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Sonieya Nagarajah

Dear First Year Me,

The Next ChapterLet’s start with the truth. The thought of entering your freshman year of university is exciting! But we’d all be lying if we didn’t admit that along with the excitement came an intense combination of anxiety, fear and concern. A new school, new friends, new home – that’s enough to start the nerves in anyone! But what some fail to realize is that everyone feels like that! Some may hide it, some may deny it – but it’s still there! And sometimes all we need to do is find people that feel the same way as us – people in our program perhaps.

But you’re a woman. If you’re going into programs classified under STEM (including Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), you might come across what you consider another challenge – you’re part of a minority group. So not only are entering uncharted territory, but you’re also going to be one of the only few females in the program. Where does that put you?

Above the rest of them. What you might consider a challenge or a drawback is actually a testament to your character. YOU are venturing out and exploring one of the fastest growing areas of studies known to mankind and YOU are not going to let the fact that you are part of a minority group stand in your way of it. This is your field to research, your field to study, your field to understand. But of course, it’s easier said than done, and as you move on, you’ll find something you wish you knew before you went into your freshman year.

Well, here’s what I wish someone had told me:

  1. Open yourself up to all the possibilities – things are going to be different, but isn’t that what university is all about?!
  2. Go to class – this may seem like an obvious one, but you might be surprised how easy it is to fall behind if you don’t make an effort to stay on top of things.
  3. Make friends outside your program – it can get overwhelming when you eat, sleep and breathe science, technology, engineering or math, but making friends in other areas of studies will welcome pleasant change (especially during midterms and finals!).
  4. Get involved – classes may take up your days while homework takes up your nights, but don’t let that be the only thing that defines you! Join a club, a sports team or a volunteer organization that you find meaningful and commit some time to it. You’ll not only be making the most of your university experience, but you may also make friends with similar values who may one day turn into your family.
  5. And finally, be yourself – there is a fine line between growing as an individual and losing your identity, as it’s easy to get molded by society and sometimes lose yourself in the process. But hey! You spent the last 18 or so years finding your identity, so why would you want to lose that now?!

You made it. You’re starting a new chapter in your life and it may very well be the best chapter yet! So be confident, have fun and good luck!


Sonieya Nagarajah is a third year undergraduate student. She is studying Biological and Medical Sciences at the University of Western Ontario.

Through outreach and professional development activities, research, partnerships, thought leadership and online initiatives, we work with industry and academia to educate on the value of diversity for innovation, to inspire women to thrive and to celebrate the contributions of women in science and engineering.
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