid, if only…!

What’s sad to me is that people think this is a normal attitude towards failure. “Of course it’s natural!” one person might argue. “With an attitude like that, you’ll be able to improve your weaknesses.”

“How else will you be motivated to study?” another person might say. “If you’re not driven to correct your failures, you’ll never study.”

All legitimate arguments, but there’s a bit of a problem: endurance.

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These attitudes, these opinions, this widespread idea that you’re just not good enough or that you’re lazy or unintelligent…these things prevent you from being able to overcome the next challenge. These thoughts cloud your vision so your eyes are set not on a potential solution to your problem, but instead on attacking yourself. How can someone with this mindset survive the obstacles that will inevitably happen in university?

When one approaches failure with fear in their chest, they can be likened to a branch being shaken by strong winds. With every storm it endures, the branch bends and cracks, until it eventually breaks off. This is the branch’s breaking point.

When one approaches failure with courage in their heart, they can be likened to a worker’s hands being scratched by heavy blocks. With every block the worker lifts, the hands become wounded and then are given time to heal, until the hand forms callouses. This is endurance.

When you learn how to fail, you’re able to conquer bigger, tougher, scarier obstacles …and succeed. You’re able to appreciate yourself and your talents and can gauge your weaknesses without the cloud of self-doubt.

It took a long time for me to learn how to fail properly. Countless experiences with this scary “F-word” forced me to come to terms with it. I’ll be sharing these stories with you in order to help you understand the importance of learning how to fail.

Each story will have a motif, a trait that will help you build your tolerance to failure.

The first part will touch on PERSEVERANCE. Stay tuned!

 

“I’m spending too much!” Apparently, not.

“Should I get a steeped tea at Tim’s? Maybe a latte at Second Cup? Oh, but Starbucks has their new drinks out, too, and Chatime just opened up! What to buy?”

A tiny voice at the back of my head: “How about nothing? You’ve already spent too much.”

And thus is the plight of all students with a handy-dandy debit card.

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LITERALLY.

It’s nice to treat yourself sometimes. I live by the philosophy that you should always treat yourself after a really bad day, or after submitting a large project, or after getting a good mark on your midterm. Appropriate times. Not too much, though, so you still get the joy from the “treat”.

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Oh Tim’s steeped tea, you mean the world to me.

BIG PROBLEM: I always feel like I’m spending too much.

I’ve been in tough financial situations when I was younger, and still currently am. The tight spending of the family budget and the rare luxuries we got, taught me the importance of saving and I still carry this mindset to this day. I monitor my finances all the time and still consider any item of clothing above $20 tremendously expensive. I have the Flipp price-match app on my phone, head to the store’s clearance section first, and make sure not to buy more than two drinks (coffee, tea, smoothie, etc) a week.

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I always thought this behaviour was reasonable and normal. Apparently, according to family and friends, it’s not.

Whether you’re in a financial situation or not, most students are divided between two mindsets: the “I spend too little” and the “I spend too much”.

The “I spend too little” crew usually owns a credit card and loves to treat their friends. They’re not exactly sure of how much they’re spending but they know it’s probably below their monthly limit, so they tend to splurge a lot. These students might treat themselves too much.

The “I spend too much” crew usually owns a debit card and is the cheapest person in the group. They keep tight track of their spending, like glancing at their account after purchasing a coffee, and tend to withdraw from buying things they actually need. These students might treat themselves too little.

Before school started, I was complaining to my brother about all of the things I would have to buy: new clothes (I came from a uniform school and hadn’t updated my wardrobe in four years), a laptop, textbooks, and school supplies being some of the many things on my list. He promptly asked me how much would be left in my debit card when I was done, and when I responded, he looked at me sideways and said:

“Are you kidding me? You have money. You need these things. Why are you so worried about spending?”

Then he laughs and says,

“You honestly need to spend MORE.”

And to be honest, I’d never thought of it that way. Isn’t it weird to tell someone to keep spending? Don’t you normally tell people to stop spending? Is that weird?

Apparently it was, because my mom and a few of my friends gave me the same answer. It was only until he told me this that I realized something:

I was the “I spend too much”.

Not the “reasonable spender”. Not the “adult who has their finances down to a point”. Not the “role-model budget-er”. Because of my previous experience with low finances in my family, I was conditioned to believe spending any money at all was bad, and this made me — to be frank — the cheapest person in the group. It also made me stop myself from buying things I needed, and made me feel like I was in a much worse financial position than I actually was.

I’m blessed enough to have a debit card, two jobs that pay well, a paid-off tuition, and low-burden financial payments. I know many people aren’t lucky enough to be in this position and struggle to make ends meet. I know now that I’m in a better position than I think I am.

Slowly, I’m learning to spend money on things I need and the occasional luxuries. I’ve been trying to adopt the modest “why not?” mindset that will make my university experience a little more comfortable.

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Eyeing that chocolate bar? Eh, why not?

So the next time you leave class craving a Sparkling Green Tea Lemonade from Second Cup or a Taro Milk Bubble Tea from Chatime, and you know you’ve been working hard or have had a bad day, whip out your wallet and spend a little. My rule of thumb is no more than once or twice a week!

It’s the sweet little things that make the world a little nicer. Indulge and enjoy.

 

 

“Is _____ a Bird Course?” Part 3: How to Pick the Right Course

In the previous article, we discussed the potential harms of labeling something as a bird course. Now that I’ve scared you all away from any course that sounds remotely easy, I am going to provide you with the answer to the next burning question in your mind:

“How do I pick the right course?”

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Remember: despite all of the ranting, it is important to make sure you’re not burdening yourself with too many courses. I struggled with this a lot and am suffering from the million assignments I constantly have to do, but thanks to my fifth lighter credit, it isn’t as bad as it could be. There needs to be a balance.

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind when choosing any course at all is RESEARCH AND EVALUATION. What’s it about? How many credits? What is the average usually like? Does it look like something you’re interested in? Is the course load going to benefit you, or work against you?

For example, let’s say you’re taking three sciences. An assignment heavy course such as education studies may look easy, but it won’t compliment your three lab reports well. In this case, it would be best to go with a course that is lecture-only.

What if you have lots of tests and quizzes, but not a lot of work during the week? Taking something like sociology might make your life a little more stressful since you’ll have lots of tests and readings to do. You might want to give yourself a few projects to work on by taking an assignment-only course, which frees your study time up for studying the lectures that matter.

It’s also beneficial to consider the credit/no credit option UTM offers. Simply put, if it’s a distribution requirement only (as in, you don’t need it for your program), you can give it a credit/no credit which means you only need to pass the course to fulfill it, and it doesn’t add up to your cGPA. That way, you can focus your energy on courses you need to enter your program.

Check out the link for more info: http://www.artsci.utoronto.ca/current/forms-services/crncr

TLDR? Quick Guidelines

Debating about a course? Here’s how to make the most informed decision:

  1. Have I fulfilled all of my main program requirements?
    • YES: Give it a try!
    • NO: Rethink it.
  2. Do I need it to fulfill a distribution requirement?
    • YES: Give it a try!
    • NO: Rethink it.
  3. Am I interested/passionate in this course?
    • YES: Give it a try!
    • NO: Rethink it.
  4. Will this course lower my burden/make my university experience more comfortable?
    • YES: Give it a try!
    • NO: Rethink it.
  5. Will it benefit me in any way? (Skills, perspectives, opinions, etc)?
    • YES: Give it a try!
    • NO: Rethink it.

The more YES you answered, the better!

Making an informed choice is difficult, but with the right guidance you’ll be able to pick the right course for you. “Bird courses” don’t have to be harmful; they can prove to be a wonderful asset, if you choose them the right way.

But perhaps the most important lesson from this entire article, if anything, comes in the form of the following reminder:

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AN EASY COURSE.

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“Is _____ a Bird Course?” Part 2: How ‘Easy Courses’ May Be Hurting You

“It’s just a silly course. How exactly can it hurt me?”

In the previous article, we discussed what exactly bird courses were, and I opened you up to the idea that calling a course a “bird course” is not as easy as one may believe. I hinted to the fact that there are many subtleties and assumptions that come with generalizing something as a bird course.

In this article, we’ll discuss what you’ve probably been wondering the moment you say my controversial title and probably thought it was ridiculous: HOW EXACTLY IS IT HARMFUL?

Labeling something as a bird course can be harmful in a number of ways:

It Devalues the Subject

Let’s say you’re a science student. You’re looking for a “bird course” so you can raise your GPA. What do you tackle first? Astronomy, Art, Philosophy? Something interesting that you’re passionate about? Or do you nose-dive for sociology, which you know is just readings you can handle the day before the test?

Satisfied, you enroll in the course and eagerly await your first week of classes. You meet up with a few students outside of the classroom; they seem nice, so you engage in some small talk with them.

“What program are you in?” you ask them, excited to learn more about your classmates.

“Oh, I’m planning to major in sociology,” one boy beams.”I’m really good at it, and I’m excited to see what this course is gonna be like.”

Another classmate nods. “And I’m doing criminology,” she says proudly. “I’ve always loved forensics. How about you?”

“Who, me?” you say, chuckling. “Oh, I’m in life sciences/chemical and physical sciences/computer science. The courses in that program are hard, so I’m just taking this to boost my GPA.” You shrug. “I mean, it’s gotta be an easy course, right? You don’t have to do anything and you can get an A.”

BAM. How do you think that made the sociology and criminology majors feel?

To be honest, your reaction (and my reaction) is most likely:

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Like, who really cares what other people think? My courses are my business, and my choices don’t affect anyone.

Only the problem here isn’t that they hurt individuals, it’s that it spreads the stereotype of the social sciences and humanities being supposedly easy. Taking the course is NOT harmful; it’s when you look down on courses and treat them as less valuable than other courses that true harm occurs.

I’ve spoken to many sociology students (as I am taking sociology as well) who have told me:

“Wow, you’re taking physics? You must be so smart! I’m just doing criminology because I’m not that smart.”

And this makes my heart break. No! Sociology and criminology and forensics all require a certain set of skills, perspectives, and techniques that science students may not have! It’s just as valuable as any “hard course” can be. Everyone in every course is talented and intelligent in their own ways, and shouldn’t feel like what they’re learning is less valuable, interesting, or challenging than any other course.

This goes for the arts as well. Try to get an engineer to write awe-inspiring lyrics or paint a breath-taking landscape. You may find one, but it will be incredibly, incredibly difficult.

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Can a scientist recreate Leonid Afremov’s beautiful artwork? If it wasn’t for artists, we wouldn’t have pieces like these to motivate and inspire us.

All courses are valuable, even if they’re labelled as “bird courses”. Remember that the people teaching it have spent almost their entire lives working up in the course, mastering the techniques, and learning the information so they can contribute to the field and teach you what you need to know. They’re masters of their field and have fought every challenge to get there. If it were that easy, there would be no need for such high qualifications. Remember that.

You Underestimate the Work Load

You’re an English student, and you desperately need a science credit to fulfill your distribution requirements. Astronomy looks cool, and you want to take it, but it also looks hard…so how about biology? I mean, biology is just a bunch of textbook memorization, right? And the tests are multiple choice, so the answers will be right there. It was your easiest course in high school, where you got a 92% without trying too hard. Sure, maybe you’ll get an 80% in university instead, but that’s still an A, so that’s okay. All you have to do is do the readings, make some notes, and you’re good to go. Right?

…Right?

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Assuming a course is easy from the beginning can make you slack off before it begins. The most harmful thing I’ve seen, especially in physics (who would’ve known?) is that students skip the lectures because they assume that doing the bare minimum at home using the textbook is enough to pass the course…to which I refer to the above meme.

You’re turned off of learning before you even enter the course. You’re coming in with this mindset that you’re not planning to learn anything, only to grab a high mark and get out of there. You read and you write and you study not for the purpose of gaining any benefits from the course, but to boost your grade, and so you don’t try to learn anything from the course because you don’t expect to learn anything.

I know this because I’ve been in the same position and suffered greatly. I piggy-backed off of my previous successes and assumed I could get by with the bare minimum. Leaving the first biology and calculus midterms, I felt confident despite having barely done any homework or studying. As a result, my marks were much, much lower than I expected, and this made me upset.

The question is, why was I upset?

Why was I upset, when I hadn’t done the work required to be upset about a bad mark, when i hadn’t tried my best? Why was I expecting anything higher than a 70%? What had I done to make me expect something like that?

…Was it because I had preconceived notions that the course would be an easy one?

And so I learned two lessons:

  1. Preconceived assumptions can heavily affect academic performance
  2. Regardless of what a course is labelled as, hard work and effort are the only things that guarantee a good mark

This goes for all courses. You should ALWAYS expect to put in hard work. There is no such thing as an easy A.

You Harm Your Friends

Ever dragged a friend into a course you thought was easy, only to have you get the A and them suffer with an F?

And ever convinced everyone on the group chat to take anthropology or biology or accounting because “they’re just so easy!”, only to have everyone complaining about how hard the course is?

What you’re doing by spreading the notion of ‘bird courses’ is assuming that everyone has the same strengths, weaknesses, perspectives, background, and interests as you. You’re failing to consider other student perspectives and you’re viewing the course as simply a collection of information that can be consumed in a certain way, when in reality it’s a delicate combination that requires a certain skill set.

Instead of convincing everyone to take a supposedly easy course that you’ve never taken before (remember: a sibling’s rumours and an upper year’s advice may not always apply to you), it’s best to let others make their own informed choices and do their own research.


Now that I’ve raved and ranted for a while, it’s time to give you all a break and let you contemplate these things for a bit.

Curious to know how you can choose the right course? Check out part 3!

“Is _____ a Bird Course?” Part 1: What Exactly Is a Bird Course?

“I need to raise my GPA. Is ______ a bird course?”

Ever heard yourself or your friends uttering these words? Perhaps you’ve made a Facebook post, or even commented on one with some suggestions.

It’s understandable to want to lower the course load burdening your shoulders by taking a simpler course. I’m definitely taking advantage of this. In fact, someone even recommended it to me.

And then, I heard this statement:

“You just need to get into your program.”

While I understood what they meant, those words irked me to no end. I understood the truth behind them, and it was probably valuable advice, but there was something in me that just wouldn’t accept the implications behind the statement.

It’s likely because in high school, I saw university as this institution that highly respects learning, that holds experience and growth and challenge on a pedestal. I thought I would finally be able to escape the high school mindset of “grades are all that matter” and “take the easy path to an A”. Hearing those words smashed this image and made me feel as if I’d been propelled back to this high school mindset.

But back to the problem at hand: what exactly IS a bird course? Is it biology related? Do you learn how to fly?

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Labelled as such because you can supposedly “fly through the course” with minimal effort, they’re sought out for distribution requirements, raising GPAs, and lightening course loads. At first glance, bird courses have all sorts of benefits and draw backs that immediately come to mind:

BENEFITS/PROS

  • You might get an A
  • You might be able to skip the lectures
  • Studying last minute might be enough to pass
  • The lectures might be easy and understandable
  • The textbook is cheaper

DRAWBACKS/CONS

  • You might get bored easily
  • It might turn out to be really hard
  • It might not have tests, but tons of assignments that are actually harder
  • You might be wasting your money (each course is expensive, remember?)
  • Many bird courses may make you look directionless

As you can tell, the amount of “might” in those sentences prove how much of an educated guess one tries to take when picking a bird course.

But enough about that. Here comes the important question that everyone wants answered:

What courses are bird courses?

I’ve noticed that it’s typically the social science and humanities courses that get labelled as such. Here are some examples I’ve gotten from Facebook (some might be from previous years):

  • Sociology
  • Anthropology
  • BIO152
  • Video Game Design
  • Creative Writing
  • Communication Technology
  • Education Studies
  • Religion
  • MAT133 (no trigonometry)
  • Planet Earth
  • Astronomy

After reading this list, ask yourself this question: were there any courses you scoffed at, giggled, shook your head, disagreed? Did you ever mumble to yourself, “Hah, she put that down? Pfft, that course was so hard!” Was there anything that stood out to you?

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Now I’m making you think, eh?

As a fellow student put it:

“Everyone says a certain course is brutal and it’s not…[and] a bird course can be a snake when u try it.”

In other words: the course that gets labelled as “super hard, avoid at all costs!” might turn out to be one of your strengths (for me, this is physics), and a course that people tell you is “super easy, a GPA booster!” might turn out to be your lowest average (for me, this is biology).

Now that I’ve got you thinking, I’ll let you steam over that idea for a little while…

But not too long-if you’d like to know how a bird course can be harmful, check out part 2!