By Catherine Wang
Will classes be in-person? How do labs work? How will I make friends? How do I keep up with so many courses? These are some of the questions that students have as they prepare for their first year at McGill. On June 11, 2021, the Office of Science Education’s Incoming Students Panel brought together professors, current students and staff to respond to these questions and give around 300 incoming students a sneak peek of the school year to come.
Bruce Lennox, Dean of the Faculty of Science, kicked off the event by saying that, first and foremost, September 1st, 2021, was going to be very different from September 1st, 2020. Based on the current timeline, he assured students they would be on campus in Fall 2021, with some course components and other activities scheduled to be delivered in person. He continued by officially welcoming incoming students to the Faculty of Science, a community that spans ten academic departments.
Dean Lennox continued, “This year has emphasized, in capital letters, that the university experience is not just about courses.” He explained that while classes can be handled both online and in person, it is the experiences outside of academics that complete the undergraduate experience at McGill. Whether it be through one of hundreds of clubs, orientation week, or other activities, there are many ways that students find their place in the school community.
Next, the instructors on the panel spoke about their courses to give incoming students a sense of what classes would be like in the fall. All three professors, Ken Ragan (Department of Physics), Pallavi Sirjoosingh (Department of Chemistry) and Melissa Vollrath (Department of Physiology), explained that their content would be delivered through a combination of online and in-person methods.
Dr. Ragan, who teaches Physics 101/131, explained that, under current plans, all lectures with over 150 students would stay online and be taught via Zoom. Any smaller course components, he said, such as tutorials, labs, and assessments had a chance of being in-person, depending on the course. He shared a few tips for navigating McGill: recognizing the new environment, acknowledging alternate learning strategies, and engaging with instructors and peers. Finally, Dr. Ragan stressed that “your health, both mental and physical, are your number one priority, even before your learning,” encouraging students to reach out directly to instructors if needed.
The next speakers described their courses following a similar format: General Chemistry (CHEM 110), Organic Chemistry (CHEM 212), and Mammalian Physiology (PHGY 209) would likely have online lectures and an in-person lab component. All plans remain tentative and depend on the COVID-19 situation, government directives, and McGill’s operational status. Dr. Sirjoosingh, the instructor for CHEM 110/212, added that “[students] should spend some time in the first couple of weeks to read the syllabus for each course in detail,” since it would allow them to get oriented and set expectations.
Next, the student panelists shared their insights on extracurriculars, time management, and lifestyle at McGill. Rohan Bhutkar highlighted McGill’s strong atmosphere for social and extracurricular life. As the Science Undergraduate Society (SUS) President for 2021-2022, Rohan found his niche after being involved with various extracurriculars during his time as an undergrad. He said that Listservs, Facebook, the SUS involvement package, and Activities Night were useful for finding opportunities to get involved. Asma Khamis and Sophie Luo, the next two student speakers, were co-presidents of the Freshman Undergraduate Science Society (FUSS) during their first year at McGill. They shared their advice for time management and lifestyle, recommending that students find a personal system for organizing their time, whether it be a schedule, planner, or calendar. Sophie reiterated the importance of maintaining a balance between school and life, and reminded students to also make time to prioritize fitness, diet, sleep, and off-screen time.
The final round of panelists were McGill staff members, including Christina Popescu, Melissa-Anne Cobbler, and Fanny Gutierrez-Meyers who presented resources for a healthy, successful first year. Christina Popescu (Office of Science Education) introduced SciLearn, a program rooted in neuroscientific concepts that supports McGill Science students with the transition to learning at the university level. She encouraged students to partake in SciLearn to join a tight-knit community, boost their grades, and experience science!
As Local Wellness Advisors with the Student Wellness Hub, Melissa-Anne and Fanny explained their roles in providing mental health services to students through outreach activities, workshops, and consultation appointments. In their roles, they act as a reliable and accessible point of contact for health and wellness support.
Although the transition to university comes with many challenges, the students in attendance shared some of the things they were most excited about for the fall, including meeting new people, new experiences, and exploring Montreal. With many of their questions answered, and some insight into classes and extracurriculars, the incoming students agreed they were eager for campus life in the fall!
Editor’s note: The information in this article about planning for Fall 2021 represents the situation at the time the OSE’s Incoming Students Panel was held. As always, readers should refer to https://www.mcgill.ca/coronavirus/return-campus-fall-2021 for the latest information about Fall 2021 at McGill.