Me holding a fluffy little pup during the UC Exam Jam in the JCR.

Lessons learned from my first year in the Life Sigh stream

Did you know: If you take a full course load for all years of undergrad leading up to med school applications, the U of T Faculty of Medicine will drop six half-courses with the lowest grades from your admission GPA?

I took only four courses in my first semester of first year, thereby forever excluding myself from this option. DO YOU UNDERSTAND MY FRUSTRATION. I got a 61 in first year physics and my GPA has never recovered!!!

This is the kind of life-changing information that I wish I'd known when I started first year. 

Back in high school, the general attitude about U of T Life Sci is that it's named the Life Sciences stream ironically, due to the lack of a life you'll possess if you choose to come here. 

Now as a wise and weary fourth-year, I can attest to the fact that this stigma is a little harsh. It's very possible to do well in school, maintain a social life, get involved and yes, even sleep. There were both highlights and lowlights in my first year as a Life Sci student and I'm here to drop some knowledge and spill some truth tea: 

Kermit the Frog sipping a cup of Lipton Tea. This is a lame reference to the Kermit The Frog meme.

  • The transition from high school to university is going to be exciting, difficult and unpredictable no matter what program you're in. Balance is key. Say you’re not doing well in a course. Spending too much time wallowing and trying to improve just that one aspect of your life will mean that you miss out on a lot of other equally important experiences. You feel even worse because now you’re both flunking AND have major FOMO. This in turn only worsens your performance in school. Try not to get caught up in a bubble of helplessness. Having other responsibilities helps distract you from some things while still being productive. And then you can go back and take on your previous struggle with fresh eyes.
Me holding a fluffy little pup during the UC Exam Jam in the JCR.
Exam Jams are always happening on campus. Nothing better than a puppy and some free food to take your mind off the stress of exams. Apparently New College's Exam Jam even got a kangaroo to make a cameo last April??
  • Pay attention in class - it will make studying much easier. This seems obvious but I never realized how much I wasn't paying attention until I started paying attention. Again, devoting attention to something is always easier if you’re actually interested in it. Also do practice/past tests that your prof wrote, if they’re available.
  • If you have transfer credits, use them. I wish I’d used my chem credit so I wouldn't have had to sit through it again in my first year. Make use of the CR/NCR option for electives you might not do as well in. Join a FLC (pronounced flick) to connect with other students in Life Sci. FLCs are like mini study groups where you can collaborate on coursework and learn in a friendly environment. It counts towards your co-curricular record! Research experience is also key; apply for an ROP course or to places externally.
  • Get involved outside your program as well! Whether it’s elective courses, school clubs/organizations or extra-curriculars, explore your other interests too. Doing “other stuff” makes me seem mysterious and well-rounded to those who don't know any better.
An art book I found in the Robarts stacks about Raphael's works. Flipped to a page of a character study, comparing his rough sketch and the final product of one of his paintings.
I like taking art history courses for fun, just because it's an area I also enjoy learning about. Taking courses outside of the sciences really helps to break the monotony of constant lab reports and paper reviews, while also fulfilling your breadth requirements.
  • During first year bio, in a sea of 1000+ students, our prof asked: “Who here wants to get into med school?” A majority of the class raises their hands. Said prof laughs in derision and comments on how only 10% of those who raised their hands will actually get in. A crippling statistic, but still true. Everyone comes in having some vaguely planned and romanticized dream about becoming a doctor. Take the time to research (and as early as possible) the requirements for such a career. It's a long and hard path that will only be harder if you aren’t truly passionate about what you’re studying. Are you willing to put in the effort? The time? Consider other options if your heart isn't in it. You are not a failure if you don’t get in. You are not a failure if you don't want to get in.
A pixelated graphic of Confucius and the words
Discover your true chill. Source:
  • Everyone’s circumstances are going to be different. As our great Canadian icon Drake once said, “KNOW YOURSELF… KNOW YA WORTH.” Only you can figure out what you want and how to get it.
Drake watching a football game projected onto his hotel mirror. Tim Horton's cups litter the counter.
If Drake can simultaneously watch a football game, gaze into the mirror, drink Canadian coffee and make millions on #1 hits, then you can certainly get through U of T Life Sci. Source: Instagram @champagnepapi
  • Try not to stress out prematurely! You'll have fun, do great and grow into yourself during your time here. U of T is your oyster.

A view of Sir Dan's as seen in the fall from a bench in front of Sid Smith. I photoshopped a sparkly oyster wearing a party hat onto the foreground.

What are some of your personal experiences as a Life Sciences student? What are newly accepted students looking forward to the most? Leave me a comment below! 

5 comments on “Lessons learned from my first year in the Life Sigh stream

  1. I cannot possibly explain how helpful this was! Thank you Nancy once again!
    I think you really spoke to the students going to u of t life science this year. I was scared and anxious about uni but reading your post really helped me understand how my experience in uni really depends on me and how I chose to make it. I am a little worried about physics now because i am thinking of taking this course in first year. What do you think was the reason you got those marks and how do you think future students should approach all science courses in order to get good marks. Also what were some of the hardest and easiest courses for you in first year life science.
    Thank you so much!

    1. Hello Qasim,

      I think I didn’t do well in physics because I hadn’t taken it since grade 10 in high school so I’d forgotten most of the material. Plus math/physics has never been my strong suit. I got discouraged halfway through the year and stopped going to class. It is important that you attend class as often as possible, especially for more “math-y” courses where the instructor will need to explain how to approach certain questions. As well, I was still adjusting to the testing environment of a university course.

      Everyone has their own method of approaching science courses. But universally helpful tips are always: 1. Pay attention in class and 2. In the case of areas like chem, math, or physics that require more problem-solving, it is good to *PRACTICE* using homework questions or past tests (if available as per your instructor). The material may seem intimidating at first but it’s not really that bad. Trying to apply the concepts to real-life situations will also help you learn the material and understand it better. You will also have TAs and tutorial sections for many of your classes. You have the opportunity to connect with these TAs and ask about any questions/clarifications for the material.

      Easiest course was PSY100 and hardest was PHY132. I thought psych was easier for me to learn and remember. It is more memorization but also you need to know to apply concepts from the class/book to novel situations. PHY132 was hard for the aforementioned reasons.

      Good luck!


  2. Hi Nancy,
    This july will be my first time enrolling in courses and i am really scared I wont be able to enroll in courses I want to. I am a life science student I have to take CHM, MAT and BIO but I am afraid that the teachers or time I have picked for these courses will be all taken before me. Also if an elective course has 200 something spots will I be able to get it or will it just fill up since life science students will be going to enroll in rosi the last.
    Thank YOU

    1. Hi Wasset,
      The first year life sciences classes are very large. You should not have a problem enrolling in lecture slots. Tutorial and practical time slots may become limited as the enrolment period wears on, but there are multiple times listed for these sections, enough for all students so you WILL get into one. Please be aware that you may not get into the exact PRA or TUT time slot you originally wanted and plan your schedule accordingly.
      You can use CourseFinder to see how many spots there are in each class and section:

      As for electives, you are not guaranteed a spot so again, you *MUST BE PREPARED* with back-up courses to take. On your enrolment day, you may be presented with the option to get on the wait-list for a course but again, this does not guarantee you a spot once school starts. More info about that can be found here:

      Please remember to contact your *COLLEGE REGISTRAR* for course selection. They will be able to help you in full regarding your circumstance.

      Good luck!


  3. How many courses is considered a full course load? 5? or 6?

    Thank you for this post, it was really helpful

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