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I know that normally you wait until you’re all the way done something before reflecting back on it, but life and blog schedules don’t always allow for such niceties. The week I’m writing this is the week of the History department’s promotional events for its Honors program and I’m almost done my Honors paper, so I figured that now is as good a time as any to reminisce a little and tell you what I’ve learned.
Honors programs exist within UAlberta’s BA and BSc programs with the purpose of giving students with good grades the opportunity to delve a little deeper into their subject area and to do some form of undergraduate research project (although, there are of course other ways to get involved with undergraduate research). The requirements, somewhat annoyingly for my attempt at a general explanation, vary across departments. On a very broad level, Honors programs require you to maintain a certain GPA, take more credits in your subject area and complete an independent project in your fourth year.
But why, you ask, would ever want to saddle yourself with a terrifying year-long research project if you didn’t have to? And this is a fair question. I resisted the idea of Honors throughout the first half of my degree. “Why give myself the extra stress?” I reasoned. “I don’t have anything to prove about how smart I am.”
But by the end of my second year, I was enjoying my 300-level courses much more than my 200-level courses. If I stayed on this track, I’d be enjoying fourth-year courses most in third year and then…my extrapolation told me I’d be bored. I also got a legitimate, physical, paper letter in the mail from the History department inviting me to consider doing Honors. What can I say – I can’t resist the combination of snail mail and flattery.
So I sent some emails and set up a meeting. “There’s no way I’m going to give up Study Abroad and they probably won’t let me do both,” I told myself reassuringly. But I’d reckoned without professor attitudes toward administrative policies: “We’re a little bit vague on what exactly the policy is, and anyway, there’s probably a way around it.” So we worked out a modified timeline and I ended up agreeing to apply.
And now here I am, two years and many panic attacks later. What have I learned, aside from the malleability of some university policies and a whole lot about 17th century European science?
I’ve learned a lot about walking forward, step by step, into the unknown. You can’t know at the beginning of a project what your finished idea will be, but you have to start working anyway. It’s hard, but I think it’s a skill worth learning.
I’ve also learned next-level time management skills and self-motivation. I thought I knew how to manage my time pretty well by the middle of university, but working on a project that’s important mostly only to you is an education all its own. I’ve learned to have more confidence in my ideas, to share them with other people and to be less afraid of criticism.
When I went into Honors, people talked a lot to me about how it was good for getting into grad school and how important it was to have an intense passion for your subject. I didn’t feel like I had an intense passion, a strong desire to go to grad school in History or the genius-level insight I imagined I would need. It turns out, none of that mattered. I developed the passion by doing the work, not the other way around.
At the end of my degree, I can see how valuable Honors has been to me. I’ve met some wonderful people and I’ve (almost) done something I fully believed at many points I couldn’t do. I’ve regretted doing Honors so many times – but in the end, I don’t regret a second of it.