3 Things I Wish I Knew When I Was A First Year

By: Tina Ye

Lessons learned from University of Toronto’s Next Step Conference 

It probably goes without saying that a major source of anxiety for many graduating undergrads is “where do I go from here?”.

It is always good to start thinking about career early and plan your trajectory for the long term, but is planning everything?

According to all the alumni panelists at UofT’s Next Step Conference today: it’s not.

In fact it’s far from it: what you have planned for yourself in your undergraduate years, no matter how logical you believe your plans to be, things change. And they almost always change for the better.

Here are the three lessons I’ve learned from the conference.

#1 Your undergraduate degree doesn’t matter

This may sound bad, but the emphasis placed on picking that perfect Major/Specialist program is overrated, and wildly suffocating. It is a misconception that what you choose to do in undergrad will become what you do for the rest of your career. In the “Public Policy Panel”, all alumnus (including a retired UN Assistant Secretary General) did not specialize in public policies degree; but instead, they were students of East Asian Studies, Criminology, and Nursing. And the fact that they were here today shows that what you study doesn’t really matter, but what matters is how you frame your story, how you use your experience to narrate your strength and uniqueness.

#2 Ask questions. Build Network. Find a mentor.  

This is one part that I felt I was really missing out on in my 1st/2nd/3rd year.

UofT has this gimmick ok? It’s almost like a sly under-the-table offer: first they load you with so much academic work that you barely have time to do anything else; then they offer these amazing career/success centre services that you won’t know unless you proactively go look for them. The alumni network they have at UofT is wonderful– so extensive, so readily available. It’s like a snowball effect: once you start talking to people, you will be referred to more people, and the momentum builds.

Networking was something new to me. Being a science student, I find that we don’t usually get the chance to mingle in networking events (unlike the business or engineering kids). But what I realized is that: extracurriculars, clubs events, student associations, even talking to TAs after class, it’s all networking. You want to talk to different people from different backgrounds, expand your worldwide view, and don’t forget to follow-up/check-in, because these connections can really help you later in your career.  

Network/Mentorship Resources: 

#3 Set yourself up for the long terms (think milestones, not gratifications)

This one is hard.

Psychologically, biologically, mentally, we’re all greedy creatures. We want to have the cake and eat it too, asap.

But sitting in the “Entrepreneurship and innovation” panel, listening to all the exciting stories about building businesses from groundup, having nothing to having everything, it reminded me that career success is not achieved overnight. There is a limit to the term “flexibility”. You can be flexible and open to new opportunities, but the foundational milestone (“Eventually I want to get from /here/ to /here/”) should be set early on. Panelists emphasized the aggressiveness of these milestones. Rooted in passion and resiliency, milestones should be set with vigilance, planned with a careful set of attacks to pinpoint key opportunities. But the element of surprise is still there. You might pivot into a industry that has nothing to do with your eventual milestone, but as long as you keep to your values, understand your own narrative, and lock down those transferable skills, you will have fortune on your side.

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