This post can also be found on my Substack.
For most people, the New Year provides a useful mental partitioning of their lives for goal-setting, retrospectives and other purposes. However, as I’ve spent most of my life up until this point in education and likely will continue to do so for at least another few years, in terms of the way important shifts in my life happen in relation to it, I’ve found that the academic year is more useful for me to consider.
I’ve just recently completed my first term in computer science at the University of Waterloo. Much like the tradition of LessWrong’s delayed year-in-review, delaying the writing of this post allows me to revisit the topic of the last academic year and my last year in high school in the added context of my experiences so far in university and overall life afterwards, for a clearer picture.
Fairly important milestones from September 2021 to August 2022, in roughly chronological order, included:
- September 2021: The start of my final year of high school, and implementing my plan to graduate 1 year early.
- November 2021: Competing in the International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics 2021 for Team Canada, held online and hosted by Colombia.
- January 2022: The college application cycle, where I applied to many universities in Canada and the United States.
- May 2022: Accepting an offer from the Honours Computer Science program at the University of Waterloo.
- July 2022: Attending SPARC 2022 in Berkeley, California, meeting many interesting people and opening myself up to new communities.
- August 2022: Representing Team Canada again at the International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics 2022, this time travelling to Kutaisi, Georgia to compete in-person.
Evaluating how things went
I’ve been overweight for much of my life, and have a lot of issues with self-control around my eating habits that have bled into other parts of my life before. My weight makes me feel very self-conscious in a negative way around how other people view me: I’m doing much better about that now, but I still dislike my poor overall physical health, which my body weight is a large part of. Additionally, I am also very nearsighted, and my vision has worsened fairly consistently over the past few years.
Physical health priorities overall fell to the wayside throughout the year, and I’m particularly feeling the impacts of my body weight now, though my vision hasn’t actually worsened nearly as much as I was worried it would. Still, I deeply regret allowing my body to essentially fall into disrepair while pursuing other forms of improvement to myself during this time.
Falling short of my goals
I applied to numerous programs at universities in Canada and the United States. While I was accepted to nearly every single one of these programs in Canada, I was rejected from all of the American schools that I applied to - each of these was a direct rejection as well, without any waitlisting.
While my goals in my university search were fairly nebulous (“get into the best school I can” without much deeper thought), it still hurt to be rejected without any further consideration from all of those top schools. And while I don’t want to go into too much detail, it hurt even more to consider that I could have achieved my goal with better priorities and better work put into my application profile.
I also faltered in terms of my performance at IOAA 2022, only earning an Honourable Mention, where I had previously won a bronze medal at IOAA 2021. I wanted to beat or at least match my previous showing, but fell short in terms of my studies and focus and faltered in competition as a result. Indecision
I experienced decision paralysis often when faced with major choices. I delayed things such as choices on universities to apply to, what program offer to select, and other critical decisions until the last possible moments, and therefore put a lot of undue pressure on myself in attempting to make the best possible decision for myself.
Reaching out socially
In the previous academic year (2020-2021), I was required to attend school completely remotely for most of the year, and in-person attendance had a lot of restrictions and limitations that made it difficult to socialize, so I withdrew for most of the year. Even before that, I wasn’t very involved socially. However, as a result of training with and then competing alongside two IOAA teams, a return to in-person school attendance and meeting so many people and doing so much at SPARC 2022, I became much more socially connected.
It’s not perfect - there’s still a lot of people I should probably talk to more - but I now have more closer friends that I spend a significant amount of time with, initiate contact and organize gatherings where I previously would’ve waited for someone else to invite me, and generally talk to and see more people. It feels a lot better than the previous academic year, where I had periods of multiple days where I wouldn’t leave the house, because there simply wasn’t anything I was interested in doing outside.
Being more agentic
Related to the above, I feel that I became much more agentic by the end of the academic year. For example, if I wanted to meet with my friends, I would be much more likely to reach out to them first to arrange things, where before I would probably just flounder. Even now, when I want to do or learn something I feel that I’m able to more confidently proceed with the actions that I’ve thought out to achieve that goal - for example, I’ve been following the Machine Learning for Alignment Bootcamp through Effective Altruism Waterloo and auditing CS 480 (Introduction to Machine Learning) in my free time, because I decided that I wanted to learn more about machine learning and its impact on our future.
Things are going pretty well in university. I’ve completed my first term with marks that I’m satisfied with, formed a close friend/study group that I enjoy being around, and gotten involving in extracurriculars that I enjoy. I’m still overweight, but I’m working to lose weight and gain muscle and generally make my life habits healthier.
I’ll close out with some photos from IOAA and SPARC, as well as a photo of my friends and I playing Dead of Winter at a local board game café.