Learning clicks ambassador Cindy

This University of Alberta sciences student pursued her interests through extracurriculars.


Learning clicks ambassador Cindy

I juggle commitments to my many different passions and am a huge proponent of pursuing your interests through extracurriculars!

I come from a first-generation immigrant family; I was born and raised in Xi’an, China until the age of 4, when my parents decided to move our family to Canada in pursuit of a better life. However, within the first year of landing, I returned to live with my grandparents for a year while my parents established their lives here.

That year really solidified my life’s course. My doctor grandmother opened my eyes to the wonders of biology and medicine. Inspired by her career, I knew early on that I wanted to go to university, so I set my mind to being a good student.

I went to an academically oriented high school where it was assumed that we’d all go to university and take the most streamlined path to our goal professions. I didn’t have perfect grades, but overall school was never a great struggle for me, and my grades even helped me earn some scholarships. My high grades also meant that I had the freedom to choose which school I wanted to attend. That was an awesome feeling, but I didn’t feel ready to move out alone, so I chose the University of Alberta to live at home, it was comfortable and familiar.

I applied for early admission when University of Alberta (U of A) campus staff visited my high school. Since I was in good academic standing, I was accepted months before many of my classmates and it gave me more time to get organized, check out Apply Alberta for more information. It was great to have help and encouragement through the application process. My mother was another important support, as she was working at the U of A at the time and was super knowledgeable about admissions requirements.

I was very prepared for university entry, but after I started university that I realized how much campus had to offer beyond the academic stuff. I didn’t want to limit myself to focus exclusively on academics – so I pursued my interests and got involved in extracurricular activities. I joined students’ groups and eventually took on leadership roles with student council. I loved planning campus events, from bake sales to open mic nights. I started volunteering at the Peer Support Centre, a supportive listening service that taught me how I can help contribute to building safer, more inclusive spaces on campus. I also started mentoring and tutoring younger students in grade school. By filling my time with things that brought me joy, I became a more compassionate and knowledgeable person all around. As I interacted with others and heard their stories, I expanded my interests beyond science into humanities.

Every step has expanded my identity and broadened my perspective: who I think I am, who I want to be, and what I can offer others. For a long time, I thought the goal was to immerse myself in “pure” science; to focus on the facts, be objective, and dismiss the rest as irrelevant. That didn’t feel right to me, I’ve come to realize that reducing life to objectivities, takes away perspective and flattens things to become 2-dimensional, but life is complicated. My extracurriculars and the diverse classes I’ve taken in university have helped me become who I am. Every curve in our paths brings us closer to where we need to be.

Alberta ran this peer-developed program from 2007 until 2019. Ambassadors blogged and visited classrooms to inspire students to plan their post-secondary journey. These ambassadors are now in the workforce but their stories can still inspire continuous education.


My role models

My first role model was my grandma who was an anesthesiologist and surgeon in China. She regaled me with stories from the operating room at the end of every day. As a 5-year-old, the idea of literally looking inside someone was mind-blowing! I wanted to be just like her, putting people to sleep, cutting them open and fixing their problems. When I emigrated to Canada, I left my superhuman grandma and her amazing stories on the other side of the world. As young, ambitious girl in a new country, I soon started looking for new role models.

I watched TV in my spare time, I loved medical shows where successful scientists were academically brilliant, but cold and cynical. I reasoned that being good at science made strengths in other fields like social skills and humanities irrelevant. In school, language arts and social studies were never my favourites, and I took medical shows as validation that they weren’t important anyways.

In junior high I started volunteering, beginning with school open houses, then branching out to community organizations to help at a local senior’s home and the Stollery Children’s Hospital. These volunteer experiences brought me closer to people from different walks of life, and I realized I enjoyed connecting with them and hearing their stories. I didn’t need to “stay objective”, this realization was life-changing, and it caused me to rethink the sort of people I look up to.

At the same time, I started studying different pieces of literature in school by authors like Maxine Hong Kingston and Michael Ondaatje. It was the first time I really felt engaged in what I was reading: these immigrant experience writers told stories I could relate to about facing cultural barriers, and hybrid identities. When it came time to write essays, I felt like I had more genuine ideas to share, which motivated me to work harder and do them justice.

I will always look up to my grandma, but my parents were great role models, they were university-educated and academically driven. Through volunteering, I started to appreciate people more fully and learn from them in different ways. There are a lot of people in my life whom I admire, not for any specific accomplishments but for fulfilling their own unique goals and having qualities like compassion, patience, kindness, etc. I think of them as mentors because they are living their best life by being themselves. Their wisdom will help me learn how to better support and engage with people. It will be important for my career development because personal interaction is something that I value.

To put it simply, I think role models show you possible destinations, while mentors help guide you along the journey. Think about people you admire or are living the life you would like to live and see what you can learn from them.

How I chose my major and minor

I’m studying for my Bachelor of Science with a major in Biological Sciences and minor in Sociology. It means that most of the classes I take are related to biological sciences and a smaller portion of the other classes are related to sociology. I study life sciences courses like immunology, pharmacology, and microbiology and social sciences to see who shapes societies, how it’s done and why.

Entering university, picking Biological Sciences as my major was thanks to the influence of my grandma. I stumbled across sociology in my second year, when I took an introductory class just to fill my schedule. I never expected it to be so eye opening! In that class we took a closer look at how things like gender, race, culture, social class, ability, history, and environment come together to shape the world we live in today.

At the time, I was also getting more interested in social justice issues, so taking a sociology class was great because it tied my personal interests in with an academic field. Basically, anything that affects people can be studied under sociology, which is why I find it so fascinating. I’ve since branched out into additional fields like:

  • Women and gender studies – lifestyle effects and bias of gender identities, sexual orientation, race, and class.
  • Disability studies – societal effects of how people with different abilities are treated and how we define and value different kinds of ability.
  • Surveillance studies – technological effects of access to our information, rights and who is most affected.

I’ve always loved biology because I find it amazing that so many parts have evolved to function together in almost perfect harmony. Take the human body, for example, trillions of cells assembled into tissues and organs, working together to keep each of us alive. It’s so cool that everything fits together, and nothing happens without affecting something else. When I wandered into sociology, I discovered the same principle applied. One major difference I’ve noticed between sociology and science is that with science it can feel like you’re getting lost in the details. Sociology is a nice complement to science because it encourages me to step back and look at the bigger picture on a more relatable scale than cellular diagrams. I’m interested in thinking about how to improve the lives of others, and sociology gives me a better idea of how important science is, when used in the right ways.

I choose my path, honestly because it just didn’t occur to me to pick something else. Once I chose my major and minor, I took it as something set in stone, and didn’t think about changing them. I don’t have any regrets, but I could have benefitted from exploring additional paths.

Be an explorer! For more flexible degrees like science and arts, where you have some room to experiment with other fields, take some time and read up on different courses that might interest you (especially before declaring your major/minor). University is full of hidden gems; you never know what you might come across until you take the time to dig around a little. Remember, you are allowed to change your mind. Sometimes discovering what you really want comes a little later which can mean changing courses or type or degree or extending the length of your degree. Every kind of journey in university is valid. If you’re able to some detours of discovery, explore away!


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