Challenging honours outside the lab.
In the fall of 2017, Saralin Zassman arrived on the Mount Allison campus for the first time. The Winnipeg native was impressed by the university’s support of her not knowing what she wanted to study, unlike most other schools she had looked at. Zassman began her first year pursuing what she had loved in highschool: science. Soon, though, the university opened the door to a completely new realm of study for her. Unlike the base sciences she had spent years studying, computer science at Mount Allison was a completely new world for Zassman, and it didn’t take long for her to fall in love.
“Computer science was completely new to me, and very exciting,” Zassman recounts. “The physics, biochemistry, and math courses I took in first year were pretty repetitive of what I had been doing in high school; so computer science was like a breath of fresh air. Interesting and challenging, exactly what I was looking for.”
In her 3rd year, Zassman fondly remembers how close knit her program was, “It’s a small group,” she said. “We often end up in the same classes with the same assignments, so as a group we’ve become pretty close.” It was around this time that Zassman expanded her degree into a joint venture with Math and Computer Science. “I didn’t have much experience in research when I decided to pursue a double honours,” she explains, “but I did have experience taking classes, so doing a course based honours seemed like the obvious path for me.”
Although course based honours are more rare in the STEM field, Mount Allison does offer students a choice of pursuing a research based (thesis) honours or a course based program, which gives students a much heavier class load. “The heavier course load can be a challenge sometimes, especially because a lot of math and computer science is more self taught than other disciplines. But again, having a close knit group to do assignments and projects with makes all the difference in the world.”
In addition to finishing her honours degree this year, Zassman is the president of the Math and Computer Science society. Zassman uses her position as leader to advocate for diversity within the STEM degree structure. “Doing honours isn’t for everyone,” she says, “and it certainly isn’t necessary for being successful after an undergraduate degree. The most important thing is to know your own limits,” she continued, pointing to her course-based honours as an example: “I knew how to take courses, and that comfortability was important to me. Plus, math and computer science are already tough subjects, so I figured a few extra classes weren’t anything I couldn’t handle.”
Check out the @mtamathcssociety on instagram and facebook. The society hosts a wide range of events and resources, including tutors, professor presentations, and job opportunities. Any students who wish to be added to the math/CS mailing list can reach out to Saralin Zassman via email.