Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Embracing Chance Encounters at the University of Alberta

This week’s guest post comes from Emerson Csorba. Emerson is a fourth-year University of Alberta student in Sciences Politiques. He served as Students' Union VP Academic in 2011-2012. At the moment, he is the Editor-in-Chief of The Wanderer Online, one of Edmonton's highest-read daily online magazines. He also contributes to The Globe and Mail, Maclean's On Campus and University Affairs.

In my four years at the University of Alberta, the most memorable and meaningful moments of my university experience took place when I least expected them. Looking back, the vast majority of these moments were not related to my program of study; instead, they were the result of stepping into uncomfortable territory, where I meet new people and learned about topics far outside of my field of study (Sciences Politiques).

As a staff member of CAPS, I've particularly enjoyed the emphasis placed on the impact of happenstance in one’s career. Often times, some of the most important determinants of life paths arise through the most trivial of circumstances. This idea is seen throughout Stanford psychologist Alberta Bandura's seminal paper "The Psychology of Chance Encounters and Life Paths," where he shares a personal story about accidentally meeting his future wife during a relaxing round of golf.

Too much of the time, I think university students are told they should "focus on their studies" and generally refrain from doing things that put themselves out of their comfort zones. Perhaps this is why few undergraduate students go to conferences or spend their evenings at patio parties and networking events. These places, however, are where chance encounters take place, and where people's life paths can literally change in a split-second.

With this in mind, I have three recommendations for students looking to branch out into new social networks and acquire experiences that they never previously imagined.

1. Embrace the influence of chance encounters: Every so often, take the time to reflect on your own life path and think about how your life path has been altered by a plethora of small events. In many cases, I find that dragging myself to an early-morning conference or an evening networking event led to relationships that have since influenced the course of my life. I find that chance encounters are part of what makes a university a university. As a university student, you spend a considerable amount of time in the heart of an ideas network, where people consistently encounter new ideas and colleagues. So why not take advantage of this?

2. When you feel butterflies, step back and take in the moment: One of my role-models, a University of Alberta graduate named Randy Boissonnault, writes about butterflies (stomach knots) on his personal blog. Boissonnault, a former Students' Union President and Rhodes Scholar, believes that the butterfly moments - where we feel a deep sense of nervousness - are the ones that should absolutely be taken in. This anticipation creeps up whenever I meet new people in unfamiliar situations, but it is one that usually becomes a sense of satisfaction.

3. Take a plunge into the unknown: Once you feel the butterflies, jump straight into the unfamiliar environment. Do so with full commitment, and try to maintain a smile on your face while doing so. My guess is that you will surprise yourself with the people that you meet and the connections that guide you to interesting and valuable opportunities.
So I urge you to put yourself out there. Attend a conference that scares you. Stand up and speak in a crowd of unknown people. Approach that business CEO that may eventually become one of your closest friends. You can never predict chance encounters, but you can certainly increase their likelihood by putting yourself out there.

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