Media & Press

From 0s and 1s to AVL Trees: A Year of Learning Academic Year II

1 September, 2016

Tushita Patel

As I am nearing the end of the winter term and also the end of my status as a second year student, this seems to be a perfect time for me to reflect on my learnings and experiences from the past year.
About the Canadian Dreams
It has been almost five years since I moved to Canada with my family. I feel very grateful to my parents who have made many sacrifices for me and have worked very hard to provide me with the best things, even in the toughest situations. These five years have not been very easy for them and for me, but it makes me very proud (and I am writing this with a big grin on my face) to say that together we have bought a house in Saskatoon in the beginning of this year. 
I feel very blessed to have parents who constantly inspire me to work hard and persevere to achieve my goals. 
About Curriculars
This year has been the most challenging year for me in terms of my mental health, and I have grown even more because of this. Starting the beginning of fall, I started having serious focus issues, leading into demotivation to study and social isolation. I cannot describe how I was feeling, mostly because I didn’t realize it wasn’t normal until half way through the fall semester when I went into a midterm exam and realized I was not at all prepared and wanted to walk out of it. My course work was loaded with assignments and midterms, which, along with a handful of extra curriculars, kept me busy from 9 am to 10 pm seven days a week (Yes, I would go to university on the weekends as well). I finally decided to seek help and go to the doctor in the middle of my final exams in December when I couldn’t deal with it anymore. 
In the winter term, as the days started to get a little longer and I reduced my course load, I started feeling better. Another indication was my grades. My grades went down by a significant amount in the fall term, but I somehow managed to come back up again in the winter term. Having a reduced course load (from five to four classes a term – all Computer Science and Math/Statistics) allowed me to spend time with my family and friends, which served as a coping mechanism. To feel motivated again, I put up inspiring quotes as my wallpaper and such to constantly remind me of my goals and my eagerness to achieve them. Here’s a great one by Mary Lou Retton that helped me: “Working hard becomes a habit, a serious kind of fun. You get self-satisfaction from pushing yourself to the limit, knowing that all the effort is going to pay off.” Believe it or not, the Fake-It-Till-You-Make-It approach has been very beneficial to me in this situation.
To sum up this section, I went through an intense depressive situation in my second academic year of university, and although I have gotten back up again and I feel like I am back to who I was before, I am not who I was before. I have improved myself as a person and because I have learned to cope with it, I feel stronger than before. 
About Extra Curriculars
You know me, I am an Extra-Curricular enthusiast! With three computer science and two mathematics courses in the first semester and two computer science and two mathematics courses in the second semester, I could only be involved in a handful of extra curricular activities around campus. I made sure I stayed physically active as much as I could in the academic year by joining Zumba and cardio-intense fitness classes. Because I also highly value research, I volunteered to work as an Associate Editor for the University’s Undergraduate Research Journal (USURJ). I helped fellow undergrads to get their research papers published in the area of Interdisciplinary Studies. Moreover, I worked as a Marker for a couple of first year mathematics courses. Apart from these, I joined a Mindfulness Meditation course in the fall semester, expecting that it would help me with my focus issues. I know that the above list is pretty short, but it definitely kept me busy for most of the year. I hope that I am able to find more time to pursue more of my hobbies in the summer. 
About Career Advancements
What made my second year different from my first year is that the classes that I picked are required for my major. My computer science courses were in a very broad spectrum, ranging from assembly and machine language (going from 0s and 1s to human-readable instructions) to complex data structures (such as AVL Trees) and building huge applications like a hospital management information system (using Object Oriented Programming). Having many required computer science classes also means that I am always surrounded by students who have the same interests and goals as me. This is great because I get to make lifelong connections with my classmates and also network with more professors in the department of Computer Science. By the middle of my second term, many of my professors knew me by my name and a couple of them offered me to work for them in their research lab for the summer. 
The marking job that I had in the Department of Mathematics greatly helped boost my resume, as I previously didn’t have enough in the “Relevant Experience” field, and so did my participation in the bi-annual programming competitions, on which, by the way, my team placed second in the advanced category in February! Next year, we will strive to win and go on to the regionals. Fingers crossed!
This year has definitely been full of a lot of ups and downs, mostly downs and coming back up, but I’m not going to let that affect my hopes and plans for the  future. I am willing to move on and make the best of what I have. This year, I have learned that a good balance in life is more important than anything else. I wish I realized it earlier when I was prioritizing my assignments over my health. University life is all about time management and this experience has definitely taught me how to do that.
I will be taking about a couple weeks off after my final exams in April to go back to Toronto for a break, as a treat to myself. It would be great to have some reunions with old friends and high school teachers and also relax for a while, before I go back and start working as a NSERC-USRA Research Student in the Human Computer Interaction Lab in the Department of Computer Science. I am also very excited to work as a Teaching Assistant (TA) for two first-year honours level computer science courses. I am also hoping that I get time to stay fit, read some books, volunteer a little, do some art, and pursue a hobby – I am thinking Ukulele!