There may have been a day in the distant past of your life when you enjoyed science. Maybe you were that child that loved worms and snails, perhaps you had your own “Do science at home!” kit, Brainiac was probably your favourite show EVER and you had, potentially, read every single one of the “Horrible Science” books.
But these days are long gone now. Replaced with years of exams, revision, poster presentations, painful coursework, pointless labs and a very odd set of faculty staff. You know the type – walking boots, khaki trousers and a Regatta body warmer to ensure that the walk from office to lecture theatre wasn’t too difficult in the mild winds of the British winter.
When you weren’t falling asleep in the utterly riveting lectures on the reproduction of amphibians from a bearded bloke in glasses, you may have stopped for a minute to consider the journey, the path that lead you to this point. Sandwiched in the middle of a row of people wearing Game of Thrones T-shirts, hungover (probably), with everyone else seemingly gripped by the gibberish being spouted and then you. Not a clue what’s going on and hating every single minute of it and wishing you’d just stayed in bed. Questioning every decision you made, thinking “just how bad can dropping out of Uni really be?”
Well, this is for you. The people who spent three years (or more) trundling through a science degree when you can still barely tell the difference between SDS-PAGE and electrophoresis, those out there that have their degree but would struggle to tell their oocytes from their osteoblasts.
1. You will still not be entirely sure how to properly set up a microscope
Probably the very first practical you’ll do at university and, in all honesty, something you should probably already know from your A-levels. Alas, it isn’t. An extended summer and an outrageously large freshers have combined and now you find yourself trying to not telegraph just how far in over your head you really are. There are knobs everywhere (on the machine, but probably in your class too) and everything moves and changes. Up and down, dim and bright, left and right. Yet still, nothing is clear. Apart from how inept you are, that’s inescapable.
It’s probably also around this time that you also decide that unless a practical is assessed or required for coursework, then it’s probably best just not to go. Wouldn’t want to risk it after all. There’s only so far looking at the people on the station next to you can get you.
2. You’ll have no idea how to use any stats software
Whether it’s Minitab, R, SPSS, PSPP, JMP or any other silly acronym, it will be undoubtedly complicated and difficult to use. A computer programme which speaks in a language you don’t understand, nothing is where it should be and it won’t even give you the numbers you want. What’s the point? Not a clue mate. Not. A. Clue.
3. You probably used your lab coat more as a fancy dress outfit than as a…well, a lab coat.
You get it for free and are meant to take it to every practical. For at least three hours you stand around in a big lab with a bunch of other people doing exactly the same thing. The whole thing starts to feel a little like an exercise in futility as something has inevitably gone wrong with the one machine you all need. Pointless.
What isn’t pointless though, is the instant fancy dress costume you get out of it. A wig, some cheap make-up and fake blood and bam, you’re a mad scientist. A classic Halloween costume. No need to spend £30 on a terrible online store for a loin cloth to become budget Tarzan. Being a science student starts to show it’s real perks.
4. The lecturers have no idea you exist
In certain degrees and certain disciplines, there is a requirement for a minimum standard of interaction between tutor/lecturer and student. In the world of academic science, however, if you don’t give a shit, they certainly won’t.
There are the people who are on a first names basis and have all the lecturers on Facebook (you know the type) but you are not one of them. You do the minimum you possibly can and that certainly doesn’t involve extra one-on-one time with the microbiology lecturer during their office hours at 9am on a Tuesday.
Some people help out in other labs and some voluntary extracurricular activities (lambing, anyone?) whilst some people only look at the assignment description 2 days before the deadline.
5. Your priorities perhaps need some readjustment
It’s the start of a new semester and you’ve had that stern, internal conversation where you agree with yourself that THIS is the turning point. You’re gonna work hard, start your assignments early and attend everything.
You’re 10 minutes in and you’ve written down the assignment details in your new notebook and you’re already on your phone playing on some mindless app, keeping up to date with your fantasy football team or catching up on the gossip in the house chat as to who shagged who on the social last night at the SU. More likely though, is that you’ll be sat staring at the absolute bombshell that just walked in.
Thanks to social media you’ve found out her name, what she studies and what society she’s in before the end of the lecture. You may never talk to her – you are a science student after all. Social skills? Mhmm, good one – but this distraction has meant that by the time you look up at the powerpoint you have no idea what any of it means. You can’t even remember the module.
The precedent has been set, it’s gonna be another module just like all the others before. *sigh*
6. Group projects are a blessing
Most people will tell you that group projects are a nightmare, they’re the worst thing to ever happen to education and are chronically unfair. This, though, is entirely subjective. For every person that moans about having to do all the work in a group project and it being so unfair, there’s at least one person who’s contributed nothing, had to do minimal work and still comes away with a 2:1.
It won’t win you any friends, you won’t win any fair play awards and you sure as hell won’t learn anything. But you get an easy ride for once. You’re stuck in this degree now, you deserve this and three strangers in a group won’t take that away from you. Too much has been sacrificed.
7. You find your own way of dealing with the “What are you doing after graduation?” question
All students get it. Most dread it. Aunties, Uncles, grandparents, friends from home, parents, siblings, the barber, the Big Issue man, your cousin’s cat. Everyone in your life seems to want to know the answer to this question and you have absolutely no idea what the answer is.
The truth is, you’re avoiding it yourself and couldn’t be further from having a career plan. But you must slap on a smile, play along and come up with something to placate the Inquisition.
“I don’t know really, I really don’t enjoy what I study and can’t think of anything worse than being stuck doing this for fifty years. But I gained 2 stone, racked up 50k of debt and am £2,000 deep in my overdraft that you don’t know about. Sorry, Mum.”
Not the best plan of action. After a bit, you refine your own story. Stretching the truth and straight up lying are both perfectly acceptable ways of progressing here, find something that works for you and occasionally mix it up. The details are what really sell it, don’t let the story stagnate.
Cover photo: Eelke/Flickr