The Chronicle of My First Year @ UW

I wrote the last exam (GER 101) of my first year at Waterloo two days ago. I was busy moving out or rez yesterday, and I just got some of my 1B marks on Quest. Thought I should write a blog post to wrap up my first year at UW. It was pretty lit: met a bunch of cool kids, joined a handful of clubs, played intramurals, pulled an (almost) all-nighter, got smashed twice, and had tons of fun in (some of) my classes while studying my butt off in the process.

RCH RCH (left) is my favorite building, because it’s always empty late at night (I’m looking at you, QNC), and I can enjoy a few hours of solitary studying time there every day.

The transition from high school to university was easier and smoother than I thought. Before coming to university, I heard a lot of scary things about the workload in first year, especially many MATH 135 horror stories. But everything turned out fine, thankfully. And I honestly really like the campus. There is something I like about the campus being enclosed by Ring Road and constantly patrolled by geese. It’s not as big and nice as UBC, but it feels intimate.

The university residence I picked (UWP) was not that nice though. The room is really small and the walls aren’t soundproof. There was also a pretty serious ant infection in our unit, which was really annoying. But living on campus in first year was definitely worth it! Because there are so many co-op sequences in Math and Engineering, some of us will eventually be off-stream (i.e. I will be on co-op while some friends will have a study term, and vice versa), and first year is really (sadly) our only chance to meet people from all sequences.


Warrior Welcome I am not gonna lie, I was pretty pumped after the ceremony!

As a frequent lurker on /r/uwaterloo even before I got accepted into UW, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what my first semester would be like. But you have to actually experience it to know what it’s really like. Almost lost my voice during Orientation Week from constantly screaming, laughing, and cheering. Exploring campus and bantering about baseball with people in my orientation group were great.

I still remember on the first day of classes I woke up an hour before my first lecture and wore a black Waterloo hoodie feeling like a smarty. After my first midterm, I finally realized that I am not in high school anymore. I also learned that sprinting from MC to PAS in 10 minutes is not fun, and that employer info sessions are where I get free sunglasses, keychains, and T-shirts (JK people actually go there for the free food).

I played in the intramural slo-pitch league and in my first game, struck out with the bases loaded (2-4 for the day though). For some weird reason, I started a habit of working on my CS assignments on Friday night till 3 in the morning in Grand Commons, and waking up at 3pm the next day still feeling exhausted. I went to Mr. Paninos for real and really loved their beef noodles, and then proceeded to eat there for the rest of the week. NOT a good idea. I feel like throwing up whenever I see a Panino meme on Reddit now. I tried out almost all the restaurants in the plaza (RIP Panda King I will miss you forever), and fell in love with the $1.99 BK nuggets. I felt like a total noob.

I worked really hard this term. Got the wake-up call after my first midterm, started doing assignments the day they were assigned and reading relevant materials the day before class. So I managed to get decent grades, but I think I should’ve gone out more and tried to meet more people.

1A Schedule

MATH 135

I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed this course. Did pretty well, and getting 98% on my second-ever university exam was an amazing feeling. Had to Work through hard proof assignment questions like there’s no tomorrow though. I was really keen and sat in the first row every single class. That’s my philosophy: always sit in the front. Proving something like there are infinite number of primes and whether 263+3315 is divisble by 7 were definitely highlights of this course as well. The prof, Ian, was awesome and made the class very enjoyable for me. The final was not hard and similar to the sample final they gave us. Carmen Bruni’s final exam Twitch stream on MATH 135 was the icing on the cake.

MATH 137

Mike Eden literally taught this course in sarcasm. Hilarious prof. I already learned derivatives and integrations back in high school so this course is mostly review, but this course was still pretty interesting. I like how Eden asked us to never forget to write “By Limit Laws”, but then promptly forgot it himself while doing examples. Midterm was unexpectedly hard, but the final was alright.

CS 135

I didn’t really enjoy coding in Racket (a dialect of Scheme) until after the second midterm. But boy, foldr and lambdas are love. Functional programming is something truly special and amazing, I have to say. When recursion becomes your second nature, you will really appreciate its elegance. The assignments are really wordy though, and don’t even get me started on lambda tracing. It’s just so tedious. Dr Racket became a meme on the CS 135 Facebook group, and Dave Tompkins (a.k.a Quest God, Dancin’ DJ Dave) achieved celebrity status for his dank CS jokes.

ENGL 109

A fairly standard communication course. Apparently starting from this year (Fall 2015) all Math and CS kids have to take two communication courses before they graduate, which I think is a good idea. This course is mostly essay writing (we wrote 3 major essays over the term, and some smaller written exercises), and the prof was very enthusiastic about teaching. I really liked the technical report assignment, where I got to talk about the differences between objected-oriented and functional programming using layperson’s terms.

ECON 101

Oh the fabled “ultimate bird course”. Its honestly not that birdy, you still need to put in the effort to read the study guide and do the multiple choice questions in order to do well on exams. But yes, it’s mostly rote memoriztaion, though some concepts like game theory are very interesting. I think it did teach me some economic literacy.


I felt a lot relaxed and confident after my 1A term, so I signed up for 6 courses this term. It was definitely more work than I anticipated, but it was worth it. I met a lot of people in the UWCLEC Russian Club and had tons of fun. We would all bring food and drinks to the Russian tutor’s place in UWP and have small potlucks basically.

1B Schedule

MATH 136

MEME 136! MATH 136 will always be a part of me: Yongqiang “Yeezus” Zhao, the definition of a basis (“Whaaaat, is the definition of a baaaasis?” “A linearly independent spanning set!” “Wow, that was beautiful!”), “plug into a matrix and row reduce”, Wolfram Alpha, and Dan Wolczuk (a.k.a Dr Dan).

I even compiled a “MATH 136 in a nutshell” (basically all the catchphrases we use while proving theorems):

  • “It is intuitively obvious that…”
  • “Clearly/Obviously”
  • “Immediately true by inspection, as required. ∎”
  • “Without loss of generality (WLOG Moite)”
  • “Similarly, same argument applies”
  • “By the System-Rank Theorem”
  • “Trivial” you know what’s trivial? c1 = c2 = c3 = … = cn = 0 as n approaches infinity

Oh fun times. Linear algebra gets extremely abstract sometimes, but in the end everything made sense.

MATH 138

I also made a “MATH 138 in a nutshell”:

  • “Eventually, for large n, an/bn < 1” Hand-wavvvvvy
  • “Counterexample: let an = 1/n, bn = 1/n, cn = 1/n…”
  • “Upper bound of error, by Taylor’s Inequality is above 9001, since 9001 >= (0.0001)^5*(1/e)^6/6!” Yo you gotta have le equal sign bruh
  • “It diverges since it is the harmonic series” Jordy Hams be like first published in 1962
  • “It converges since it is the alternating harmonic series”
  • “By IBP/Ratio Test/Limit Comparison Test”
  • “(2n-1)(2n-3)…(5)(3)(1) for n from 0 to infinity”
  • “Use the washer/disk method”
  • “Include all initial conditions”
  • “1+½^2+⅓^2+… = pi2/6” (TRIGGERED)
  • “It is a telescoping series…”

Calculus 2: basically a continuation of MATH 137 (Calculus 1). Lots of sequences, series, and Taylor polynomials, mixed with some easy proofs. Probably my last calculus class in undergrad, if I choose not to take upper year Statistics courses.

CS 136

Fairly easy intro course to C. Definitely not as fun as CS 135 to be honest. We learned some basic data structures (Arrays, binary trees, linked lists etc.), algorithms (Quicksort, mergesort), and the C memory model. Assignments were pretty boring and tedious, and memory leaks caused me some trouble. The Russian Club afterparties would sometimes turn into code parties (awks). Only fun stuff I remember about this course is that my prof was basically constanly bashing the slides for poor style and code quality.

ENGL 119

ENGL 119 wasn’t interesting at all. Did learn some useful presentation techniques and aspects of technical writing, but it was so disorganized. Second mandatory communication course. Now I think about it, I should’ve sticked it out and kept Public Speaking.

GER 101

Pretty chill class. Prof was chill. Kinda felt like a high school French class. The video project was awesome. We had to move two monitors back and forth for three straight days, and we didn’t have a tripod or anything fancy to film it properly, but it was worth it. I feel that I could’ve learned more German from this class (I really liked the in-class activities). Midterm and final were both very short and easy.

STAT 230

My favorite course this term by far. Really enjoyed learning all the random variable distributions and argument counting techniques. This course made me interested in data science, analytics, and just statistics in general. Diana is a great prof, and we made the negative binomial distribution into a meme. The final was way harder than I anticipated, but still managed a decent overall mark.