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Beyond the End Goal: Lessons Learnt from Higher Education (Science)

By AngelWings in VCE
13th of December 2017

Ever wondered how you learn at university and what an undergraduate degree does to your employment choices? Why don’t you ask a person who’s recently completed theirs? Today, that’s exactly what we’re going to discuss.

 

Who are you?

The name is AngelWings (not my real name) and I’ve completed my undergraduate degree, specifically a Bachelor of Science at Monash University (a 3-year degree). Within that, I completed an extended major in genetics.

 

What did you learn in your science degree?

For me, university felt more like a different mode of learning that was more self-reliant and free-flowing compared to high school.

As a genetics student, I was taught about various branches of cell and molecular biology – the stuff you can’t see with your naked eye. I also dealt with many types of model organisms in experiments and began to comprehend different areas of genetics, as well as how it’s applied in the field.

More specifically, I did both theory in lectures and practical work in laboratories. I even got to look like a mad scientist with proper safety guidelines! Experiences will differ for everyone, but this is what the average (experimental) science student will get.

Labs will differ across sciences too. Maths doesn’t have labs at all; they don’t really need them. Meanwhile, chemistry students rely more heavily on experimental work to comprehend concepts that are harder to teach in your average lecture.

Other things we had were tutorial classes allocated to teach skills, complete worksheets, and use computer programs. Assessment included anything from scientific reports to electronic quizzes, research essays to exams.

 

What did an average day look like for you?

An average day varied. Breaks depended on how you structured your timetable. Laboratory sessions were often 3 – 4 hours long and incorporated experiments and/or theory. I usually was at university some time every weekday within the hours of 9am – 5pm. On a good day, I may have only attended a laboratory session, or a lecture or two. Other days, I would be there from 9am – 6pm with several lectures, a tutorial and a lab.

 

How did you study?

Most of my study methods were established in high school and, likewise, it differs for the individual. I preferred to be more liberal in when I studied, often just slotting study time in whenever I was free. In terms of how I studied, I would change my method several times a semester. It ranged from taking notes to using online resources, multitasking to disciplined hour-long study periods.

 

Did you get any industry experience?

At some universities, you are expected to seek these out yourself if you are doing a general degree. While there are internal programs that will dedicate themselves to this, you need to find out about them. The onus is on you to participate in work experience and, for most students, this will be in the form of a part time job, volunteering, placements and internships. It is not mandatory to do so, but work experience looks much better than a plain degree!

 

What’s the benefit to doing a general degree like science compared to, say, medicine?

A general degree means that you learn general skills, which are much more applicable across the board. You also don’t limit yourself to certain career pathways. Do a medicine degree? Become a doctor or stick to the health field. Do a science degree? Sure, you’re not qualified to give professional advice like a doctor, but you could work in almost any industry you can think of. Employers like employees who are analytical, diligent and practical workers. If you don’t like limitations or you still have no idea what you want to do for a career, a broad degree will help.

 

Why did you choose genetics?

After a long hard look at my skill set and interests, I chose genetics at the end of my first year of university. I kind of lucked out that genetics seemed to fit my personality. I also had positive experiences with genetics back in high school.

 

How does university differ from high school?

The main differences come under three main branches:

  1. Freedom. A lot of it came from choice, instead of being forced to do everything. You can often choose to attend lectures or not, depending on whether they’re recorded or form part of your assessment.
  2. Self-learning and independence. Similarly, you had to learn a lot by yourself, whether it’s seeking answers from online resources, academic references or textbooks. You also are expected to independently study and complete tasks.
  3. Adapt. University can feel unrelenting and unforgiving at times. You’ll have to adapt to working with struggling or reluctant classmates in group work. You’ll have to adapt to deadlines. You’ll also have to adapt well to studying and fitting your part time job, your mate’s birthday party and that Friday night date with your significant other.

University sees you as an adult. Responsibility accumulates from multiple sources (family/friends, adult life, work) – it’s up to you to account for it. Balance is harder to achieve, but possible if you know how to play your cards right.

 

Any advice for recently graduated high school students?

While it’s a broad degree, you must know yourself and what your interests are. Going in without a plan isn’t going to get you very far. While opportunities are great, you must also ensure you take them. Also, get involved while you can. Things won’t last forever and it’ll help you make lifelong friends.

If you’re stuck choosing between universities, it’s best to choose by what you believe is best. This could be for the end goal (your desired career), convenience or general atmosphere of the place. Whatever your choice, make sure that you put your priorities higher than whether someone wants you to go to a certain place. Passion should always override sheer force.

When you’re stuck between interests and talent, pick interest. If you like what you do, you’ll see everything much more positively! Positivity leads you one step closer to a happier you. What’s not to like?

Lastly, enjoy it! It’s often the last stop until the workforce for many students, so you may as well go in with a little optimism. This’ll help to make you remember your studying days with fondness rather than animosity.


Not sure what to study in first year university? ATAR Notes has hundreds and hundreds of unit subject reviews. Check them out for both the University of Melbourne and Monash University!

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