Department of science: yours to discover

Few people can fully grasp the amount of work that is required to complete a B.Sc in anything under a decade. In addition to attending class everyday, most science students are resigned to spending their afternoons sitting in labs, performing thrilling titrations, or infecting unsuspecting bacteria with mutagenic viruses. With this heavy academic workload,I can completely understand why many science students would initially want to spend less time around the department and not more. However, that being said, I would like to take this opportunity to try and convince you to take some of that precious free time and spend it here on campus, getting your name out there while padding that resume at the same time.

The following is my guide to taking an active role on campus, which can be as easy as attending a lecture outlining a professor’s research, or as challenging as demonstrating the finer points of the polymerase chain reaction to a class of third-year students.

Talk to your professors:

That person up there at the front of the class can seem scary at times, but believe it or not, they are every bit as much a person as you are, and in most cases they will probably recall their own undergraduate years, when they were also intimidated by their professors.

In terms of getting involved, they will most likely be your best bet for reliable and up-to-date information, and in my experience they are more than happy to talk to an interested and informed student. Furthermore, many professors with an active research lab would kill to have a Guinea pig . . . er um, I mean volunteer, willing to be paid in experience for helping out in the lab. Don’t fool yourself though, as a volunteer you likely will not be the one to pull the big switch labeled “transmogrify,” and there will be days where you would rather eat broccoli than see another piece of dirty glassware, but whose name do you think will pop into that professors head when a paid summer position comes up?

Talking to your professors will also allow you to get info on cool departmental contests like the Formula SAE contest where students design, build and race a car or the RoboCup, in which contestants strive to create the best robotic soccer players.

Attend departmental events:

Finding out about departmental events, such as guest lecturer nights, can be a challenge in itself at times. I have seen some garage sales which get more publicity. Keeping an eye on departmental notice boards should keep you somewhat informed, as would asking those elusive professors we talked about above. You can check departmental websites, however, with the exception of a precious few, be prepared to laugh at how out-of-date some of the event postings are.

The idea of attending a lecture outside of regular classroom might seem like total insanity, but it can be — and I never use this word lightly — fascinating. What are you in science for if not to expand your knowledge of science? Ok, admittedly convincing you to attend yet another lecture is a hard sell, but these are not the same as the lectures you attend every day. They are more general, typically less technical and can be very entertaining.

Some lectures are from U of M professors, outlining their area of research, which can be a great way for you to find a field that you are interested in, while others are given by visitors from other Canadian and international universities, invited by your department to talk about their world class research and what drives them.

Get a job:

Universities rely on people just like you to function, and there are tonnes of jobs out there for an eager and clever science student. While most are only open to people with some form of experience, there are still plenty available for the motivated first-years.

I know this is starting to become a reoccurring theme, but if you’re interested in working in your field, your professor is the person to approach. If they aren’t looking for someone, they will probably know someone who is. Jobs can also be found under the “current students” headline at Click on the “jobs for students” link and you will be directed to an instructional page detailing the process, which involves creating a workopolis profile and an online resume.

Most departments also look for lab demonstrators at the beginning of every session and while you are often restricted to demonstrating the labs you have previously taken (and passed) it can be a great experience and it pays better than almost any other available job on campus.

Summer research positions are also always available, and as department heads have told me, it is never too early to start showing interest.

Become active in student groups:

As a science student you are represented by elected officials from the Science Student’s Association (SSA), whose offices are located in the Armes lecture building. The SSA hosts several events throughout the year, which are advertised on their website In addition to the SSA, many departments have student groups of their own, which are smaller and have a tighter focus.

As a former executive member of a science student group, albeit at a different institution, I know from experience that these people struggle to spend their yearly budget, and appreciate any help they can get in planning events. So instead of sitting at home, grumbling about yet another lame pub-crawl, show up to some meetings and tell them what lame thing you think they should spend their money on.

Write for your friendly neighbourhood Manitoban science editor:

Ok, this is self-serving since anyone can volunteer in almost any capacity here at the Manitoban, (even for the Copy Editor) but I’m writing this feature, and I need volunteer writers. Regardless of past writing experience or area of interest, I would love to have you, yes you, write something for me. And while I can’t pay you in anything beyond praise, free coffee and photocopier access, having publications to your name looks absolutely brilliant on a grad-school application, and will help to set you apart from all those people who were “too busy” to volunteer for me.

Take a look around your department:

Did you know that there is a great paleontology display in the Wallace building with actual skeletons of cool dinosaurs? I didn’t, until I stumbled upon it while waiting for a lecture seminar to begin. Cool things abound on this campus and they are waiting to be discovered by you. I’m not even going to tell you whom you should talk to about these; you should be able to guess by now.

I hope I have demonstrated to you that there are lots of ways to participate in your faculty, department and university. Not only will it help you meet new people, expand your experience, and all but guarantee you a healthy stack of reference letters, but taking part in these kinds of activities also demonstrates to prospective recruiters and hiring committees that you are a well-rounded and interesting person who is more deserving of the position than the guy with a 4.0 who stayed home and played World of Warcraft.