As a fifth-year Criminology major who has faced some ups and downs, I want to share some words of wisdom with students following a similar path. Brace yourself - this is a bit of a long read, but I wanted to share some advice with you that I wish someone had shared with me.
When I first began my degree at SFU, I felt lost and disconnected as I entered the school with a new pool of peers. As a commuter, I would drive to campus and leave as soon as my lecture ended. By doing so, I believed the only reason to come to campus was to attend my courses. This brings me to my first piece of advice: optimize your time on campus. I wish that I had initially spent more time on campus to explore all the opportunities available to me. For example, you may spend 15 minutes after your class wandering the halls and stumble upon clubs’ day. By exploring the booths at this event, you may find volunteer opportunities on campus! When I switched from the Surrey campus to the Burnaby campus, I finally began spending more time on campus. After class one day, I decided to stay and study on campus near the lecture hall. A girl sat at my table and began studying when we realized we had the same textbook, so we must have been in the same class. From this experience we shared contact information and created a study group. Now, she is one of my good friends! The point I want to drive home is that optimizing your time on campus may lead to unintended opportunities, like finding volunteer opportunities or making connections on campus, which will enrich your time at SFU and make you feel like a part of the community.
My second piece of advice is to get involved! As previously mentioned, I struggled to make friends in my first year as I was simply attending my lectures and leaving campus. It wasn’t until I started getting involved on campus where I made my life-long friendships. In my second year, I became a FASS peer mentor to connect with current students in my faculty and mentor incoming students. Through this opportunity, I met one of my good friends, Charlotte, who encouraged me to join the Criminology Student Association (CSA). Now, I am the president of the CSA, which has allowed me to meet like-minded students and connect with the department! Joining a Departmental Student Union was a great way to get involved and has opened so many doors for me, both personally and professionally. If you are also hoping to get involved, you can seek out opportunities to get engaged at welcome day, clubs day, or through social media. If you are also a criminology student, I would love to connect with you and share the volunteer opportunities we have available - you can follow us on Instagram @sfu.csa or send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org. The moral of the story is that you never know where a volunteer opportunity may take you, so try to pursue an opportunity outside your comfort zone.
As I was disconnected from campus, I was unaware of the resources available to me. Therefore, my third piece of advice is to use the resources available to you at SFU. In my opinion, the student learning commons (SLC) offers the best writing-based resources you can access at SFU. I worked in the SLC as a writing and learning peer educator where I could connect with students one-on-one and assist them with writing and learning strategies. I would recommend booking a consultation with the SLC to try these resources if you have not already: https://www.lib.sfu.ca/about/branches-depts/slc/offer/consultation-info. For example, if you are struggling with study habits, you can book a consultation with a peer and discuss effective study strategies. On the other hand, if you struggle to create an outline for your essay, an educator can help you organize your writing. In my first year, I struggled with academic writing, but I didn’t know these resources were available, so I was unable to receive this support. In hindsight, I would have really benefited from the resources the SLC offers.
The most significant piece of advice I can offer is to reach out to people. In theory, this may sound simple, but I understand it can be difficult and uncomfortable to do. In my third year, I began attending office hours more frequently and discussing my interests with my professors and TA’s. Through doing so, I became a research assistant (RA) on a project that aligned with my research interests. If you are hoping to pursue further education, like law school or grad school, it is also great to make meaningful connections with your professors so that they can get to know more about you and your interests. Similarly, if someone is pursuing a career of interest to you, reach out to them! I connected with an upper-year student at SFU who was pursuing my dream career, and by doing so, she was able to act as a mentor to me. I wish I had reached out earlier, as I missed out on valuable opportunities because I was too nervous to connect with others.
The final lesson I learned through my journey at SFU is that it is okay to be unsure. When I began my degree, it seemed like everyone had everything figured out. My friends all had plans; they wanted to go to law school, be a corrections officer, or work in forensics. On the other hand, I was always a bit unsure of my ‘end goal’. I always had an interest in human rights and social justice, but I wasn’t sure exactly what career I would end up in, which is okay! Throughout my degree I was able to take courses in different areas to guide my interests. After taking several law courses, I found a passion for law and decided to pursue law school. However, even after making this discovery, I still had doubts, which is also very normal. The message I want other criminology students to take home is that it is okay to be unsure – take time to explore your interests and keep your doors open; you never know what opportunities may present themselves to you.