Big Brain Plays

Big-wig alumni and students share their advice for surviving and thriving in university


Paula Simons

Columnist, Edmonton Journal, ’86 BA (Hon)

The first day of ENGL 200, my professor announced the plays of Shakespeare had actually been written by the lost illegitimate son of Elizabeth I. So I asked for a transfer to another section. I ended up with a fantastic prof, who inspired me to switch my major to English. The moral? It’s OK to switch profs, courses, and majors. Don’t lock yourself into a class you hate.

Don Iveson

Mayor of Edmonton, ’01 BA

What you will learn outside the classroom is just as important as what you learn formally. Extracurriculars (for me it was The Gateway) or even the hallway seminar after class — these opportunities matter as much as showing up for class. And if you do it right, some of the people you meet will become your friends, teachers, and coaches for life.

Jay Ingram

Former host, Quirks and Quarks and Daily Planet, ‘67 BSc

Surviving the first year of university? How about all four years? The first line of each of the four verses of Bob Dylan’s “Things Have Changed” explains what it will be like. First verse: “A worried man with a worried mind.” Second verse: “This place ain’t doin’ me any good.” Third verse: “I’ve been walking 40 miles of bad road.” Fourth verse: “I hurt easy, I just don’t show it.” That’s your four years of university right there

Rachel Notley

Premier of Alberta, ‘85 BA

Finding your voice can take time, whether you’re in the legislature or sitting in your undergrad class in the Humanities Centre. I wasn’t a natural public speaker and at first I dreaded being called on by my profs. Be patient and give yourself a break. When you find your voice, the results will be worth it.

Current Students:

Yomna Elshamy

President, Interdepartmental Science Students’ Society (ISSS)

One thing I learned during my degree, which is extremely valuable, is to give yourself a break. This place can be a great experience if you get yourself involved. I understand that grades are important, however university is much more than courses and is filled with amazing people and opportunities! So take the time to discover that and don’t be too hard on yourself since we are constantly learning and making mistakes.

Oumar Salifou

Editor-in-Chief, The Gateway

My best advice for thriving throughout your degree is maintaining your mental, physical, and emotional health, which all play a huge role in academic and overall performance as a student. I’ve had moments throughout my degree where I neglected my health, mostly to compensate for procrastination (late night papers) and bad time management (buying all my food on campus). You’ll become a different person after experiencing university; make sure that person is well-rounded and ready to take on the world!

Reed Larsen

President, Students’ Union

The simplest way to ensure success is to go to class. Skip, and you’ll miss learning moments, the context for materials, and exam content. Nobody forces you to go, so it’ll test your will. While you’re in class, talk to peers and professors to build opportunities in your field. Strong relationships lead to more opportunities than your grades (and maybe drinking buddies)!

Elise Noyes

Former president, Music Students’ Association (MSA)

Expect to work hard. Degrees are expensive and you’ll want to feel like you paid for more than just a piece of paper. That said, pushing yourself to the point of burnout is neither helpful nor healthy. Plan far in ad-vance by looking at your syllabi and scheduling your time accordingly. Doing poorly on an exam or failing a course should not be thought as a stamp on your forehead labeled “failure,” but as a learning experience.

Andrew McWhinney

Andrew McWhinney is a fifth-year English and political science combined honors student, as well as The Gateway's 2019-20 Editor-in-Chief. He was previously The Gateway's 2018-19 Opinion Editor. An aspiring journalist with too many opinions, he's a big fan of political theory, hip-hop, and being alive.

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