Natasha Poley attended Linden from Grade 7–12 and graduated in 2015. She is studying science and business at the University of Waterloo, with a specialization in biotechnology. She recently spoke with us about her experiences at university and plans for graduate school and beyond.
Linden: Tell us about your transition from Linden to the University of Waterloo and your course choices. What was it like coming to a large university from a small all-girls school? Did you feel well prepared? Were there any challenges?
Natasha: The transition from Linden to Waterloo was quite different, yet it did not take much time to adjust to the larger class sizes. You quickly learn that to ask questions you should go to the professor after class or during office hours, and from Linden, I have learned the best way to ensure my success in the classroom is by asking questions. So I often talk to the prof after class or make appointments with the TAs of the course to ask detailed questions. I often got to know the TAs quite well, which was an advantage to me as they gave me advice for the midterm and final exam for the course while guiding me through some assignments. Of course, it was challenging to get used to everything that was so new, but graduating from Linden had allowed me to grow my confidence, which helped me to stride towards asking my TAs, classmates, and others around me for help. This skill of gaining connections and not being afraid to put yourself out there is truly something Linden has taught me.
Linden: Tell us about your other interests at Waterloo. What’s the town and social scene like?
Natasha: Waterloo is such a university town with lots of nightlife. I often go out and have fun at night while making sure I have done a bunch of work before enjoying my night. The saying “work hard, play hard” really applies to me. At Linden I had only a few guy friends since I was mostly involved in dance as an extracurricular activity, however, since I came to university, over half of my friends are guys. As soon as I moved into residence I would spend the majority of my time on the guys' side of the floor joking and hanging out with them at night in between studying. It is great fun and I have made lifelong friends at university, while also knowing I will maintain some of my Linden friendships forever.
At university, I have been quite involved in clubs and societies, and I participated in Science Society organizing events and midterm giveaways throughout my first year. I was able to meet tons of people and get great experience to help me understand how to plan and run various events. I am currently also involved in iGEM, which is a synthetic biology and biotechnology group where I have spent all summer in the lab working towards reducing the number of prions, improperly folded proteins, in yeast, to eventually slow down the degeneration of neurodegenerative diseases. This year, I am also taking on being president of WiSTEM, women in science, technology, engineering, and math. I am ecstatic to be president and hire others to help me organize and plan events to bring awareness about the gender imbalance in the STEM field and why it is important to encourage women to get more involved in STEM.
Last summer I was also working on my startup company, Open Opportunities, with my Linden friends Kia and Adriana, where we hosted a fundraiser and raised around $700 for the startup. Open Opportunities is a volunteer platform for youth that connects high school students to volunteer opportunities. We aim to help students discover their passion and gain their required 40 hours of volunteering through our website. Currently, the startup is on pause as I have a lot on my plate, but I still plan to move ahead, and I am looking for someone at Waterloo to help finish coding the website. I also now have my own personal blog and website to show potential co-op employers my past creative projects. Some have been at Linden while others have been outside of Linden. Recently, I have gotten into photography and done some photography for a business that helps the elderly with home care. I also do photography at university in my small amount of free time, and for example, I was the photographer for a business conference called Fusion. I also went out during the ice storm in Waterloo for a few hours to take some photos. I continue my photography as it relaxes me and works the creative side of my brain. I find it helps to stimulate ideas for my classes and allows me to focus better on the tasks at hand in each course.
Linden: What are your plans for graduate school, work, and beyond?
Natasha: Due to the co-op program at Waterloo, I am not planning to attend graduate school directly after undergraduate studies. I will have a year-and-a-half of experience by the time I graduate in my fields of interest, science and business, and therefore should be able to get a job relatively easily after of my undergrad. I plan to work a few years after undergrad and then hope to attend UofT Rotman School of Business or Western Ivey School of Business and pursue an MBA. This will help me to climb the hierarchy within a company I am working at, so that hopefully, one day I have a position in upper management, preferably in a biotechnology company.
Linden: What’s keeping you busy at present?
Natasha: I am always busy with school, clubs, and co-op. Most of my time currently is spent in the iGEM lab working at many protocols to move science forward. I am also spending a lot of time planning events for WiSTEM as president. I have also been preparing my resume and general cover letter to make it easier for myself when applying to jobs for co-ops, as I apply to 50 jobs at once and then hope to hear back for interviews. School also keeps me quite busy with between 4 or 5 courses and 1 or 2 labs as well. It’s interesting, as lab writing in high school really has helped me to write my labs in university, minus having to cite every sentence at university by referencing a website or a book. The length and intensity of lab writing take time and thanks to Linden, I have gotten quite used to lab writing.
Linden: Would you like to share a favorite memory of Linden?
Natasha: I would say probably my favourite memory of Linden would be having a sleepover at the school in Grade 12 with our English teacher to present our “Who Am I” projects. Those projects pushed me to self-analyze and understand myself on a whole new level. Being at university it has become apparent that most people have never self-analyzed and don’t know all their values and beliefs. I find it sad that many people did not grow up in such an environment as I did at Linden. Linden gave me the space to develop myself with support and without judgment. I am so happy to have had the experience and now have the ability to understand why I think the way I do, what I believe in, and what I consider my “core self.” Through Linden, being surrounded by my classmates and having an English teacher who was able to incorporate self-analysis into many projects, I now know that my “core self” is about kindness and compassion. Although there are many aspects that are important to me, such as being social justice oriented and being empathetic and sympathetic towards others, I know that in every thought, every action, it all is influenced by kindness and compassion. I believe in treating people with kindness and compassion no matter their race, ethnicity, sexuality, etc. Linden taught me to accept everyone and for that, I am forever grateful.
Linden: There are quite a few all-girls independent schools in Toronto. Why did you choose to attend Linden?
Natasha: I chose to attend Linden primarily because I know they could challenge me academically yet also support me to do well in small classrooms. The absolute best part of Linden to me were the teachers. I adore them in every way as they would always answer all my questions and be supportive even outside the classroom. They understand you are human and have more going on beyond work and they want you to succeed. They will do whatever you need to do well academically while encouraging you to get involved in extracurriculars.
Linden: Do you have any advice for Linden students who might have similar academic and sports interests?
Natasha: My main advice to Linden students would be to try all subjects and discover your passion. Self-analyze yourself both at the academic and personal level. Continue learning in the classroom and outside the classroom. Knowledge is key to making a difference in yourself, in others, and in society. Lastly, be you and be confident in who you are when you have decided you know who you are. Self-love can allow you to have a happy and successful future. Trust me, it can make all the difference how you perceive yourself.