By Brandon Gillet
The uOttawa fall convocation, that took place at Southam Hall of the National Arts Centre Sunday, November 2, ushered 2,000 graduates into the world, including a (literally) perfect student.
Heather McDonald, 21, valedictorian for the Faculty of Science, has achieved an astonishing 10.0 GPA (out of a possible 10.0) and received the University Gold Medal for the highest CGPA. Her impressive record has garnered her an admission scholarship renewal each year of her three-year bachelor’s, plus scholarships for students with high GPAs, and most importantly in her opinion, admission to medical school here at uOttawa.
So what exactly is a 10.0 GPA, and how does one achieve it? The University uses a 10-point grading system: A+ is 10, A is 9, and so on. Even if you’ve received a 9 in a course, it’s still possible to get a 10.0 if you have enough 10’s from other courses. Anything above 9.95 is rounded to 10.
Because she graduated in three years, McDonald receives a general science degree rather than the degree in biomed with an option in cellular and molecular medicine she was working towards. But it will serve as her entry into undergrad studies in medicine.
“It’s definitely a continuation of some of the science I learned in undergrad,” said McDonald. “But applied to physiology and pathology of the human body, which is very cool!”
McDonald can narrow down multiple choice questions fairly well, but give her a practical exam and she can “barely breathe.” When it comes down to it, for her, knowing what you’re being taught is most important.
“Actually learning the material is ultimately way more beneficial than having a 10.0. I just use my marks as a motivating factor to help me learn,” McDonald says. “And now that I have started medical school, the work I did to obtain a 10.0 is probably what is more important, because I learned so much from so many really talented professors, which I am now able to apply to my studies.”
Maintaining such an academic record must make for a gruelling mental regime, right? Wrong — it just takes a certain way of thinking. McDonald actually uses her desire to do anything but study to focus on studying. Since she doesn’t like staying home on Friday and Saturday, she puts in the work during the week so she can enjoy social life on weekends.
Taking breaks is also important to her, as it gives her the mental strength to keep working the next day. She keeps an agenda (and has since first grade), listens to loud or upbeat music to stay awake and has her friends for support.
“You’re left pretty much on your own in undergrad, so I am glad that I had really great friends to have my back, especially when I would fall asleep in class,” she said.
Studying what you like
McDonald went into her bachelor wanting to apply for medical school but didn’t realize the level of her interest in science on a molecular level, which she attributes to her professors, staff and campus facilities.
“If I can give a special shout-out to one part of the University, it would be Dr. Vance Trudeau’s lab,” says McDonald. “I think it is important to apply your learning to something real, and I was given the opportunity to do that in an amazing lab through the UROP and NSERC programs.”
The generally accepted notion is that everyone wants high marks because they are thinking of not just passing their course, but of what comes after they graduate. According to McDonald, that’s just one consideration, and she has some advice for the aspiring 10.0 student.
“On the one hand, it will help in your future to have been successful in undergrad and it is nice to have a sense of pride and something to quantify your very hard work,” said McDonald. “However, make sure that if you’re going to sacrifice something as wonderful as sleep to get a good mark, you are doing something that you truly enjoy. When you like your program, it makes it a lot easier to do well.”