1. You’ll learn more from self-driven, experiential learning than classroom-based learning
Experiential learning throughout an undergraduate degree connects classroom concepts to real experiences. Taking courses with lab components created a solid foundation of knowledge, but putting theories into practice was the most beneficial learning opportunity throughout my entire undergraduate degree. Participating in research allowed me to learn outside the scope of a classroom and gain an enormous amount of practical knowledge that I’ll retained, as opposed to memorized terms and concepts which will be forgotten after stepping out of an exam. I found it easier and quicker to understand new material in certain courses because I could relate it back to experiences working in the field and designing and doing experiments in the lab.

 2.  Gases are cool
When I was first looking into research opportunities at StFX, I wasn’t very interested in working in gas measurement. Primarily because I was wanting a hands-on experience, and I hadn’t envisioned gases as being “hands-on”. Quickly I learned the challenges associated with research in gas dynamics and detection because of the inability to see your samples. At one point during the design of our automated gas sampling station, there were issues with diffusion and mixing in a compartment of the system, I wished there was something like food colouring for gases! This challenge was intriguing, and it enhanced the complexity of the project.

 3. Time management skills are invaluable
A full course load comes a constant supply of homework and responsibilities, not to mention there is a breadth of extracurricular and volunteer opportunities at StFX. I was quickly compelled to strengthen my time management in order to balance my course work, research, participation in two club teams, weekly community volunteering and society involvement. Although it was at first difficult, these were all things that I thoroughly enjoyed so I had to find a way to make it work. Because of my very full plate of commitments, I’ve found I am more productive in shorter time periods in regards to course work because I know there are a multitude of other tasks waiting to be done.

 4. Things don’t always work out the first time
Field work is unpredictable; there is only so much you can prepare for. If something doesn’t work out the first time, take it as a learning experience and make the situation the best it can be. Celebrate small victories since they take you one step closer to your overarching goal, and tackle each obstacle with a new and refreshed mind.

 5. Ask questions, ask questions, ask questions
The time you have with others is limited so ask as many questions as you can to maximally absorb their expertise. Students, researchers, and mentors alike are always pleased to share what they know or tell you about what they’re doing!

Renee McDonald