Tips For The Future

By: Leanne Tran

As I write this blog post, I’m sitting in my school’s library for a homework and study session; I just completed a linear algebra assignment so with a sigh of relief, I’m taking a break to reflect on my journey through university so far and how my time with The Net has made a tremendous impact on this adventure. What I can say right from the start is that university is nothing like you’ve ever known.

I’m a first year student at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) planning to double major in Computer Science and Statistics at the end of this school year. I was involved with The Net since its launch in September 2019 during my time in high school, and I have seen it grow and evolve into an incredible and dedicated group of young leaders that have overcome so many obstacles (a.k.a. a global pandemic)! This amazing program prepared me for my post-secondary journey in more ways than I could ever imagine.

The start of my first year could be called…unique. Unlike some other schools, UTM classes were mainly online for the Fall 2021 semester, and at that point, everyone was sick of online school. Nonetheless, we persevered while at the same time being overwhelmed with never-before-seen content and a heavy workload (especially as a computer science student!).

In all seriousness, I had to take an “Introduction to Mathematical Proofs” course, and it felt like the wackiest stuff I had ever seen. We also faced stress and anxiety while trying to maintain our mental health and fighting isolation since making friends online proved incredibly difficult.
However, it hasn’t been all that bad. For example, I never imagined that I would ever play glow-in-the-dark mini-golf with a Computer Science professor!

University has been full of surprises and amazing opportunities; in January, I was accepted into a technology mentorship program for female undergraduate students hosted by Scotiabank! During the program, I get to meet incredible women working on tech within the company! In February, I won first place with an incredible team of young women in a sponsored challenge by Bell at ElleHacks 2022, an all-female hackathon in North America, by designing and coding an app that encourages sustainability.

I’ve also applied for some intriguing research opportunities and internships and gotten involved at school and in the community, such as volunteering for the club Sending Sunshine to create uplifting cards for seniors and becoming an associate for the UTM Cancer Awareness Student Organization!

I believe that many of these new experiences wouldn’t have been possible without The Net. During my time in the program, I had the opportunity to lead and support numerous events and initiatives such as the first Lunar New Year event hosted by The Net, a mental health care package initiative, and trivia nights. From these experiences, I developed important leadership skills like strong communication, time-management, adaptability, and collaboration that all transfer to the opportunities I’ve engaged in at school.

I also developed confidence, ambition, and motivation that push me to seek out these opportunities. And, to be completely honest, my experiences in The Net have really helped me while applying for different leadership positions and academic experiences because they showcase my dedication and leadership in supporting my community as well as all the skills I’ve attained.

After learning so much from my first year of university, I want to share some key advice for those heading down this path:

Don’t trap yourself in a box while considering career pathways–be open to anything! Since grade 9, I always thought I was going to go into engineering and maintained this mindset for the longest time. I took an introductory computer science course reluctantly, despite hating the idea of coding for years, and was surprised at how much I loved it! And that took me off the pathway of engineering towards where I am today: computer science. Even now, as I plan what majors and minors to take, I’m trying to consider all
the different options that are available at my school to fully take advantage of my time here.

It’s never too early to start exploring programs and schools. Again, I was so set on going into engineering that I only ever had eyes for Waterloo and McMaster University. However, I wish I had fully scoped out what schools had to offer and the programs they
specialized in to broaden my options.

Apply to scholarships! During my grade 12 year, I applied to about 20-30 scholarships; I was rejected so many times but the ones that I did win changed my life and have ensured that I have the financial means to get through university. Also, talking about my work in The Net and the references I gained from the program were key components in my scholarship applications–there are so many benefits to getting involved with The Net!

Don’t let your academics and accomplishments define your self-worth. Especially for those in grade 12 whose university offers and admissions ride on your grades, it’s easy to get caught up in a competitive and unforgiving mindset. You become so set on attaining high grades that when you make a mistake, it’s unbearable. This is a lesson that you will learn in university; as the work becomes harder and more frequent, you’re going to end up with some bad grades here and there. I mean, 3 out of 4 quizzes that I did in that mathematical proofs course were at or less than 65% and they were worth a good fraction of my grade. But when I learned to move past this disappointment and
realize that I still had opportunities to make up for these low marks, I was motivated to work hard during the rest of the term. In the end, my grade turned out just how I wanted, and I realized that my marks, important as they are, should not define my pride and personality.

If you’re graduating soon or just starting high school, it’s never too late or early to start getting involved in your community and seeing what opportunities are out there to help you grow as a person! The Net has helped and continues to help me everyday, and I know it will do the same for you if you’re willing to take a chance on it.