by Emily Higgitt
At the end of my undergraduate degree in 2020, I made the exciting yet challenging decision to move universities and provinces to pursue my dream of studying neurosciences. When I reflect on this year, I see the many challenges I faced due to leaving home for the first time and the uncertainties of changing universities, but I also see all I have learned from this fantastic opportunity and all the lovely people I have met.
Leaving home and moving provinces was much harder than I thought it would be. I have lived in KwaZulu-Natal my whole life, so moving to Cape Town with little family and no friends was very daunting. Additionally, the COVID-19 restrictions limited my ability to meet new people, including my new classmates. Thankfully, I was able to meet my class and build connections and friendships with them all. I am grateful for the support we have provided each other during these difficult times of online learning.
Although, moving to a new province has also been a fantastic adventure. Cape Town is a beautiful province with so much excitement and activity. I have loved going on hikes on the mountain and walks along the beachfront.
Changing universities was a transition that challenged me the most this year. After working hard on my undergraduate degree, I was chosen to fill one of the spots in a highly competitive degree at one of the top universities in the country. Joining a university and a degree with such high status was overwhelming. I felt, and still feel, a lot of self-doubt and question if I am good enough to be here with all of these other outstanding students. However, as the months went on, I found that I am capable. Self-doubt still creeps in on me now and again, so I made little notes of positive affirmations to stick around my room. Now, whenever I feel anxious or doubt myself, I read those little notes to remind myself of all I have achieved thus far and that I am capable.
One of the most exciting adventures of this year has been conducting my research project. Joining a new lab and conducting experiments using fancy equipment is a big jump from the work of an undergraduate, but it makes me feel like a real scientist! After all the work and effort that I put in during my degree, it feels amazing to have come this far. I am very grateful for the support I have been given and everything I have learned from my incredible lab.
The most valuable lesson I have learned this year is the importance of giving time for myself and prioritizing my mental health. Unfortunately, academia does not always support mental health; therefore, life can become overwhelming and stressful very quickly. This year has taught me that my health and well-being are just as important as my marks. This year I have tried to develop a balance between my work and my health and happiness. Even if it’s taking a quick walk around the neighbourhood or sitting on the couch watching your favourite show. Taking time for yourself is just as important as doing that assignment because if your mind is weighed down, you cannot perform at your best. So, take a short rest and then get going again with a happy mind!