When I first met Millie Close at the orientation for new peripheral executives of the Carleton Science Student Society, I was immediately struck by her honest and positive nature. Millie created an atmosphere where it was easy to ask questions and share concerns, even as a new member of the society.
Millie has been involved in the Carleton University community since her first year of studies as the Health Sciences Representative at the Carleton Science Society. She has since gone on to excel in various leadership positions, including President of the Carleton University Health Sciences Society, Mentor in the Science Student Success Centre, Residence Fellow, Community Developer for Housing & Residence Life Services, and Summer Orientation Leader.
Millie is currently completing her second term as President and CEO of the Carleton Science Student Society and her final year of a Bachelor of Health Sciences Degree with a Concentration in Disability and Chronic Illness and a minor in Communications and Media Studies. I was so excited to invite Millie to share a bit about what has shaped her path at Carleton University and her tips for fellow women in STEM at Carleton University.
Choosing a major and taking a fifth year
Speaking to Millie about her process of deciding to complete a fifth year at Carleton, choosing her concentration within Health Sciences, and adding a minor to her degree brought about some great pieces of advice for students who might be unsure of what degree to pursue at Carleton.
Reflect on your favourite aspects of each course
“I came to Carleton and I was really interested in being a clinician of some kind,” Millie said. “I wanted to go into clinical practice, either in medicine or…clinical psychology.”
After realizing that entering several years of school immediately after completing an undergraduate degree may not be the best fit for her, she reflected on the parts of her courses that she enjoyed most.
“I recognized a pattern,” Millie shared. “I [was] really enjoying the essay writing and communication piece of [my courses].” Assignments where students were tasked with communicating a health concept to those with no background in that area were what she specifically enjoyed most.
It’s ok to change your mind!
Millie shared her path to choosing a major “definitely hasn’t been linear” and she’s “toyed with a lot of different things over the past few years.”
During her third year of studies, Millie decided to change her concentration within Health Sciences. Initially enrolled in disability and chronic illness, throughout her undergraduate career Millie changed her concentration to biomedical science, then to health throughout the lifespan, and finally back to disability and chronic illness. By the time she had made her final decision, she missed the deadline for a course that was offered only every two years and a departmental advisor let her know that she would have to come back for a fifth year.
A fifth year can allow for new possibilities and flexibility
Upon realizing she would have to take a fifth year, Millie was disappointed.
“At first I was really bummed out about this. I was like, ‘this sucks, I’m going to have to come back for one semester of the winter term [for] a fifth year I never planned on taking.’”
However, Millie is an optimist and quickly looked at the positives that this fifth year could bring.
“I thought about it … This meant I could take a bit of a reduced course load and I could add a minor onto my degree,” she said.
Talk to friends about their experiences
Recognizing that she enjoyed being creative, writing and the communication aspect of her degree helped guide her to choose a minor in communications and media studies. She also confirmed her decision by talking to friends in the program about their experiences.
“I had a few friends in communications and media studies,” Millie said. “I asked them some questions about it and it seemed like a really good fit.”
This would also allow Millie to explore her interest in science communication.
Life after graduation
Reflect on your interests and the impact that you want to have on your career
Graduating from university and moving on to the “real world” can be daunting for every student and Millie shared that the uncertainty of life after graduation sometimes “is really stressful and feels really heavy.” However, she has a clear vision of the impact she wants to have throughout her career.
“This is going to sound super cheesy, but ultimately I do want to make the world a better place,” she said.
Multiple sectors interest her, from science communication and education to improving access to healthcare through health policy, working in the federal public service, or possibly a non-governmental organization.
It’s okay to not have a singular “dream job”
Millie is ambitious and recognizes her areas of interest within various fields, but does not have a singular “dream job”. Many students feel the pressure to have one “dream job” when asked what their plans are after graduation and not being completely sure is normal.
With the world changing so rapidly, Millie also recognizes that the job she finds later in life might not even exist yet. For now, Millie plans to find an exciting job that interests her and fulfills her goals, using her experiences to guide her career path.
Self-care and burnout
As you can see in the introduction, Millie has been involved in a myriad of extracurricular activities at Carleton. She described this leading to her being burnt out for a period of time during her third year of studies.
“I realized I was tired and felt sick and I was feeling that way for weeks, which isn’t me,” Mille shared.
Feeling burnt out, tired, and sick led to Millie prioritizing her mental and physical health, ultimately deferring a final exam and taking a week off to catch up on sleep and activities that make her feel fulfilled. When starting fresh after this period of rest, Millie focused on setting boundaries, being intentional with her time, and making small goals.
Habits such as a strict sleep and wake up time, eating three full meals a day, and being more intentional with things like making a coffee in the morning have been important for maintaining wellness. Paring back commitments and saying no when possible is also important for Millie to maintain a feasible workload. Furthermore, checking in and recognizing the value in taking care of herself and having boundaries has helped Millie to feel good while excelling in her various responsibilities as a student.
With changes in routine and mental health brought on by the pandemic, Millie shared that she continues to start with small, attainable goals and knows that she has helped herself out of similar difficult times.
Advice for other undergraduate women in STEM at Carleton University
Imposter syndrome is quite common in young professionals, especially young women. This feeling is not foreign to even someone as accomplished as Millie.
“I still get super nervous about things; I still doubt myself a lot,” Millie said.
Millie recognizes that these things are related to imposter syndrome and are often unwarranted. While it is important to recognize these feelings, Millie wants other women in STEM at Carleton to know that even if they don’t feel like it in the moment, they probably have the skills to do whatever task they are working on, so they should trust that they are in the right spot.
A huge thank you to Millie for being so open and taking the time to chat with me for this article!