I was recently lucky to be able to sit down with one of our SU Science Representatives, Michael Nguyen!
Max: So Michael, tell us a bit about you, your academic pursuits, and ultimate goals!
Michael: I’m in my fourth year of Biological Sciences. Like many students coming out of high school I really wanted to get into medical school. I still want to do that, but I’ve had a lot of fun and a lot of experiences while I’ve been here so I’ve taken a combined degree in psychology, and I’m part of the embedded certificate program in sustainability studies. Besides that, I don’t know if I’ll get into med right away, but it’s good to experience things and I’m taking my time and having fun!
Max: I’ve seen some prep courses for med school and other courses being advertised around the university. Has that been a consideration for you on the path towards med school?
Michael: It’s fair to say so. I will say that I took a lot of those midterm and final prep courses in my first and second years. Not to advertise any company, but I took them through Prep101, and there are a few instructors that I liked. On a whole, our instructors here at the U of C will suggest that you don’t take prep courses as they rely on second-hand information passed along by students regarding what is going to be on the exam; so it’s really a prediction. That being said, they do teach you the content of the course and I personally found it beneficial.
Max: You are currently sitting as one of three science representatives on the Students’ Union. Having met with the other members, do they represent the full gamut of the Faculty of Science?
Michael: Unfortunately in this case, this year all of us are from Biological Sciences (which I believe has been the case for the past four years now.) We are the biggest department within the faculty, but we are working on trying to represent the other students as well.
Max: So could you elaborate a bit more on the particular policies you are focusing on? What particular issues do you emphasize?
Michael: All three of us had very similar platforms, but my big difference was through a lot more student engagement and events. Other than that, my peers are working on a lot of the same things, but I’ll talk about my difference. The big thing for me was I wanted to approve new study spaces for students, and that’s something we’re working on right now! We have a Quality Money application going in for a new study space. We just found that with science students there’s a bit of a lack of unity within the faculty. Each department tends to keep to their own and has their own study spaces, needs, and students. Therefore, one big thing we want to do besides the study spaces is more mixer events to get the community going together, and as we accomplished in September we had our second annual pancake breakfast, which was a great success! A lot of students came out, and we’re hoping to hold another research night and a science research symposium similar to URS but for specifically science students in Winter 2019.
So I think the big things for me are more participation and involvement between departments and science students in general, as well as getting us more study spaces with plug-ins and free electronics, microwaves, printers, and things like that.
Max: As we move further into the winter semester, that’s the time that biological sciences students will start looking towards their professors for potential lab opportunities for the summer, as working in a lab is a very beneficial thing for a young student. However, for a lot of those students finding an opportunity might not be the most intuitive thing and they might not know how to go about it. From your experience, what is some advice you could give to those students work their way through this potentially intimidating process?
Michael: Research is something we have questions about all the time, and it is something that can be very valuable for undergraduate students. First, I have to plug all of our research night events, of which I don’t doubt there will be more this year. In terms of getting into research, the way I went about it was through the Biological Sciences website, which is actually great. They have a directory of researchers; they’ll have all the professor’s names and a little bit about the field they’re in. Most of the professors that have a profile there are actively looking for students to work in their lab, and they’ll give a quick breakdown of what their projects are. After that, click on the professor’s name and find out more about them. Type in their name on Google and look for some of their publications. Read what they’re about, and then contact them! There’s no better way to do it! Once you’ve done your research and know the background information and are interested in working for this professor, send them an e-mail offering to go for coffee! Offer to buy that coffee and talk about their work. You have to be genuinely interested in what they do, and while some might ask to see your transcript or what your previous experience is, I got lucky as the professor saw that I was pretty passionate and he decided to give me a chance. I started by doing a 507, which is a one-semester research course. That taught me the skills to follow up with a summer studentship, which is a paid summer position from May to the end of August. I think research is a really good opportunity, but don’t just apply for anything that you think might take you; make sure it’s something that you’re interested in where you think the professor can help you. They know you’re doing it in part to help with your own career, and a great professor is one of the best things I think you can have in research.
Max: On that note I’d like to ask you one last question: is there any general message or piece of advice or words of wisdom you’d like to impart on the students or the department of Biological Sciences?
Michael: I have one short one, and one serious, longer one. My one short one is: don’t procrastinate, please. I’ve done it so much. I’ve been through four years and I’ve gotten so many bad grades, so please don’t do it. The second one I’d like to talk about is mental health, because as you’ve probably seen, last semester there was an announcement by the SU Wellness Centre and the U of C addressing a death on campus. Mental health is a really big factor for university students, and just coming out of the holidays I hope everybody used it to not focus on school so much and more on themselves. It’s always okay if you have any concerns, any worries, or any stress at all, try to reach out and talk to someone if you feel comfortable. If you can’t reach out to any of our counselling services, there’s the SU Wellness Centre, there’s the Calgary Distress Centre; there’s a lot of other online resources you can find. I find that when I get stressed I just talk to a friend or to my family, and for me at least it works better if I open up and talk to someone instead of bottling it in. There’ nothing to be ashamed about with mental health, and it’s very important that we address it, and at the university we’re looking at ways to de-stigmatize it and to address it more and more directly. We’re working on more resources and funding for students, because so far we feel that we’ve been lacking and we’ve been letting students down in a sense. So take time for yourself, enjoy it, and you’ll get through this.
Max: Thank you very much Michael Nguyen for sitting down with us, and best of luck on all your future endeavours and finishing your degree!
If you have any more questions for Michael, feel free to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org