6 Tips to Find Your Passion in College/University

A retrospect of how I ended up in software development despite being in the non-technical field of health sciences.

Maple Ong
Maple Ong
Oct 29, 2018 · 5 min read
Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash

I accepted the admission offer to University of Waterloo’s Health Studies program several years ago. At that time, I was just graduating high school and clueless as to what I wanted to do with my life as most teenagers would be.

Despite not knowing where I was going, I had several interests within the health field. Health policy analysis? Neurobehavioral research? Maybe pursue a P.hD in public health? I knew I was interested in healthcare and learning about healthcare did spark an interest — but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to make a career out of it.

Fast forward a few years, I now hold a degree in Health Studies, but I work as a software developer.

I often find myself reflecting on how I got to where I am now. This won’t be a story of how I found my passion for software development, but a reflection of what I learned throughout my undergraduate years which may be helpful to you.

Here is a list of things for you to consider on your path to finding your academic interests (and maybe find your passion along the way):

1. Prioritize Your Health

Always the #1 rule in my books. Eat well and exercise. Make good quality sleep a priority — you won’t regret that. Remember that your mental well-being is as important as your physical health.

Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

Do not hesitate to reach out to people in your life when you need to.

An important thing I learnt during my undergraduate years is that it is okay to give yourself a break if you do not feel well mentally. You can’t perform well if you aren’t well.

2. Create and Foster Connections

By far the most solid advice I can give you is to not only make, but also foster connections.

You can do this by attending events hosted by your faculty, joining a club that you are interested in, talking to professors about their research and befriending peers with the same drive as yourself.

I cannot explain how many career-driving opportunities I would have missed out on if I didn’t have the connections I had.

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3. Volunteer Within the Field of Your Interest

In my first draft, this point read, “get a part-time job.”

I changed it because in my first year (having literally 0 job experience), volunteering at a research lab didn’t just get me the experience I needed, but also made me feel humbled and inspired through the people I met and the work they were doing.

The key take away is: volunteering in the field you are interested in gives you an easier access to checking out a prospective career, compared to having a part-time job in an unrelated field.

If you are in the co-op program, pursue jobs that interest you. Or if you do not have the skillset for it, pursue jobs that allows for the most learning opportunity.

If you are not in the co-op program, don’t let any summers go “empty”. Find something to do that aligns with the skills and the values that you personally care about.

The second I realized I was interested in programming and development, I made sure I landed a job involving coding. Surely enough, the role further reinforced my interest in programming.

4. Take Courses Outside of Your Program

Throughout my undergrad, I took several electives unrelated to my program, ranging from creative writing to linear algebra (it was surprisingly interesting).

I did this as another way to further explore my interest in a random subject. It’s a good thing I did too, because I found that I was extremely interested in computer science after taking an introductory computer science course.

I will be writing more about my transition from a non-technical program into the field of computer science and development in another post. Stay tuned and follow me if you are interested!

5. Have a “Side Project”

A “side project” is not just programming-related in this case, but hobbies that will improve your well-being and allow you to grow as a person.

One useful rule of thumb I found is to have hobbies that will help with these three aspects:

  1. Improving physical health
  2. Exploring creativity
  3. Engaging mind in learning

Personally, I consider my physical well-being an on-going journey (I am a weight-lifter), along with reading classic literary novels that I didn’t get a chance to read in high-school. In retrospect, I got a lot of fulfillment from these hobbies.

When was the last time you set goals, make time and do things that you were interested in — even though you didn’t really have to?

Photo by Kenrick Mills on Unsplash

6. Be inspired instead of envious

Last and certainly not the least — let yourself feel inspired instead of envy.

As you have heard so many times before, it is important to never compare yourself to the achievements of others.

Instead, I allow myself to feel inspired by their passion for the work they are doing and making a difference — something I aspire to do myself!

I found (and still find) myself feeling inspired by my friends, my colleagues and professors, and just acquaintances I see in my class at school or at work doing amazing things, even if it doesn’t align with my personal interest or field.

Allowing myself to feel inspired not only improved my mental health drastically, it also kept my motivation and discipline in check to pursue the goals I have.


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Maple Ong

Written by

Maple Ong

Health Science Graduate & (iOS) Developer 👩🏻‍💻