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OTTAWA MAYOR JIM Watson knows public speaking, the political sphere, and Canada’s capital like the back of his hand. But while watching him on television and seeing him in the newspapers, we may forget that he started his career as a freshman lost in the vast, foreign landscape of a university campus—just like the rest of us. The Fulcrum sat down with Watson to chat about his memories of university life and his advice for new students.

In his first year at Carleton University, Watson was sad and anxious when his parents dropped him off, but he was also excited to be on his own.

Recalling his first week at school, Watson said he didn’t get off to an “auspicious” start.

“My roommate hadn’t arrived—I lived in residence so I thought, ‘I’m going to go for a bike ride.’ I saw my residence was right beside all these bike paths so I took my bike out and came back for dinner and locked it to a tree. When I came back, the tree had been sawed off and someone stole my bike.”

Bike heist aside, Watson had a very positive experience living on residence, and insists that it is great for students who aren’t ready to live off-campus with friends in their first year away from home.

“I really liked residence because I had no skill to cook or live on my own,” he said. “It was great, a good sort of soft landing.”

For Watson, residence was a place to meet people. More of his long-time friends came out of the residence program than out of his classes or other areas of university life.

As much as Watson enjoyed residence for it’s convenience, he also liked it because it led to some of his fondest first-year memories.

“I got acclaimed as my floor rep, so I sat on the residence council. That was my first taste of politics.”

Watson elaborated on how his job as floor rep in first-year led to an even greater opportunity in his sophomore year. He was elected president of the residence council which sharpened skills—like problem-solving and public relations—that are relevant to succeeding as the mayor.

Parents, mentors, and profs are always reminding students about the importance of participating in extracurricular activities. Judging by his own participation in university extracurriculars, it’s no surprise that Watson wholeheartedly agrees. He believes it’s a great way to meet other like-minded people and make connections in a career path you may one day follow.

“A lot of those people then become life-long friends, mentors, and peers in your chosen profession,” he said. “I know for instance you go up on the parliamentary press gallery and run into all sorts of people that went to school together.”

The mayor gave the impression that he had a well-rounded university experience, but when asked if he could advise how first-years can succeed academically, he surprisingly confessed that he “was not a strong academic student.”

Watson may not have been at the top of his class academically, but he still shared his insight into what first-years should be focusing on to achieve good grades.

“I think the challenge is trying your best to be responsible and mature and understand that first and foremost you’re there for an education,” he suggested. “It’s so easy to get distracted. You have to discipline yourself and sometimes that means taking yourself away and going to the library, or going somewhere quiet to study.”

After recalling a giant calendar he kept over his desk, reminding him of all his upcoming due dates, Watson stressed the importance of proper assignment planning.
“There’s a lot of temptations to be irresponsible and drink too much and party too much and then all of a sudden you’re cramming for everything,” he said. “The one lesson I learned is pace yourself and emphasize time management. You know when the paper is due or you know when the exam is going to be. Don’t leave it until the last minute.”

Though Watson admitted that “first semester is always tough,” he takes pride in Ottawa’s schools and is confident that the institutions and the city itself make the first-year university experience in Ottawa a special one.