Conservation & Biodiversity: Student Testimonials

Godfrey Wignarajah

Majors: Mental Health Studies and Conservation & Biodiversity

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?

Ever since I was young, I had this need of wanting to help people to make their lives easier - it was later in my first year at UTSC that it was specialized into wanting to help those afflicted with mental illness to adapt to a better lifestyle. At the same time, I was always interested in the world in how it was able to sustain all of us. I wanted to learn more about the specifics and understand the problems that humanity has caused as a whole to reduce biodiversity and find a way to mitigate it. I felt (and I still do) that these majors would help me open my mind to what is happening in the present day; how mental health has a profound effect on us all and what we can do to help those afflicted by mental illnesses, to hopefully create a better situation for them. The same applies for Conservation and Biodiversity; it would make me understand more about this world and how over-stressed it is due to us taking it for granted as well as try to learn about possible methods to reduce our impact on this world.

Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?

Mental health is a lot of psychology to take in. First and second year courses make for a bit of general knowledge about psychology as a whole as well as the different mental illnesses that are found. It helps opens doors to different sectors of mental health such as being a social worker, councilor, psychiatrist, etc. After second year, courses in this major are chosen based on the area of interest within mental health. This also opens doors for volunteer opportunities to make your resume look good. It helped lay the foundation for me to pursue mental health as a career. Conservation on the other hand is a mix between memorization and outside work. In this major, it is likely that you would go on field trips to look around different parks to learn about the different species out in those areas as well as the reality of what current leaders are doing about climate change. You would get a chance to see what is being done in order to mitigate the effects of climate change while learning in the classroom about how it occurred and the logistics of current events that are trying to make it less of a problem. The major itself can lead to government jobs involving the environment as well as research related areas.

What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?

First tip would be to expand your horizons; it is not enough to just study the material for the majors to get through university. Meet with people in the field, talk to your professors do volunteer work that is centered around these majors, network with people that are around these majors. Getting the grades is important, but so it getting the experience to stand out for those potential interviews. It will help you in the long run after graduation to either find a job or continue your studies onward.
 
Second tip is to manage your time. University is a lot different from high-school; there will be no one to keep you in track for your studying/assignments. If there is an assignment that is due a month in advance, get started on it immediately! If you know your plan for when you start in a semester, then it will leave you with more time later on to plan out your extracurricular activities. Eventually it will become a habit to organize your time effectively and you'll thank yourself later.
 
Third tip - keep your head high! - University in its own right is a daunting experience; you will have your highs and you will have your lows. Make sure to always de-stress after a major assignment or exam has passed - this will help to keep your mental health in check. Once you get into your rhythm, your university life will be much easier. Remember to follow through with managing your time effectively - if you have, the results will show and it will all be worth it when you get that degree.

What will you do with your degree after graduation?

My biggest interest has to do with mental health and illness and how it affects adolescents who are in high school/transitioning to university. My goal after graduation will be to do further studying for a graduate certification at a certain college to get more experience in the field. Jobs such as a social worker or a mental health councilor are within this field and post-college, I plan to start my career with one of these jobs. There is also a good chance that after a few years, I will probably pursue a Master's degree under mental health as well.

What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?

In the first year, the courses I took under both majors related to general Biology, Chemistry, Psychology as well as Calculus and Statistics. These courses require strong knowledge from courses taken in Grade 12 as a prerequisite. First year is also the time for you to socialize with people in your major - to make some friends/study partners for your journey through it all. Second year will start with the courses needed to expand your knowledge for your major - in this case for Mental Health, courses based on abnormal disorders and personality are needed to expand your knowledge. Courses such as Evolution and Ecology are needed as well to expand your knowledge for Conservation & Biodiversity. This year makes it so that students start to delve into their majors further to find which ones suit them the most. Third year starts to heavily delve into the majors; it is not uncommon to find assignments for your courses in this year. This will help open the student to more topics about what they are studying as well as completing coursework that helps to cement that knowledge for future reference. In this year, the courses you take are now specialized towards your interest. Fourth year varies for coursework - some courses are heavily specialized towards the area of study that you are interested in, with coursework and exams to boot whereas some courses are more seminar based, discussing current issues about the topic of interest. This is the year where most graduate schools look for good grades as well as professional employment.

Caleb McCarroll-Butler

Majors: Environmental Science and Conservation & Biodiversity

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?

I have always had a sort of subconscious quest in life to learn as much I can about the astonishing natural world upon which we all rely. When I was 7 to 10 or so, I would read atlases early on Saturday mornings instead of watching cartoons like the other kids. I have always had the urge to understand what makes the world tick and how its living and nonliving aspects interact. I tend to describe my programs as two sides of the same coin for this reason: Conservation and Biodiversity tends to operate at the levels of ecological communities and is enormously effected by environmental happenings (be they climactic, geological, hydrological, etc.) both ecologically and evolutionarily, and environmental science informs how this happenings occur. It's really, really cool.

Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?

Since my two majors are in two different departments, there are very few classes that overlap between them after first year. Only one mandatory one (second year ecology), and two elective (third year environmental microbiology and fourth year site remediation). For this reason, there are a whole lot of courses to take and not a huge amount of space for other, non-biology or environmental science courses. Despite this, there is a lot of flexibility within the programs themselves ("pick at least two of the following twelve courses" for example) so the learning within the fields can be very self-directed and therefore fairly personalised and interesting. The classes range hugely in workload, but nothing is even close to unmanageable if your time management skills are reasonably alright. As the years go on, the courses get more and more specialised and thus more and more interesting for the students. You'll find yourself wishing it were realistic to take more than five or six courses in a semester.

What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?
 

1. LOVE IT. It makes such a difference, in terms of grades, information retention, ease of studying, enjoyment, etc. when you are personally invested in your own learning about the subject matter. You have choices, so take the courses that you feel will benefit you. Yes grades are important, but what is so much more important is your actual learning from the courses.
2. DON'T JUST BE A FACE IN THE CROWD. When the vast majority of professors say "come to my office hours," they mean it! They are invested in your learning and are so incredibly knowledgeable about their field. Talking to the profs, asking questions, and answering questions could drastically improve both your success and your investment in the subject matter.
3. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF COOL CLASSES. These majors are unique because, since they are based upon the natural world, they both offer field courses and undergraduate research opportunities. From nearby ecological activity to studying fissure volcanoes in Iceland to studying birds in the tropics, you have an opportunity to gain field experience and see what you've been learning about in real life.

What will you do with your degree after graduation?

Most people in my majors are interested in conservation work with the government, environmental consulting, environmental law, or research (either for the government or privately). While these are all excellent and necessary fields for people with my skill set and academic history, I intend to go to teacher's college after getting a master's degree in atmospheric science, environmental science, or ecology and evolutionary biology. I would then apply to be a high school biology and/or general science teacher, if all goes according to plan. I love learning and I love sharing knowledge so this future path is perfect for my approach to the ever important knowledge and ideas presented in this degree.

What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?

FIRST YEAR: Originally, I was accepted into the specialist in environmental geoscience program. While this is still incredibly interesting to me and I still take as many geoscience courses as possible, I discovered during first year that the broader my education is within the realm of science, the happier and more invested I will be. It was a general science first year, with two sections each of calculus, bio, chem, and environmental science with physics in first semester. I found most of first year to be ensuring everybody is on an even playing field for future years. As such, most of it was review for me. On top of these science courses, I also joined the UTSC choir and have been leader of the tenor section since second semester of first year. Don't forget to make room for what you love in your degree.
SECOND YEAR: Generally, second year courses in both of these programs go deeper into concepts covered in their first year equivalent. For example cell bio, molecular bio, evolutionary bio, ecology, animal physiology, and plant physiology are a separate courses now instead of being different modules of the umbrella of "bio". This was a lot more work but far more interesting and enjoyable. I also took a lab course and I strongly recommend you do the same. In environmental science, second year is when I found my love of climatology and decided that atmospheric science would be my top choice for a master's degree. I recommend that you think about the future in passing as much as possible. This way you won't get stressed about it but it won't come as a surprise when it arrives. Being an obsessive planner, I also had the remainder of my university career planned by the end of second year (which continues to be edited).
THIRD YEAR: So far, this has been my favourite year by far (and I can only expect next year to be better). The courses are unfailingly interesting because they are specific and the profs are teaching what they love to teach. I have found, after first semester, that my third year marks are my highest ever just because of how much I love the courses. If you love your courses, the increasing workload won't vex you because doing the work brings you excitement and joy. I know that's how it's worked for me. Best of luck in your endeavours!