Lecture, Test, Exam, Rinse, Repeat:
Musings of an Undergraduate Biologist
By Harry Glaspole
Like many others, I had no idea what to expect when I first decided to undertake a science
degree. I was lucky enough to get the marks required in high school to be offered a place at
the University of Melbourne, which has been an absolute privilege. Although I am not the
hardest worker nor the fastest writer, I feel there have been lessons away from the laptop
that have been invaluable for my growth as a person. I am unsure as to how much this is
because I chose Unimelb specifically to obtain my degree. In fact, apart from the content of
the classes themselves, it is hard to pinpoint exactly which skills I have gained over the last 3
years that the university is responsible for.
Factually speaking, if I wasn’t attending Unimelb, there would be a lot of opportunities that I
have grasped at with two hands that I would have probably missed out on, and many, many
great people I would have never met, even despite all of the COVID-19 shenanigans. So, my
contention is such; how much personal growth can I attribute to the journey I have
undertaken at the University of Melbourne?
Sometimes it feels like the major outcome of my degree is the certificate you get at the end
of it that can be attached to a resume for some unknown job down the line. For me, I still
feel unclear of the prospects that can even be attained with a bachelor’s degree in science
with a major in cell and developmental biology, and I know this to be the case for many
students across science that I have gotten to know over my time here. In spite of this, I can’t
help but feel there is still plenty to be optimistic about, and that it is pessimistic, nigh on
futile, to say that my degree is useless in the grand scheme of things.
Although the prospects are not obvious from an undergraduate degree alone, there are
plenty of further studies that I can undertake, which is a sort of double-edged caveat of the
“Melbourne Model”, in which the University of Melbourne expects the student to take on
further studies for the sake of becoming more employable. In reality, what this means is
that to give myself the best possible shot at a fulfilling employment, I would need to sink
more money into breaking past the paywall of an expensive master’s degree. It seems a
rarity at Unimelb these days that science students can get somewhere solely using their
A typical week in my degree involves 2-4 hour-long lectures and maybe a tutorial, of which
each subject has a differently nuanced opinion on its definition. Speaking solely for myself
when I say I find this model an absolute slog to get through semester after semester of.
Usually, in my major at least, there is at minimum one test in the semester to assess the
ability to apply knowledge gathered from the classes, and I am yet to do a biology subject
that doesn’t include an end of semester exam. I have never thought of exams as my strong
suit, and I often find myself playing catchup in SWOTVAC to get to where I need to be in
order to succeed in the subjects. Instead of this, I much rather prefer the written
assignments that we are giving during the semester, usually ranging between 1500-3000
words. I think it is quite a shame that these are not offered in every subject at the minimum,
and I would go as far as to say I would prefer them as an end of semester assessment to an
exam ten times out of ten. I find it to be no coincidence that the best subject marks wise
that I have done is my research project, in which there wasn’t anything close to a written,
timed examination throughout.
Everyone’s experience at uni is unique. Although I can speak on my own experiences and
opinions to good effect, I am in no way speaking for any cohort of people larger than myself
alone. What I aimed to provide in this piece was a realistic view into what my experience
with uni has been. What I haven’t mentioned above are the great times I have had along
the way that have been invaluable for my growth as a person, and although there have been
some hard times, there has still been some great times too. At the end of the day, the
amount of personal growth that I can attribute to Unimelb doesn’t matter a lot, as I am
fulfilled enough with my journey so far regardless.
Harry is a current cell and developmental biology major at the University of Melbourne, with research experience in Drosophila melanogaster protein expression. He is the former vice president of the Science Students’ Society at the university, the largest student-run society for science students. Harryplans on finishing his bachelors degree in science and take up a master’s degree in biotechnology to focus on his interest in the cultivated meat industry.
All views/opinions shared in this article are the views/opinions of the writer.