My first year of university has flashed by like a spark

Spring 2013

Claire Preston

Schulich Leader at McMaster University

In spite of the drastic life change of moving more than halfway across the country, I have dedicated myself to my studies over the past eight months. However, I have learned many of the most significant lessons outside the conventional classroom.

I recognize that I am extremely privileged and lucky. That so many do not have nearly my good fortune strikes me with a sense of injustice and motivates me to help improve the lives of those who are not as well off. While many went home during the spring study break, I chose instead to join the MacServe Reading Week Hamilton Team, volunteering at places including food banks and a street-involved youth centre. During the week I met numerous resilient, devoted, unfailingly hopeful, incredibly inspiring people. The experience taught me not only about the Hamilton community, but also more about poverty, its causes, and how to contribute to its elimination in establishing more equal opportunity.

This term in chemistry, I applied to a research lab group. 15 of us were accepted, and instead of participating in regular, scripted chemistry labs, we went through the full process of deciding what we wanted to research, designing experiments, analyzing the results, and documenting our work. Our goal was to find a chemical method of producing a colour change in solutions with different concentrations of glucose. This could be potentially useful for non-invasive glucose level testing in diabetics. In the end, we failed, which ultimately does make up the vast majority of research attempts. However, in all we learned about the research process and gained from the experience, it really was not a failure at all.

Somehow, I have managed to obtain a position for the summer in the McMaster Physics Department as a research assistant. After actively seeking professors out in January to discuss their research and possibility of employment, I was shocked when one of the professors decided to hire me, as I am only in first year. The project will be to do with soft condensed matter physics; I am not yet sure of the specifics. Not many first year students get a chance at employment for the summer in research and as this is the field I am interested in going into, it could give me valuable career insights.

I have been very involved in my residence as a Floor Leader for the Inter Residence Council, but next year I really want to get more involved in the academic community. I'm not here to merely be educated, to just spend four years getting a degree and then move on. I am here to educate myself, in taking full advantage of opportunities to better myself and the world. This year has been full of exciting new experiences, and the horizon looks bright. For now, I am just really looking forward to the summer opportunity to do real science with real scientists.