University Science Degree: My Experience

I’ve officially graduated from my Bachelor of Science degree at Sydney Uni! *cue applause* As a high school tutor, I get loads of question about uni life and also what science at university is like, what to expect etc. Many of you know this experience first-hand! So although my students probably won’t ever find this, I reckon a few of you who are still doing a B Sci, might find this useful? I dunno, I’m feeling nostalgic.

Here, look, I really did graduate:

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Shoutout to Dad for being my photographer

This is going to be what I’ve been most commonly asked, and this is just my experience at my university so take from it what you like.

(1) Do you have lots of contact hours?

Short answer: Yes. A LOT. I averaged between 20-27 hours per week. The worst being in second year where I had 3-4 hour labs 4 days a week. I personally quite enjoy being in the lab, because I’m a practical learner but after a long morning of lectures you can easily get frustrated, lose focus and stuff up your work (which makes you even more frustrated). If I had to skip lectures, due to clashes, or just needing a sleep-in (we’ve all done it), I’d make sure to catch up on the recording ASAP, at the latest the following weekend.

(2) Is it hard?

Ummmm, the difficulty of any course is relative (wow, I sound like a real scientist now, don’t I?). For me, I would say it definitely challenged me intellectually but that’s a good thing, I need that stimulation to stay engaged, but not so far out of my depth that I check out and lose interest. I feel like if you choose something you think you’ll enjoy (minus those nasty pre-reqs you do in first year), you’re kind of blinded by the difficulty of the work. The volume of work is more overwhelming than its complexity. That being said, it is much more in-depth, detailed and specific, I probably know far too much useless information about genes in bacteria being switched on in highly specific conditions… yeah, not that useful.

Here’s some other things that I’ve discovered from my science experiences:

(1) Change your mind

Don’t be afraid to change what you think you’re going to pursue at any point in your degree. Before I started my first year, I thought I was going to be a Chemistry major. NOPE. Did 3 weeks of first year advanced chem and wanted to cry. Wasn’t for me, I persisted with it for pre-requisite purposes and ended up taking it again as an elective in second year because I wanted to really gain an understanding of biological molecules. Then I thought I’d want a microbiology major, I kept up the micro up until my end of third year and I really did love micro, still do. But after a trip to Westmead Hospital to see the behind the scenes of what a microbiologist does at a hospital, I was once again all about that NOPE. When you see someone streak plating a swab that just brushed a skull flap, you have that image burned into your brain forever. Then I thought I’d do an honours year between my bachelors and masters. Took a summer scholarship project in nutrition, and absolutely didn’t enjoy the research environment. I knew I needed to be in the lab to some degree and wasn’t the “just do a literature review” kind of person. So as you can see, throughout 3-4 years, I’ve changed my mind multiple times about what I thought I’d do, it’s okay and often you don’t know if you’ll like something until you try it.

(2) Never come unprepared for lab work/tutorials

You’ve either done this or still do. If you think you’re going to get out early from a lab without coming prepared, you’re dreaming. Do your pre-lab work and do it well! Do it well beforehand too, it needs to be cemented in your brain so you don’t have to keep flicking through your notes to see what the next step is. Often, they ask you to design your own experiment and doing that in class is a massive waste of time. You won’t hate it so much either, do your calculations, double check them with your demo before you start, lay out everything you need before entering that lab and enjoy an early afternoon outside the walls of the smelly hot lab.

(3) Don’t get too lost in the detail

I love details. However, it’s really easy to get so lost in it that you forget the bigger picture of where this process happens and why it is important in the context of an organism/system. The details are important and probably score a few extra marks here and there, but understanding will get you those top marks.

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