Alma Mater dressed up and glowing in the late afternoon

Reflecting on My Semester

I still find it weird telling people I’m a sophomore. It’s hard to believe that a year and a half of school has flown by so fast.

As I approach the end of my third semester, I realize how much I’ve changed in the past couple months. I’ve had to overcome several new obstacles, face multiple challenges, and deal with a few losses. However, the number of experiences that allowed me to grow this year outweigh all those issues—I’m grateful for so much.

At the time I’m writing this blog, only three exams sit between winter break and I. Before the finals storm hits, I’d like to take some time to reflect on the things I did and didn’t achieve this semester.

What I didn’t achieve:

To start with, I’m going to look at the things I missed—I want to set goals for next semester. Also, it’s nice to start with the negatives: This way, I can end the blog on a good note!

I was not able to publish my research paper.

This summer, I started working with a research group at university back home. We weren’t able to finish our project before the summer ended, so my supervisor and I kept in touch over the semester to continue our research. My original goal was to at least submit a draft paper to the American Journal of Undergraduate Research before the semester ended. However, school had other plans for me—I’ve been swamped this semester.

Nonetheless, I have made progress with research. I’ve finished the first half of my draft, and I’m going to finish the rest over winter break. I want to publish my paper as soon as possible—I’m applying for research internships next summer, and being published would look great on an application.

I didn’t join an Astronomy-related RSO.

Before school started, I promised myself that I’d join the University of Illinois Astronomical Society (UIAS). I’m currently a member of three groups/RSOs on campus, but none are related to my major!

A perk of being in UIAS is being able to use the campus observatory.

Again, I didn’t join one because I was bogged down by school. However, I’m definitely going to join next year—it’ll be nice to be able to go stargazing as an extracurricular activity.

I couldn’t get all my James Scholar credits.

As a James Scholar, I need to earn “points” every single semester. Experiences like attending a workshop or playing a club sport will earn points. We also need to make plans at the start of each semester detailing what we will do to earn these points.

One of the activities I planned was to publish a paper—doing this would’ve earned me a point. This didn’t end up happening, and I didn’t get all the James Scholar credits I could’ve earned in this semester. Fortunately, I earned a few points in other places: I took an honors course in astrophysics and held a leadership position in a RSO.

What I achieved:

Now, the good part! Even though I didn’t end up doing everything that I wanted to this semester, I still managed to achieve a great deal.

I was elected President of my fraternity.

This isn’t just my biggest achievement this semester—it’s the biggest thing I’ve done since coming to Illinois. I really love being a part of my fraternity, and I’m super excited to be a leader in our community.

Over the past year, I’ve put a lot of effort into the fraternity, and it’s really satisfying to see that hard work pay off. My responsibilities have expanded to being the external face of our fraternity—I’m excited to meet a lot of new people. Additionally, I’m curious to see if I can apply all the leadership skills I’ve learnt over the years. I am now responsible for a lot of people.

Elections night. Image credit: Caige Gridley

Nonetheless, I have to be prepared for next semester—being President comes with a lot of work and pressure. I’m going to need to figure out how to balance my responsibilities with schoolwork better (I certainly didn’t do a very good job with that this semester).

I went to my first football game.

After a year and a half at Illinois, I attended my first football game. Better yet, it was our homecoming game against Wisconsin—the biggest upset in the Big 10 conference since the 80s.

My fraternity tailgated and watched the game with our alumni. Image credit: Hunter McDermith

Football is a foreign concept to me—I’m from Hong Kong. I’ve watched football before on TV, but never before in real life. Actually going to the stadium is a much better experience than viewing the game through a tiny screen. Plus, it’s a great feeling to cheer our Illini on!

I finally visited Wisconsin.

Although I love Illinois, its always nice to see what other campuses are like, and what college life is like in another place. My brother at Wisconsin has been begging for me to visit for a while, and I’m glad I finally did this semester.

My brothers and I at the Wisconsin Purdue game. Image credit: Christian Fuhrmann

I went up to Madison the weekend Thanksgiving break started, and watched Wisconsin crush Purdue (it was certainly nice to see Purdue lose again). I got to meet all of my brother’s friends, and look around Madison (which, by the way, is gorgeous). Best of all, I got to spend time with my brothers, which was a really nice start to a much needed Thanksgiving break.

… and what about next semester?

Looking back on how much I’ve grown is nice, but I need to start setting goals. I want next semester to be my best one yet.

Make it back onto the Dean’s List.

I’ve only made it onto the Dean’s List once—my first semester freshman year. Although it may seem like a superficial goal, it’s one I definitely want to achieve. First, it looks good on a resume and will make me a more competitive applicant when I apply for internships. However, more important, it will help me prove to myself that I am doing well in school. Academically, I haven’t performed as well as I would have liked to this year, and I want to see an improvement next semester.

Apply for research internships in the summer.

This summer, I took on a research internship back home and enjoyed it immensely. It’s something I want to do again—it’s a productive way to spend the longest holiday of the year and gives me invaluable experience.

However, instead of going back home to Hong Kong, I want to conduct research in the U.S. this summer. I plan on staying in the U.S. for graduate school, and doing research here can also help me build connections. Most applications are due in February—I’ll be spending the winter break and first few weeks of school completing them.

My final thoughts:

Academically, this semester has been rough—the sophomore slump has hit me hard. However, this won’t stop me, and I intend to make next semester my best one yet. On the other hand, my life outside the classroom has been absolutely fantastic. I was elected president of my fraternity—something that I’ve worked hard for and wanted for a long time.

As a whole, I’m extremely excited to start the spring 2020 semester. I have a feeling 2020 is going to be a great year, and I can’t wait to see the experiences the new year has in store for me.



Class of 2022
I grew up in Hong Kong, China, and I’ve come across the world to Illinois to major in Astronomy in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. I’ve always thought outer space is super cool, and I love that I’m learning everything that I can about it at Illinois.

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