Archive for the ‘A Week In The Life Of…’ Category

It is rather impossible for me to describe to you what an average week is like for a Zoology student. This is particularly so at the Masters level, where there is very little structure. But before I talk to you about my postgraduate life, let’s talk about life before I had a shiny Bachelor degree plaque on my wall (or truthfully, hidden away in the cupboard out of embarrassment).

A mother Eastern grey kangaroo and her joey - Strathbogie Ranges, Victoria

Like most other university students, you attend formal classes: your year level determines the frequency of these. Most subjects have a lecture, practical and tutorial component. The lecture gives you the background theory, the tutorial gives you the chance to test your knowledge with questions and flesh out any ideas you’ve got locked away in your mind, and then the prac lets you get hands on. But it’s not all sitting behind a microscope in your lab coat looking at cells all day. Zoology pracs are much more fun than that!

Straight up: if you can’t handle dissection, then Zoology is not for you. But you will surprise yourself at how into it you will become: the insight you will get into the workings of the body will be invaluable. We even isolated a cane toad heart in an organ bath, and kept it alive and beating while we treated it with different hormones to see the effect on the heart rate – you have not lived until you’ve experienced a heart beating in isolation from the body!

Then there’s the live pracs. You’ll start out with the basics: rats and cane toads. If that sounds yucky to you, wait until you work up and close with these live creatures. They are endearing and even cute (trust me, even a cane toad can be cute!). I’ve had a gorgeous, cuddly white rat who we named Kayla snuggle into my arm and sleep whilst I drew the cell diagrams from the swabs we’d taken from her. Another time we got to watch the effect of oxytocin (a hormone) on the rate milk ejection from a female rat: seeing the tiny baby rats wag their tails in excitement at the sudden flow of milk was an awesome way to spend an afternoon.

Your degree will be full of field excursions, so embrace what is a wonderful opportunity to get out there in the real world doing real experiments. One week you’ll be at Phillip Island, the next in the Strathbogie Ranges. In second year, my every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon was spent sitting at Albert Park lake studying the behaviour of black swans in an experiment on mate guarding. We studied magpie larks and brushtail possums. We went spotlighting for sugar gliders and were lucky enough to see a greater glider glide from one tree to the next.We caught all manner of animals and were taught how to appropriately treat and handle a wild animal. We learnt how to trap, track and trace the movements of animals. We learnt how to design experiments, a skill I now definitely do not take for granted. Above all, we learnt the hard way to respect that wild animals will not cooperate just because you have a deadline and an experimental question that needs answering.

There are endless opportunities to volunteer (with food and accommodation paid for) on a variety of postgrad and staff projects that will not only give you skills you won’t get in class and expand your knowledge, but will allow you to see places of the country you otherwise would never get access to. If you’re interested in pursuing a career in Zoology, volunteering will also aid you in securing a postgraduate project for yourself, as being proactive and passionate is the best way to make an impression.

While it can be easy to get bogged down by assignments and the thought of another 8am class, my Zoology degree reminded me at every turn how lucky I am to be doing what I am doing. In high school, a class in which I could sit and listen to lecturers talk about animals, a class where my task was to learn that which I was already passionate enough about to pursue in my spare time, was a dream come true.

Allow me now to share with you a few of my favourite happy snaps I took on just one of my field trips to the Strathbogie Ranges.

An old male koala we quite easily caught and monitored.

An antechinus: easily mistaken for a mouse, this girl is actually a little known native marsupial.

A microbat mid-way through eating a moth we were feeding to it prior to release.

One very full pouch!

A bobuck, or mountain brushtail possum. She was very sleepy.

A little black snake we caught, dusted with UV powder, released and tracked back to its hidey-hole at night time.

An echidna we happened upon. This guy was unfamiliar with humans and so was quite happy to walk right up to us when we sat very still.

– Rhiannon


Somehow during the timetabling process I managed to have the majority of my lectures start at 10:00AM rather than the usual 9:00AM start (yay sleep in for an extra hour!!) The dreaded 9:00AM starts that I was subjected to during first and second year classes meant Monday morning wake up at 6:30ish catch the train to North Melbourne,arriving at uni still half asleep for a Calculus 2 lecture.

As interesting as Mechanical Engineering is I’m sure that most Uni students would agree that, 9:00AM regardless of the subject doesn’t fit in nicely to standard uni-life aka sleep, eat, maintaining a social life, general wellbeing and occasional study (in that specific order).

My week starts off with a Monday morning 10:00AM Electrical Engineering lecture that I chose as my elective, followed midday by a mechanical dynamics tute (note to reader try and schedule tutorial classes towards the end of week where you have had time to review the weekly material, it helps a lot!!) and rounding up the day with a riveting Mechanics and Materials lecture at 2:15. I planned my timetable around being able to have a lunch break every day between 12-1 unfortunately this is sometimes rescheduled due to classes, but if all else fails simply eating in the lecture doesn’t hurt.

Tuesdays is an awesome day having only one lecture at 9:00 Usually meaning a day to catch up on uni-work amid, random engineering lounge discussions about completely irrelevant topics, YouTube surfing and catching up on Facebook. At the same time fretting about how much work I have due and also attending randomly scheduled engineering labs and workshops.

Wednesdays is another good day for study catch up which has accumulated ridiculously since the start of the week (work just seems to keep on coming, so make sure you get on top of things ASAP) as I only have 2 lectures; one at 10 (electrical engineering) and the other at 2 (mechanics and materials).

Thursdays is probably my busiest day of the week, with constant classes of various descriptions from 10 till 4 however I somehow manage to fit in eating and the necessary ‘nap time’ both between and during scheduled classes :). I have an engineering subject each day, which requires reading notes beforehand to get the gist of the material and knowing that when I find a concept difficult that I actually have to focus and pay attention to the lecture material.

Fridays is my ‘engineering day’, starting off with electrical engineering lecture and a electrical engineering workshop following this, yet another mechanics and materials lecture and finishing up with a mechanics tute.

Outside of uni I’m also pretty busy, having Taekwondo teaching and training 3 nights a week for roughly 3 hrs and maths tutoring for secondary school students on another night making Friday my only night off and then some work on the weekend. Overall, somehow I manage to get the required amount of work done and attend most lectures whilst still maintaining a healthy social life outside of uni.

It is important to realise however that since I am a third year student I do have less scheduled classes during the week and more study time. Compared to a standard first year course I have only 17 contact hours (sometimes more) whereas a first year may have up to 23 hours, possibly more depending on your choice of subjects. Don’t be frightened it’s all good fun and everyone finds a way to make everything work together nicely plus there’s always someone to help you sort out problems clashes etc., whatever they may be!

My average week actually starts with a day off (woo hoo!) However a day off is never actually a day off. As I’m only doing part time I only have uni three days a week. So Mondays I sleep in (take these when you can as they are incredibly rare) and then head off to have breakfast with a friend. It’s really important to take time to hang out with friends otherwise you end up buried in your work, but don’t let socializing distract you. Mondays involve a lot of study and organizing everything for the week. At uni it can become very difficult to find time to eat right, exercise and relax, so on your days off try and do all these things. Moving onto Tuesdays; insane day. 9am lecture in anatomy so I’m out of the house by 7.45 to catch the tram in. 4hr break (study) and anatomy workshop/dissection in the afternoon. In that break I’m expected to revise the morning’s lecture so that I’m prepared for the afternoon class.

Workshops go for 1.5 hours and we rotate around different stations to examine particular features of the upper and lower limbs, for example, the muscles, the joints, the nerve supply etc. In workshops we can only touch but in dissections we can dissect from a complete cadaver. Head off to work in the evening and get home about 10.30 via tram. Long, long day. Lots of preparation goes in to preparing for anatomy classes. At third year you are expected to know your stuff.

Wednesdays are another day off. Head down to the dog park to meet a friend with the pets. Lots of study the rest of the day. Thursdays are another busy day. 9am anatomy lecture (bring a cup of tea along). 2hr CST lecture at noon (right through lunch!) and a 1 hr tutorial in the afternoon. Off to work again and back home about 11.30. Friday 9am anatomy lecture (again!). TGIF. I only have the one lecture but it can be a pain coming into uni for 1 class. Try and fit in a swim on my way home. Usually take a nap before work. Saturdays I do double shifts ~13hrs and Sundays a single shift. Back to Monday to do it all again.

Tips on handling uni:

– Classes are not always on every week and you need to be prepared for what is scheduled, e.g. a workshop or a dissection.

– A timetable for lectures is given out at the start of the year; follow this and read the notes (power point slides usually) ahead of time so you know what you’re in for. Lectures move too quickly and with too much content for you to be unprepared.

– You spend a lot of time traveling so make the most of it. Also buy the right ticket. I’ve run into heaps of ticket inspectors and cannot afford a fine. Melbourne uni issues concession cards to all undergrads. It only costs $9.

– Exercise even when your tired as the weeks move buy quite quickly and before you know it a month has gone and you haven’t run a single step.

– Eat properly (It’s cheaper). A lot of you will move out of home into a share house or college and it can become quite easy to stock up on junk food. Remember you will pay for it later when the rent is due.

– Work out how best you study e.g. with a group of friends or on your own, re-writing lecture notes or creating diagrams.

– Be realistic about the number of hours you can put in to a part time job. I can only do so much because I’m only doing two subjects a semester.

– Kimmy