6 Years at UVic, in 6 Photos

I’ll admit it – I took a long time to complete my undergraduate degree

On June 14th of this year (2019), I walked across the stage to receive my BSc at UVic, after taking six full years to complete the degree. 

Did I expect to take this long? Heck no. 

Am I happy I did? Absolutely.

 

My Degree, By-The-Numbers:

Official title: Double-major of Biology and Environmental Studies, with an Honours in Biology. 

Unofficial title: How to say YES to (almost) everything in undergrad – just add 2190 days.

Course Credits: 82, I think(?) who knows.

Coffee Consumed: Probably about 2.5 Olympic swimming pools’ worth (dark roast).

Sleep: I’m sure, at some point. But who’s counting?

 

If you are like most of my friends and family, you may now be asking: what took you so long? Sure, the degree sounds fancy, but many students have completed the same degree (a double-major BSc) in much less time. Surely 6 years is too long?

The quick answer is that I needed that extra time. It took me longer than normal to get the hang of University courses, and there were simply too many things I wanted to do during my undergrad to fit inside a four year window. 

It’s difficult to fully explain why taking that extra time was so important for me. But, they say a picture is worth 1,000 words. So in 6 short photos, one for each year of my undergrad, I’ll try to show why I (now) have absolutely no regrets about my degree, while showing some of the challenges and highlights along the way.

*** DISCLAIMER: This blog is also doubling as a list of ‘thank you’s to everyone who gave me advice, supported me, laughed, cried and otherwise helped me during my degree. This blog was also extremely hard to write, because I’ve inevitably missed so many important parts and people in my degree. So, I’ve relinquished any idea that I’ll be able to encompass the last 6 years in a blog, and instead have just snapshotted a few key moments***

Let’s start at the beginning:

Year One: The Year of ‘AAAHHH!’

Almost 

Always having a lack of 

Air,

Help, and

Happiness.

Hoooo boy was this a shock to high school me.

If you spoke with high school Talen (me) right before he entered UVic’s campus for the first time, he would tell you that he’s heard it all before: ‘University is tough, much harder than high school, more homework and less class time, etc etc.’ He would also tell you that he’s always grinded through work in high school, and honestly, he feels pretty confident that he can handle it.

He lied, folks. Oooh boy did he lie.

Here he is two months into his first semester of University:

Tragic, isn’t it?

Now, it wasn’t that I didn’t know about the difficulties of University – trust me, the regime of studying had been drilled into me by my high school teachers. And when I began University, I knew how to study. My problem was that I forgot all the extra, self-care things that were thrown to the wayside once school started.

Things like eating food regularly, sleeping 8 hours every night, and remembering to balance my days with work and play to prevent burnout. They seem like intuitive things, but in all of the excitement and surprises of University, I guess 18-year-old me missed the memo.

Year Two: the Year of the Campus Naps

I am a big believer – and advocate – of the occasional, well-timed nap. Heck, I even wrote a blog post during my second year of the top 5 places to nap on UVic campus. 

But in my second year, I took things one step too far. I started to realize that I needed sleep, but hadn’t developed the ‘best practices’, let’s say, for taking care of my body. Thus, the habit of napping sporadically around campus was born. 

Falling asleep on my best friend and most eccentric pillow, Rylan, during a late-night study session.

The only regret here is that (not surprisingly) increased napping did not increase my GPA. Go figure. 

Year Three: the Year I Fled the Country

In my 3rd year, I did not step foot on UVic campus. Not once. 

Instead, I completed an international exchange year at the University of Leeds, in the U.K. This year taught me many lessons, ranging from “How to cook a meal when 90% of the ingredients are condiments” to “How to identify the four compartments of a sheep’s stomach.” 

My flatmate best friend in the UK, Nick, and I at a celebratory ball for Leeds University.

My first view of the Northern U.K. skyline (ok I lied, this section has two photos).

One (less repelling) key trait I learned during my time at Leeds was the ability to be alone in the world. I learned that being alone doesn’t mean, in fact, that I disintegrate into dust. I also gained many of my closest friends through exchange who, ironically, made it so that I was never alone in the U.K. for long. A huge thank you to Nick, Mariana, Hongyi, Natasha, Marcus, and all those who helped make Leeds an unforgettable year.

Year Four: Getting Involved in Research!

If you’re just entering University, you may notice several alarming (and sometimes difficult) things about your classes: 

  1. They are SO BIG – sometimes 300+ people
  2. The courses you HAVE to take aren’t always the courses you WANT to take
  3. It can feel like you’re not really learning hands-on or cutting-edge skills.

In my case (for biology and environmental studies), this all changed in my 3rd/4th year. The classes shrunk to <50 people, I had more freedom to choose what courses I wanted to take, and I felt I was in my element. 

Part of my volunteer research setup at the Juanes lab

For me, that ‘element’ was fish. I took an ichthyology course, and from a very helpful Lab Instructor, I started volunteering in a marine biology laboratory in my spare time (above).

Year Five. Official Title: Research, Bamfield, and the In-between.

Unofficial Title: The Year of the Geoduck

In my 5th year, I was able to take advantage of a unique part of the UVic marine biology experience – I lived and studied for a semester at the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre on the Western side of Vancouver Island. This is a remote facility dedicated to marine research, in a town of 150 people. As part of my degree, I was able to live and study here with other marine biology students from around B.C. and Alberta. 

I could write several blogs about the impact Bamfield has had on me, in both research and academia, but I won’t get into that now. For anyone wanting to know more about the opportunities there and on an international exchange, you can find a past blog of mine here.

But what BMSC allowed me to do is break into my own research, with 23 other students who all loved marine biology just as much as I did. 

Before showing you the next photo, I need to preface it with a story:

You see, there was a joke floating around the fall program that I had brought so many clothes to the BMSC, that I could clothe the entire fall program (24 students) if I wanted to. 

Couple that with a light-hearted challenge with my Albertan friend, Tia, over who could pull off the best prank on the other, and my fate was sealed.

One morning, as I was just coming back from an early yoga session with some classmates, I walked back into my room to find a blue dress and matching tights on my bed. After asking my (mysteriously aloof) roommates about the dress, I turned around to find that all of my clothes were gone.

Running late for class, and no other clothes in sight, I was left with one option: wear the blue dress and tights to my new class.

I walked in to the room, and the class erupted in laughter. To my shock, I looked around the room and noticed the impossible: The whole class, from head to toe, were wearing my entire wardrobe:

The BMSC 2017 Fall Program, with everyone wearing my clothing except for me (I’m the one in the blue dress).

I quickly conceded that this was the best prank ever played on me, and offered to wear the dress for the remainder of the day as a concession of a prank well-played. After class, we all took the above photo together. If you look closely, you may notice that the entire class is wearing at least one, if not more, pieces of my clothing, including toques, tank-tops, and underwear.

I cannot understate how much love I have for the above group of people, many of whom I still consider my closest friends. Thank you to everyone at BMSC for helping me diversify my focus in both science and fashion.

I also completed a research project on geoducks, which led to my first appearances at science conferences the following semester. Finally, I felt I had come a long way since the nap-attacks of second year, and was doing ‘real science.’ If you want to hear more about breaking through into research as an undergrad, here’s a post I wrote about the experience.

Year Six: The End Product

This was really the year that I started getting the questions I dreaded – WHY had I not graduated yet??

Four years for an undergraduate degree is the advertised ‘standard’ here at Canadian Universities. However, 5 years is what most people in my program (biology and environmental studies) seemed to take to finish the degree comfortably. But 6 YEARS?? People would often question why. But as I hope you’ve gathered from my previous 5 years, it’s not without good cause. 

From all these past experiences, I was able to navigate the University system in a way that I felt worked for me, because of my thorough familiarity in the undergrad system. Finally, I felt I (A) had the connections I needed to get the experiences and classes that I was interested in, with (B) study habits that I felt comfortable with, and (C) a fantastic supporting group of friends, allowing me to have a fantastic year.

This photo sums up what I felt for a good part of the year. This is me on a stormy beach night in December, conducting research for my Honours project, with several volunteer friends supporting me. The turkey-shaped toque I’m wearing was a gift from Nick in the U.K. (see above), and I wore it with pride throughout my winter field work.

Doing research on a stormy December night with my friends Hannah, Sabina, Mary, and Rylan

Of course, to say that this my education journey ‘done’ or that I am somehow successful now because I have struggled through 6 years of undergrad is obviously wrong. But crossing that stage in June, goofy regalia and all, I felt something that had escaped me in the past: I felt right about graduating. I felt that I deserved my degree, but more than that, I felt like I was prepared, supported, and excited about life post-graduation with that degree in my hand. And for that feeling alone, the extra years are more than worth it.

If you’re currently worrying about taking extra time in your degree, or feeling like your degree isn’t moving ‘fast enough’, I hope my experience can act as a vote of confidence that the extra year or two isn’t the end of the world.

You will, believe it or not, make it through, and at the end of the day, you may even be better off because of it – naps and all.

Gushing to Everyone:

If I have any challenge regarding accepting and speaking about my degree now, it’s because thinking of this degree as something that ‘I’ earned sounds wrong to me. This is because at every stage, every year, and every story, there were people who held me up and made it possible for me to continue.

Aside from being privileged with a wonderful mother, father, grandparents, and supportive (yet tactfully sarcastic) brother for most of my degree, there were so many people without whom this degree wouldn’t be possible.

Names that come to mind include my best friends Rylan Command and Nicholas Porter, my supervisors Morgan Black and Francis Juanes, as well as all the helpful folks in the Juanes Lab. 

Also, thank you to everyone at the University, including the UVic Orientation and MyUVicLife blog teams, who have welcomed me into the UVic family and allowed me to spill my guts to all of you for the last 5 years.

If there is one theme from my 6 years at this university, it’s that all the good times, wins and happy moments, are linked to people. An undergrad degree (in my opinion) is as much an exercise in asking for help as it is learning from lectures. I can only say thank you to everyone who reached out to me when I didn’t know how to ask for help, and who went above and beyond to make sure I was ok.

Thank

you to everyone who has made this journey so wonderful. 

– Talen Rimmer (BSc)

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