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Navigating STEM as the First Science Student in Your Family.

Updated: Aug 20, 2020

By: Simran Jawanda

As I was entering university for my first year, I was nervous due to the fact that I was not fully aware of how to navigate post-secondary education. To add on-top of that, being the first person in my family to go to a Canadian university presented additional challenges. I believe that a lot of the time there is a lack of resources and readily-available help for first-generation students entering into university, especially when it comes to finding new opportunities in STEM. 

Now entering into my last year, I have had a lot of unique experiences, and am trying to share the knowledge that I have accumulated with other students who will be entering into STEM, and who may be in a similar place to what I was in. 

To begin, it’s important to address that although challenges will be presented to you throughout your university career, remember that you have worked hard to get to where you currently are, and that you deserve this position. It is also important to know and recognize that university can be difficult at times, but try to approach new challenges with a positive mindset, and do not feel scared to ask for help. Personally, I know that in my first year I did not think that I could approach and ask professors for their help, and oftentimes felt Imposter Syndrome. However, after just finishing my fourth year, I have realized that professors are usually more than happy to help students if they make an active effort to come to office hours, email questions, and ask questions after class. 

It is also important to address that entering into university, you may not have as many individuals in your network that can help provide advice and information regarding STEM-related opportunities. My recommendation to help in this situation is to try networking early on in your university career. Often, universities will hold various career fairs, extracurricular fairs, and information sessions, which I highly recommend checking out. I also recommend checking out school websites as early as possible for opportunities such as research, as applications for research positions with NSERC and DUROP can open up earlier than you may expect. The analogy I like to use with summer opportunities is that objects are closer than they appear, so make sure to start looking for these opportunities in the Fall semester. 

Another piece of advice I would provide to other first-generation students is to enjoy the process of finding yourself more throughout university. For a lot of individuals, myself included, university was an opportunity to branch out and find new activities, make new friends, and to grow as a person. So, I would highly recommend taking new risks, and to reflect on personal growth.

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