With employers seeking graduates with increasing professional skills, the university standard of required courses is not cutting it.

Co-op, placement courses, research practicums and internships are some of the experiential education opportunities the faculty of science offers its students. Although there are various opportunities for science students to gain an experiential education, this is not necessarily the most known option as students begin their university careers.  

Unless a student begins university intending to partake in co-op, these learning opportunities are not widely discussed. Luckily, McMaster offers courses such as LIFESCI 2AA3 and SCIENCE 2C00 spread awareness about the opportunity and benefits of experiential learning.  

LIFESCI 2AA3 hosts a lecturelecture dedicated to having a panel of third and fourth-year science students speak about their experiences in an experiential learning course. At the same time, SCIENCE 2C00 is a prerequisite course for students to develop professional skills before entering co-op in their third year.     

Although not many experiential educational courses are offered to science students, the different learning methods that are offered allows students to get involved in the ones that best suit them.  

For example, co-op is provided to a limited number of programs within the Faculty of Science here at McMaster. Whereas there are only 16 different experiential education offered to all science students. 

The traditional co-op route entails students adding an extra year to their degree. For many students, this is not attractive due to the length it takes to complete as well as hindering their professional school plans.  

However, by making experiential education courses mandatory, students can receive the benefits of co-op without committing another year to obtain a degree. These courses are created like a regular course in the sense that they are unit based. Thus, experiential education courses count towards the unit requirement of a degree

However, by making experiential education courses mandatory, students can receive the benefits of co-op without committing another year to obtain a degree. These courses are created like a regular course in the sense that they are unit based. Thus, experiential education courses count towards the unit requirement of a degree

Breanna Khameraj

Some of the specific alternatives offered in place of the co-op are SCIENCE 3EP3, a placement course; SCIENCE 3RP3, a research practicum; and SCIENCE 3IE0, an internship course.  

Regardless of the limited courses offered within the faculty of science, the importance of these experiential education courses is prominent. These opportunities allow students to gain real-world experience in their field of choice.  

According to a study published by two archeologists, student interns engaging in experiential learning gained transferable skills and apply their learned knowledge to society. Their internship enabled them to become educators within their community and made these students well-rounded individuals prepared to enter a working environment.    

Experiential learning provides students with the opportunity to gain technical and transferrable skills they may not have been able to gain until post-graduation.  

By making experiential education courses a requirement to obtain a Bachelor of Science degree, science students are given more incentive to engage in opportunities that will provide them with the necessary experience for the working world.  

Through these courses, science students are required to learn professional skills, research, and lab techniques, as well as resume/interview skills.  

The benefit of making experiential education mandatory goes beyond students gaining attractive employable qualities; it also does not deter students from graduating “on time”.  

Universities should make courses under the experiential education category mandatory for all science students. Students will gain experience academically relevant within their field of choice providing them the opportunity to develop transferable skills. Fortunately, this could all occur without extending their graduation date, allowing them to indulge in the best of both worlds.    

Universities should be more mindful of more hands-on learning options and start discussing on making courses such as these mandatory for all science students. 

Photos C/O McMaster Muslim Students' Association

By: Drew Simpson

The McMaster Muslims Students’ Association recently held Finding Your Momentum, a leadership and empowerment workshop specifically curated for Muslims. Its objective was to increase youth engagement to improve community involvement.

While MacMSA maintains a busy calendar, the process of organizing this event began well before the school year started. While decisions were being made around the structure of MacMSA’s exec-director team, the team realized a recent and significant drop in engagement with the association and the community.

Typically, directorship positions with the MacMSA would attract about 50 applicants each, in recent times however, these numbers have significantly dropped to one or two applicants. The senior executives became worried about MacMSA’s future leadership and lack of engagement with younger cohorts.

MacMSA leaders also saw a lack of Muslims being represented in leadership positions in the McMaster community, such as through the Student Representative Assembly.

Feedback gained from focus groups found a common rhetoric of Muslims opting out of leadership positions to focus on academics. They also found that many individuals were under the misconception that they are not needed by the community.

 

One workshop attendee and MacMSA representative noted that a lot of students experience a lack of confidence in their abilities and felt that they aren’t equipped with the appropriate skills to take on leadership responsibilities.  

The Finding Your Momentum workshop was created in response to these concerns. The MacMSA team realized that they needed to empower their members and create a space where attendees can have open conversations about bettering themselves as Muslims and leaders in the community.

While one of the aims of the workshop was to increase attendees’ engagement with the community, the MacMSA team had to first figure out a way to increase engagement with the workshop itself.

From previous experiences, the organizers found that many people needed someone to both encourage them to participate and attend the event with them. This was often facilitated through invitations by word of mouth.

The organizers of Finding Your Momentum took advantage of this promotion strategy, and it worked. One attendee noted that in order to facilitate empowerment, individuals need someone to give them a little push of encouragement and support.  

“When you hear ‘word-of-mouth’, you think of just going and telling someone ‘hey we have an event, just come’. But it’s actually investing in the Muslim community on campus…A part of being a leader is having a community that can look up to you and support your vision,” explained Faryal Zahir, MSA Director and Finding Your Momentum organizer.

“A big part of this year has been making that vision very very clear, and then having people inspired to support that vision.”

This workshop consisted of interactive activities and discussions that focused on introspecting on attendees’ relationships with themselves and others. There was also a focus on utilizing leadership opportunities to serve the community and building connections.

At every MacMSA event, building connections is a recurring goal. The team believes that building connections enables individuals into action.

Finding Your Momentum, like other MacMSA events, aims to break down the barriers that repress interaction, and encourage attendees to have one-to-one connections, first with themselves, then with their peers and greater community.

Time will tell if the MacMSA achieved its goal of encouraging workshop attendees to take on more leadership positions, but one thing is for sure – Finding Your Momentum created a much needed space for empowerment and meaningful engagement for Muslim youth.

 

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By: Jenna Tziatis, Marketing Assistant, McMaster University Continuing Education

In today’s tough job market a degree alone may not be enough to get you the job or promotion that you’re looking for.  Employer expectations are higher and are expecting more than the knowledge that comes with a degree. They are also scrutinizing candidates based on their enhanced skill-sets and experience to ensure they are hiring someone who will fit and integrate into their business and culture with the least disruption.

Savvy students are realizing this trend and responding by upskilling themselves to ensure that they stand out in the employment crowd and that their resume rises to the top of the pile.  If you’re thinking about getting ahead, McMaster Continuing Education offers a variety of learning options from diplomas and certificates to micro learning options. Whether your focus is in the field of business, health or professional development, there are many to choose from:

To make it easier for Mac students, McMaster Continuing Education offers a faster route to get you ahead with Degree + Diploma.  This opportunity allows you to earn a diploma or certificate while you work toward your degree.  You can use your elective credits in your current program of study toward a diploma or certificate with Continuing Education, allowing you to gain your qualifications faster. This opportunity is gaining popularity among Mac students and can be easily set up by contacting your Academic Advisor.    

If you’re not ready to jump straight into getting a diploma or certificate you can always try one of McMaster Continuing Education professional development courses or attend our upcoming free Business Entrepreneur Series micro learning session that is running in spring.  It’s a great way to gain valuable and recognized skills in a condensed learning format.  To attend this series you can sign up at mcmastercce.ca/events/free-business-entrepreneurship-series

Regardless of what you decide, by recognizing the demands of today’s job market and being proactive to acquire the skills that businesses are looking for will make you more visible and appealing to employers.  Continuing Education will give you that competitive edge to get ahead and land that job you’re looking for.

To learn more about these valuable learning options visit www.mcmastercce.ca

 

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Photo by Catherine Goce

By: Evonne Syed

The topic of integrating artificial intelligence and robots into the workforce rouses the concern of anyone wishing to enter the job market, and the same goes for postsecondary students.

Fortunately, the future is optimistic for students as automation is not expected to prevent graduates from attaining their career goals.

In fact, the rise of automation actually improves career prospects for university graduates, as it is creating a new job market. Forbes Magazine reports that artificial intelligence is predicted to create 58 million jobs as 2022 approaches.

As the popularity of automation systems and the use of artificial intelligence in the workplace becomes more widespread, there will be more and more people required to actually build and develop these systems.

This will open up opportunities for those who wish to enter the fields of robotics and information technology. BBC News anticipates the prominence of data analysts, social media specialists and software developers, as a result.

For this reason, while one may argue that automation has resulted in the elimination of certain jobs, the introduction of automation in the workforce is actually creating more jobs and opportunities in our current digital age.

Luckily, McMaster University has many programs to equip students with the necessary skills to flourish in our digital age. The recent construction of the Hatch Centre shows McMaster’s testament to students advancing in these fields.  

Even if one is not interested in working in the field of automation, that does not mean that they are otherwise at risk of being unable to obtain a job. There is an increasing demand for “human skills” in the workforce since these skills are what distinguish robots from actual human beings.

University graduates tend to seek out careers that require a higher level of education which simply cannot be programmed into automation systems. It would be way too costly and time consuming to teach a robot the knowledge a person has acquired from their post-secondary education.

There are also plenty of skills, academic and otherwise, that students learn and develop through their time at university. Education and experiential opportunities prepare students to apply their knowledge in a variety of situations.

For example, critical thinking skills and problem solving are transferable “soft skills” that employers seek and students develop during their time at university.

Some jobs require humanistic qualities, which are simply not possible for a machine to replicate. For instance, no matter how much technology advances, robots may never be capable of understanding human emotions and experiences.

The interpersonal skills, empathy and compassion that people develop by interacting with one another are skills that are beneficial for the work environment. These skills equip anyone to thrive professionally as the future of the job outlook changes.

Technological advancements such as automation will inevitably impact life as we know it, and that includes changing our work environments. However, these changes are not inherently harmful and the possibilities for post-secondary graduates remain promising.

Students must be proactive, take initiative to educate themselves as much as possible and work on developing these skills. Provided that students make the most of their university experience, and are willing to undergo some extra training to keep their learning sharp, robots are sure to have nothing on them.

 

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Photo C/O Grant Holt

By: Elizabeth DiEmanuele

“We often don’t realize how resilient we can be,” says Kerri Latham, career counsellor at the Student Success Centre. “The truth is, the more times you fail, the easier it is to try.”

For the Student Success Centre, providing students with the resources and supports needed to develop their resiliency in university is important. One piece of this work is normalizing failure, uncertainty and other factors that contribute to wanting to give up on a goal, project, idea, or dream.

As Jenna Storey, academic skills program coordinator at the Student Success Centre, says, “Students often encounter challenges in achieving their academic goals. Resiliency in academics is about bouncing back after these challenges, and also recognizing and working through them by incorporating better academic and personal management skills.”

Most recently, the Centre led a digital campaign called #StickWithIt, a resiliency campaign that responded to student experiences the Centre addresses in its regular roster of programs, services and workshops. Staff have also participated in the CFMU’s MorningFile show, covering topics from Thriving in Academic Uncertainty to Developing Career Resilience.

In Kerri’s role, resiliency is an ongoing conversation and practice. Whether it’s through her one-on-one appointments, a career and employment session, or a Career Planning Group, one thing is clear: there is a shared uncertainty for many students around what they are going to do and where they are going to go next.

Kerri shares, “Though there are expectations, reflecting on your own priorities can help you stay grounded to pursue a direction that is best for you. Try not to get swayed too much by what others are doing. Know yourself and honour your own path.”

Knowing yourself does not necessarily mean “know your passion.” As Kerri suggests, “This puts a lot of false expectations on students, but the main thing is to pay attention to those seeds of interests and allow them to grow. Though it might feel like everyone has it figured out, there is always change, uncertainty and new directions.  It’s okay to not know right now – uncertainty is to be expected.”

For students focused on what’s next, Kerri recommends breaking big decisions into smaller chunks; and when job searching, focusing more on the opportunities and skills students want to develop. She also encourages students to use their strengths and supports, like family, friends or mentors.

The good news is: students don’t have to go through it alone. The Student Success Centre is a place for students to explore, from the moment they accept their offer of admission and up to ten years after graduation. Upcoming sessions include:

Register for workshops or a career counselling appointment on OSCARplus.

Visit studentsuccess.mcmaster.ca to learn more.

 

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Photo C/O Grant Holt

As students return from the winter break to begin new classes, a large population of students will be returning to their undergraduate thesis or seeking a thesis supervisor for the following year. The undergraduate thesis is a characteristic, and sometimes required, component of many four-year honours degree programs. Regardless of program, senior theses are designed to allow upper-year students to hone their research skills and prepare them for graduate studies.

I am completing my undergraduate thesis in an analytical chemistry lab alongside five other undergraduate students. While our projects vary in nature, the expectations of our thesis in terms of time commitment and research goals are essentially the same. However, the assessments for my thesis as an integrated science student differs from that of the chemistry students in the lab, which differ even from the chemical biology students — despite being in the same department of chemistry and chemical biology.

For example, the thesis report for students in the chemistry program is worth 40 per cent of their final grade whereas the same document for students in the chemical biology program is worth only 25 per cent. Besides the differences in weighting for the same assessment, students in chemical biology are required to complete different assessments like project outlines and interim reports while chemistry students must only complete their report and final presentation.   

While all senior theses conducted by students in the department of chemistry and chemical biology are worth nine units, senior theses that conduct arguably similar work from students in the department of biochemistry can be worth up to 15 units. This becomes especially alarming when students from departments outside of biochemistry complete their thesis in a biochemistry lab and receive less units than their biochemistry student counterparts.

It makes little sense to have students that are under the same expectations and striving towards similar research goals receiving different academic credit.

Rather than the assessment for senior theses dictated by the program to which these students belong, assessments should be decided by the supervisor. This will not only ensure that students completing virtually the same work are assessed equally, it will provide supervisors more control over the research conducted under their supervision and allow them to create assessments that better reflect students’ achievements.  

Additionally, as all senior theses share the same goal to improve students’ research capabilities, and considering students, for the most part, can conduct their thesis under the supervision of a supervisor outside of their program’s department, there is no real need for program-specific thesis courses. If the fear is that students within the same program will not develop the same transferable skills or be graded equally, the faculty rather than the program can mandate that all senior theses must include specific components and the same time commitments.

It may also be useful to consider implanting a mandatory seminar session for undergraduate thesis students to attend. The integrated science program already has such a seminar in place, where thesis students within the program are required to present updates on their research and peer-review literature reports and other related assessments.

If seminars like these were to be implemented faculty-wide, the typical undergraduate senior thesis could be restructured so that it is in total worth a standard number of units where the large per cent of a student’s grade is determined by their supervisor, and a certain smaller per cent is devoted to seminar assessments.

No matter what action is taken, it is clear that the current structure of undergraduate senior theses does not create fair opportunities for all students involved and requires serious restructuring.   

 

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By Jonas Yeung

We have all encountered the dreaded question, “what can you do with your degree?” Undergraduate students who have spoken with worried parents of prospective students know this situation all too well.

A gruelling amount of time and money are invested in obtaining that piece of paper. Unsurprisingly, students like myself have pondered the value of their degree. It quickly becomes evident that degrees are worth little in isolation — it is what you have gained throughout your undergraduate career that is of true value: your skills, experiences and connections.

A bachelors of health sciences is not a golden ticket to medical school without the hours of extracurricular activities and decent reference letters.

Even the iron ring of engineering does not guarantee a job without adequate experience and a marketable personality.

Chief executive officer of LinkedIn Jeff Weiner further substantiates, “Increasingly I hear this mantra: Skills, not degrees. It's not skills at the exclusion of degrees. It's just expanding our perspective to go beyond degrees.”

There should be greater emphasis placed on skills rather than the degree. After all, a degree supposedly marks the years of education responsible for honing said valuable skills.

The acquisition of skills arises organically for those who are academically-inclined. For instance, McMaster University is internationally renowned for pioneering problem-based learning, which gives students opportunities to develop skills through solving open-ended problems.

For many students, however, the final destination seems unclear due to a broad spectrum of interests, or the lack thereof. One ought to take advantage of their undergraduate because it is where there is the most opportunity to explore new interests.

The wiser strategy thus is to be “path-oriented” rather than “goal-oriented”, as there is a greater likelihood to achieve the goal or to find a goal that is meaningful to pursue. A student will ideally acquire skills and experiences along their journey that would supplement their degree towards a particular destination.

This journey-destination concept embedded in our undergraduate careers is a reflection of a deeper narrative in life. A journey usually implies an adventure towards a destination that is vexed with uncertainty.

These are questions that prey on our insecurities and make us anxious  — and we have every reason to be anxious; there is no guarantee that things will work out in our favour. Most people are dissatisfied with their jobs. And what’s to say you won’t be someone arbitrary afflicted by tragedy?

There are many cases where an aspiration will never be fully realized despite one’s best effort. That is the tragedy of life. Therefore, a “goal-oriented” strategy may yield life-long bitterness since happiness is often contingent on accomplishing that goal.

The alternative approach is someone who is “path-oriented”; where the individual may find lasting satisfaction throughout the journey, regardless of circumstance.

We are encouraged to foster a healthy attitude and to pursue what is meaningful in the midst of chaos. For some, this may be friendships, love or acts of service. It is seldom isolated accomplishments that produce lasting meaning. Obtaining a degree holds little meaning without representing the skills and wisdom gained throughout years of study.

A “path-oriented” strategy that focuses on the meaningful aspects of life is the key to long-lasting satisfaction. Then, just maybe, one may find happiness along the way.

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