The SFU survival guide


Alison Roach, Editor-in-Chief of The Peak


Q. What do you wish you had known as a new student at SFU?

When I was first starting, I wish that I had known that it was okay to not know exactly what I was doing. A lot of my high school friends went to university with a strict four- or five-year plan ending in the degree of their dreams, and all of their course decisions and scheduling was based around that. I came to SFU as an undeclared arts major, and I remember the anxiety to figure out what I wanted to do as soon as possible.

I wish I’d let go of that anxiety and seen my first two years as a time to explore. I was 17! I didn’t know what I was doing! I spent those two years exploring anyways, and tried lots of different things: world literature, communications, humanities, linguistics, geography, psychology, philosophy . . . you get the gist. And I took something valuable from every course I took. It wasn’t until the end of my second year that I landed on my major, and I’ll be graduating soon with hardly an extra credit. So if I could go back and take 17-year old Alison by the shoulders and tell her something, it would be this: don’t be afraid to not know what you’re doing. Your degree is built to give you lots of room to experiment and to figure it out. Take advantage of it.

Q. What’s the best way to get involved in SFU’s student community?

The way that I got involved at SFU was by being on campus. It’s easy as a commuter to come to school, go to class, and leave immediately. I was lucky to live in residence my first year, which instantaneously gave me a great network of friends from all over. If you’re looking to get involved in groups and clubs and find people with common interests, my advice would be to sign up for absolutely everything. Go to Clubs Days, wander around, put down your email, repeat. Try things that aren’t necessarily in your wheelhouse. I still get emails from the SFU Photography Club (I’m sorry I never came to the meet ups!) and the first thing I applied for with The Peak was multimedia editor, a position I was insanely unqualified for. I didn’t get the job.

But applying got me in the door, and three years later I have an amazing job on campus doing something I’m passionate about with a group of people I love.

Q. What other advice would you share with new students?

Take the time to do the things that you want to do. As someone staring down the barrel of graduation, I know that I might never again be in an environment as free, exciting, and stimulating as academia. Take advantage of the things this place can offer you. University is going to take up a huge amount of your time and your money, so make sure that what you’re getting from it is worth that enormous personal investment. If you realized in your fourth year that your major isn’t right for you, change it. If you really want to take on that extra co-op term, take it. If you want to take time off, take time off. Most of the best courses I’ve taken and the best things that I’ve done during my degree have been unexpected. Don’t shy away from doing things here because they’re not what you expected of yourself.

Chardaye Bueckert, President of the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS)


Q. What mistakes did you make as a new student that you’d caution others to avoid?

I didn’t get involved in clubs and student government in my first year. I made friends through orientation, classes, and living in residence, but I didn’t really feel like part of the community until my second year when I got involved in the SFU Debate Society and the Society of Arts and Social Sciences (SASS). I also didn’t utilize the various academic resources that SFU makes available for students, such as academic advising and the Learning Commons.

Q. What’s the best way to get involved in SFU’s student community?

I have found that the best way to meet people, make friends, and to get involved is to pursue the things that you are interested in. Get involved in the events and committees of the SFSS that look interesting to you. Consider joining several of the 300 clubs on campus, as this will help you meet people with similar hobbies. Attending meetings of your departmental student union and/or faculty student union is another great way to meet people with similar academic interests who can give you advice about classes, professors, etc. Check out the Rotunda groups and Sustainable SFU if you are interested in social issues, sustainability, and activism. If you look into the things that interest you and have the courage to attend meetings and/or events, you are sure to find friendly and like-minded people.

Q. What other advice would you share with new students?

Get involved in extracurricular activities, as it will make your experience at SFU much more enjoyable.

Be sure to vote in the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) elections in March, as the people who get elected are meant to be representing your interests. Try out as many different things as you can, as you will have so many once in a lifetime opportunities while you are at SFU. Go see your professors in office hours, as they are generally all very nice people who want to help you.  Don’t be afraid to explore a variety of different courses in your first year as it will help you complete your breadth requirements and will help you get to know what you’re interested in.

Make sure you take the time to explore SFU, including the archives, the Surrey and Vancouver campuses, and the trails around the Burnaby campus. SFU has a very unique and interesting history which is definitely worth reading about (the book Radical Campus by Hugh Johnston is an excellent resource in that regard).

Craig Pavelich, Director of Administration at Simon Fraser Public Interest Research Group (SFPIRG)


Q. What would you go back and tell yourself as a new student?

I would tell my younger self that it’s okay to meet new people, to put yourself out there and to say hello. I was unsure of myself and didn’t know how amazing and welcoming folks are on campus. It can be intimidating at first, breaking through the barriers we set up for ourselves, but it can be so rewarding. During my first two semesters, I would drop in at Out On Campus (SFU’s LGBTQ+ centre) looking for a friend of mine, but never see them there. It wasn’t until March of my first Spring semester that I finally ran into them, and actually stuck around in the lounge and started to make a whole slew of new friends. Looking back, if I had actually stuck around and said hello when I first visited, I would have had a much more fun and exciting first year at SFU! Don’t listen to anyone who says there’s no community or no fun at SFU — there is so much community and life on campus, you just have to look up from your textbooks to see it.

Q. What’s the best way to get involved in SFU’s student community?

The best way to get involved in the SFU community is to follow your passions. Do you care about the environment? Do you fight for social justice? Do you play an instrument, or a sport? Are you a loud and proud gamer? Do politics excite you? Are you a writer or a DJ? There are many, many, many organizations, clubs and teams on campus, all looking for students to get involved. From Sustainable SFU to the SFU Women’s Centre, from CJSF (SFU’s radio station) to the SFSS and the GSS, from SFPIRG to the Altered Reality Club, there is no shortage of ways to immerse yourself in campus community. Listen to your heart and your passions and find exciting ways to explore them. And if you aren’t sure about where to start, check out Club Days at the beginning of each semester — it’s a great chance to find out what’s happening right now at SFU.

Q. What other advice would you share with new students?

If my first two responses weren’t enough of an indication, my advice is to get out of the classroom and into the community. Your education and experience at SFU is about so much more than your GPA, and there is so much more to ‘breadth requirements’ than simply completing your Writing, Quantitative and Breadth credits. Volunteer with groups on (or off) campus, take part in a rally, go to a film screening, sit on a committee of your student society, get dressed up in cosplay for Anime Evolution — the list can go on and on. There’s no point in rushing through your degree if it means missing out on all of the life experience (and fun!) you can get on campus. And part of all this also means maintaining a social life of some sort and taking care of yourself and those you care about — your personal well-being is not worth sacrificing for a grade. Take the time you need to be happy and to be well, whatever that looks like for you.

Mike Soron, Executive Director of Sustainable SFU


Q. What do you wish you had known as a new student at SFU?

Take advantage of being at a research university like SFU. Every day, there are lunch time lectures, international guests, forums, panels, and discussions taking place on campus.  These events are almost always free (and sometimes there is food, too). Sign up for updates from organizations like SFU Carbon Talks, Public Square, the Centre for Dialogue, or student groups like Sustainable SFU to hear about these events. They are great opportunities to meet fellow students, faculty, alumni, and other community members outside of the classroom. Your next scholarship, project idea, or job could come from an interaction at a campus event — and you might learn something new and useful, too. I often felt too busy to attend, but now that I’m out and working, I wish I had taken advantage of these opportunities when my time was more flexible as a student.

Q. What’s the best way to get involved in SFU’s student community?

Get involved early with a student leadership organization, like the SFSS or Sustainable SFU. It’s a fun and rewarding way to meet new people, make a difference on campus, and develop skills and experience that will help you in your professional life ahead. While some positions are elected, there are many opportunities to get involved with committees or as a volunteer as a new student. Think about the kind of people you want to meet and skills you want to learn [and] find an opportunity to match. If the right opportunity doesn’t exist, find an existing student leader and figure out how to create it.

Q. What other advice would you share with new SFU students?

Take care of your mind and body. It’s easy to fall into habits of poor eating, sleeping, and exercise while studying. Since I was a new student here, SFU and student groups on campus have created many new programs and services to help you care for your mind and body. Pay attention to your health and ask for help when you need it from the many resources on campus. Eat fresh, whole food and take time to prepare healthy meals with friends. All-nighters are always a bad idea so do what you can to avoid them, however tempting.

Melissa MacAskill, Member and Community Relations Officer of the Graduate Student Society


Q. What would you go back and tell yourself as a new student at SFU?

During my first semester at SFU I thought I knew everything! If I could talk to my younger self, I would encourage her to take advantage of the information sessions and workshops that are designed to help students make a successful transition. I always felt like I didn’t have time to participate, but in the end a few tips and tricks could have really helped.

Q. What’s the best way to get involved in SFU’s student community?

I think the best way to get involved in the SFU community is to hang around your student society, and really take advantage of what they have to offer. Just being present in the lounge will expose you to other students and help you stay aware of what’s happening on campus.

Q. What other advice would you share with new students?

When you begin studying, you begin your academic career. But you also become a part of the university community. My best advice would be to try and embrace that in some capacity. Campus is somewhere you can work and study, but it is also somewhere you can socialize, explore hobbies, or relax.