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English Literature: Student Testimonials

Thibika Sutharsan

Specialist: English
Minor: English Literature

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

I remember sitting in my grade 10 English class, amongst a swarm of students who could not have cared less about Shelley's "Frankenstein"; students who would look up the most basic summaries of books we would read in class just to “get them over with”. I couldn’t help but realize that I was the only one who wanted to know what Shelley may have been trying to do with her book. Coming from a traditional and rather strict South Asian household, I was supposed to either become an engineer or a doctor, and I may have ignored my own interests if my high school English teacher hadn’t shown me what great literature can do—what it can teach us. Once I got to university, the skills and techniques that my professors taught me only told me that my decision was right.

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

Being a part of this program has taught me how to be attentive to details. This program has not only provided me with the skills necessary to pick up on subtle details, but has also given me a space to practice these skills. For every essay I have written, I was forced to notice details that I may have overlooked. With the help of the professors at UTSC, I was able to better perfect these skills. Another amazing thing about this program is that class sizes decrease over the years, which make class discussions become more analytical—and in my opinion, more interesting. I remember a second year course that I took where the professor, although an amazing lecturer, seemed to only regurgitate everything that I happened to notice while I did the readings. Although you may find this to be reassuring (that you and the professor think alike) I found it quite—dare I say—boring. I hardly felt these kinds of courses (where the course seemed daunting because of the class size and not the actual course work) to motivate me to work harder. However, now that I’m in my final year, I feel that I have finally been rewarded with classes (and professors) that force me to talk about topics and issues I have never considered. Although the work for some of these courses may seem overwhelming and discouraging at times, it is well worth it! I guess now that I get to reflect on this program, I can safely say that although the work grows more difficult with each year, the skills you are taught and the discussions that arise in these English courses are very much worth it.

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

  1. I think the first tip I can give anyone going to university (regardless of what program they are in) is: DO NOT GO ON RATE MY PROF! I understand that some of you may want to see if you’re going to be taking a ‘bird course’ (no such thing in university), but the ‘results’ of this website are not at all true. I have chosen courses specifically because other students rated the professor with high scores, only to be left with someone who wasn’t the greatest lecturer. I have also taken courses where I fell in love with both the course and the professor, only to later find out that they were given a very low rating. So, if you get anything out of my testimonial, please do not alter your course selection based solely on this website.
  2. You may have been told in high school that professors in university only see students as a number; some of you may have even been told a correction to this statement—that professors care. Now, I’m not here to tell you anything different; professors only want good things for their students, but the best way to get to know the course you are in, and the professor teaching it, is to actually talk to them. I was definitely not one of those students who would drop by and start a conversation with one of my professors; to be honest; they seemed to be quite intimidating. It has unfortunately taken me until my final year to realize the absolute importance of talking with my professors (outside of class). I took this one course where the professor was so intimidating that I unconsciously avoided eye contact with them for the first few weeks; they were the kind of person who seemed to know everything about everything. Well, as luck would have it, I was put in a situation where I was forced to speak with them about a challenging assignment. Not only did this spark more interest in the course, but it made me more comfortable in the class. 

What will you do with your degree after graduation? (Future plans?)
Many people assume that once you decide to go into English, you want to become a teacher. Although this may be true for some people, I have never had any interest in teaching. After graduating with an English degree, you actually have more options than you may think. In fact, I have always been interested in publishing, but after doing extra research I found that I have many more options than going into something directly related to English or literature.
What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?
First year focuses more on your grasp of texts and their general relevance to our society. In fact, I remember a professor advising me that it was more important for me to understand what each book actually talks about, and what they do. Second year is focused more on your analytical skills. These courses force you to close read specific passages in texts and require you to ask questions like ‘so what?’. Third year courses are more conceptual; instead of just close reading a passage to find out its significance, you are required to comment on their theoretical significance. Fourth year is essentially a build-up of third year. As you analyze passages and consider their theoretical importance, you must also relate it back to this 21st century. By the time you are in your final year, you are going to find yourself juggling a lot of very important commitments. You’ve worked hard for so long, just try to enjoy your last year, and appreciate everything your academic life has taught you.

Christina Chu

Major: English
Minors: English Literature & Anthropology

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?
I've always enjoyed reading. I wanted to pursue English as a major, but I was also keenly interested in studying Anthropology. I wanted to attend a school which would be supportive of my academic interests. For this matter, UTSC offered me the greatest flexibility for picking and choosing English and Anthropology as disciplines of study. I think academic success requires an open, supportive community, and UTSC has always enabled me to cultivate my curiosities.
Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?
In the English program, my favourite part of class is the group discussions. While the whole class may read the same repertoire, it is fascinating to listen to individuals' diverse perspectives. Professors are very friendly and inclusive. Many of my professors have made the effort to know everyone's name in the class, which has made the experience more personal and engaging. Notably, I found the repertoire to be "culturally diverse," in that there are classes which offer texts which may not be traditionally considered as part of the English literary canon. In addition, I've found that the small class sizes for the upper level/D-courses are fantastic for learning, as it really allows you to dive deep into the material for a greater depth of understanding. In the Anthropology program, I have found the labs to be extremely helpful in broadening my understanding through tactile learning with respect to the skeletal models. It is always encouraging to learn with others who are passionate about the learning process. There are also a lot of incredible field opportunities available for students. For example, students in upper years have the opportunity to apply as a field assistant to "work abroad" in Madagascar or Kenya.

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

  1. Jump Two Feet In - I'm talking about commitment. Be committed to your academic goals, as well as shaping your academic experience. It is impossible to achieve your best work, if you don't set yourself up for the best possible outcome. You must have a vision for what that success looks like.
  2. Be An Expert Learner - You've got to be great at knowing how to fall. You are the only person who can know yourself to the greatest degree, and knowing your own weaknesses will enable you to overcome them. It may not happen overnight, but if are proactive and honest with yourself, you can seek help to make sure it doesn't happen. i.e. The Writing Centre or the Research Help Desk are GREAT resources for ensuring your writing skills are on point. Also, don't be afraid to ask TA's or classmates for help. People are usually willing to help if you are specific about what you are trying to tackle.
  3. Be Your Own Cheerleader - Academic learning may be isolating at times, however, if you stick to your goals and reinvigorate your passion along the way, you can absolutely do what you've set out to accomplish.

What will you do with your degree after graduation? (Future plans?)
I am aspiring to apply to law school following my graduation. I would like to use my passion for language and communication to help others solve problems within the legal realm. Currently, I am interested in pursuing work in Finance and/or Intellectual Property.
What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?

My time at UTSC to this point has been extremely positive. I joined the Salsa class at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre, as well as the UTSC Debate Club. I think it is crucial for students to have exposure to different social clubs and events, which enable a more balanced approach to academic learning. Joining the clubs gave me a great opportunity to meet students from other disciplines, as well as try something new (like Salsa moves) to challenge myself outside the classroom.