Maddie Wainwright graduated in 2014, and currently studies one of the toughest degree combinations offered at UNSW! 

  1. What degree/course are you studying? How long have you been studying? Full time/part time?

I am currently studying a combined Bachelor of Advanced Science/Bachelor of Laws degree, majoring in Molecular and Cell Biology. I am in my second year, studying full time.

  1. What University/Institution are you studying at and why did you choose them?

I study at the University of New South Wales. I chose UNSW because the facilities are fantastic, and the research being done in the biological sciences faculty really interested me. The style of teaching within the Law faculty also appealed to me. We have seminar-style classes, rather than lectures, and a strong social-justice focus. There are also so many opportunities to get involved in societies and research. Overall, I just felt that UNSW was going to provide kind of university experience I was looking for.

  1. How many years will you study for?

My degree is theoretically meant to go for 6 years, which includes honours in Science. Unfortunately, with extra-curricular activities and work experience opportunities which pop-up, I will probably end up extending my degree an extra 6 months. Sigh.

  1. What has been your favourite part of the course so far?

This year I was lucky enough to be selected as part of the UNSW iGEM team. iGEM is an international synthetic biology competition, where universities from all around the world create a project which changes or improves biological systems in a novel way. Our team began work in January, and will be going to Boston in October to present our project along with 300 other universities. It has been such an amazing chance to really develop one of my passions, learn laboratory and research skills outside of my course work, and meet like-minded people.

  1. What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced?

The biggest challenge that I’ve had coming to university was adapting to the lifestyle, and having confidence that the degree I had chosen was the right one for me. Throughout my life and during the HSC I had always been interested in so many different things. I did Extension 2 English, Extension French, and Visual Art, all subjects which I adored, but areas which I didn’t end up pursuing at university. So beginning my year, where I was not writing or creating something often, was really odd and left me very uninspired. I had to find a balance where I was taking time to think and find outlets for my creativity, like pottery classes. I’m still trying to find the ideal equilibrium, but as I’ve progressed through my degree, I’ve felt much more fulfilled by what I’ve decided to study.

  1. Was the course everything you expected it to be? Were there any surprises?

As with any degree, there are always a number of prerequisite subjects you have to do in order to move onto learning the things you’re super interested in. Quite honestly, I expected law to be a little more interesting and engaging, but I know that it’s all part of the process, and that everything will become more applicable once I begin more specific elective subjects later in my degree, in areas I’m passionate about. Surprisingly, I haven’t found that law school is as hectic, or full of long late night study sessions at the library, as American TV taught me. The self-directed learning has been more difficult than I anticipated (particularly as a pathological procrastinator), and it has really taught me how important it is to do things which you are passionate about; otherwise, putting in the work that a full-time degree requires just isn’t worth it.

  1. What is the most interesting thing you’ve covered/learnt so far?

So far I’ve found subjects such as Microbiology and Biochemistry really interesting. The courses are taught with a strong practical focus, and playing with all different microbes, seeing what such tiny life-forms can do, has been very cool. Understanding what a large role these unseen cells play in our lives never ceases to amaze me, and I’m never short of a weird and slightly creepy bacterial fact to amaze the Arts/Law kids. Biology at university is much more interesting than the HSC course, so I would definitely recommend it to anyone even slightly interested in the subject, you’ll be amazed by what you’ll discover.

  1. Do you have a clear career path or job position in mind? Do you think your degree will equip you with the skills and knowledge to pursue this?

I purposefully chose a broad degree that goes for a billion years because I have no idea what I want to do. I know that as long as I’m studying things that I’m interested in, and I take every opportunity offered to me, I’ll find my niche somewhere.

  1. Have you or will you complete any work experience? Does your institution encourage this?

UNSW offers such a broad range of industry placement, and actively encourages students at any stage of their course to gain practical experience. Personally, iGEM has been an important stepping stone in gaining laboratory experience, and I’ll be applying for other research positions with the university over the Summer. Next year I might also start looking for some work experience in the legal field, and later in my degree I to plan to take some practical law electives, such as those offered by the Kingsford Legal Centre which is situated at UNSW, to really get a feel of what it would be like to work in that area.                                                               

  1. Describe a day in the life of an Advanced science/Law student.

I’m not going to sugar-coat the >20hour week that most Advanced Science/Law students endure. It’s long and tiring, but definitely worth it for the odd look people give you when you tell them you combine with science.

Usually I start the day with a law lecture; a refreshing, 9am reminder that the world is corrupt and we shouldn’t trust the system (also, fuck the po-lice). My advice is to bring a snack, keep those energy levels up lest your class participation marks be sacrificed.

After this I usually have a lecture or a tutorial for my science courses. I always go to tutorials, as talking to the tutors in the small group setting I’ve found really helps to consolidate the content or clear up any uncertainties. Lectures are, however, recorded, so I’ll admit to skipping the occasional lunch-time chemistry lecture in favour of a coffee at the Whitehouse.

I mistakenly chose the degree combination which requires me to walk the entire length of campus between my two faculties. If there were one thing I would suggest to improve UNSW, it would be hiring a landscaper to flatten the hills. My day involves many stairs and slopes. Enrolling in subjects early to nab the best class times, to make sure lectures don’t have you running up and down campus every 2 hours, is vital.

The afternoon is usually occupied by a Biology practical. Pre-eat, and bring a Sharpie, or you’ll be stuck waiting an hour to label agar plates. Usually playing with bacteria is pretty interesting, and I have a fondness for the pipettes and tiny little tubes we use, but be prepared for the long incubation times. Growing living things isn’t always as instantly gratifying as you’d imagine, but you’ll learn to love the feeling of inoculating the perfect streak plate, or somehow managing to grow exactly 300 colonies on a spread plate.

These longer days are pretty tiring, but it’s a satisfying feeling to go home to Netflix and Readings, knowing that I’ve learnt a couple of new things, and it’s one more day of 2190 that I can cross off my list until I graduate.

Want to learn more about the degrees offered at UNSW? Check out information for future students here, or ask some questions on our HSC discussion forum!