Look Before You Leap – Advanced Courses

In Grade 12, I took what my friend Claire coined as “the impossible semester”, which included university level Chemistry, Physics and Calculus-and-vectors. I thought, hey – if I survived that, I should be able to do the same in university – and I did. But not in the most conventional way. I started first year in PHY151, MAT157 and CHM151 – the most demanding first-year Physics, Math and Chemistry courses available at U of T.

Math

girl writing on blackboard in lecture hall
My friend Niranjani and I working on our first MAT157 problem set late at night

There are many math courses you can take depending on degree-requirements. Even if you only need MAT135/136 (more computational), no one will stop you from taking MAT157 (more abstract). I stayed in MAT157 for two months too long. Everyday the class size shrunk. The material was interesting but I personally lacked a foundation in proof-based math that was expected of the course. I tried to get up to pace with the rest of the class and attended help sessions that were led by previous students; but with rowing six times a week and my other courses, I couldn’t keep up. My game of catch-up continued as I switched into MAT137. I had to watch the lecture videos at twice the speed but soon realized that the inverted classroom concept (watching videos before lecture and doing examples in class) was not for me. When the winter semester rolled around, I wasn’t enjoying Math at all.

My roommate was terrified that the marker wouldn’t come off my makeshift whiteboard

Ultimately, I switched into MAT135 and was lucky enough to have an amazing assistant professor who emphasized learning in the the classroom and would repeat the entire lecture if the person he called upon in class didn’t understand what he has just explained. I would recommend that if you’re in Toronto over the summer to try PUMP or the day-sessions leading up to Fall that give you a taste of what to expect in different kinds of math. If you’re not in town, don’t worry! There’s also a Pre-calc to help refresh your math skills.

Chemistry

chemical apparatus set-up in lab fume-hood
Distillation and reflux set-up I made for one of my labs

Instead of taking CHM135 (Physical Principles) and CHM136 (Introductory Organic Chemistry), I opted for CHM151, a year-long course in Organic, Inorganic and Physical Chemistry. I didn’t find Organic Chemistry as intriguing as Inorganic Chemistry, and it showed in my grades. It was a rocky start but as the course progressed, I started understanding and enjoying Chemistry more. A perk of CHM151 was the Course Community (CC) component in which we met with an upper-year student bi-weekly. There was one rule: We were not to discuss any course materials. The purpose of CC was for us to meet industry speakers, current grad students and tour the laboratory facilities and be able to ask questions about the research being done in the department. It showed me a side of an academic community that I don’t think I would’ve seen otherwise.

laboratory set up in Lash Miller
A lab in Lash Miller

Although my first year course selection took a few detours, I don’t regret any part of it. Not only did I learn more about myself – my current limits and strengths – but also, I made great friends across all the courses I tried that I’m still close to today. During my decision-making, I also made periodical visits to my registrar – a useful resource I wish I had utilized earlier in the semester and that you should too!

 

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