Advice for New Science Students


So you’ve come to the ANU to do science? Congratulations! This is a great place for scientists to learn their craft. But it’s no mean feat. There’s a great deal of science, statistics and how-to-get-funding tools you’ll have to master before you gain that degree. The most critical year for you now is first year. The ANU has a lot of great resources to help you master this challenge, which I’ve described here. I’ve also included some of my own tips that should make your first year less about drowning in a metaphorical sea of assignments and more about doing the most exciting, meaningful and fun thing there is to do in this universe – science!

Attend the first year science camp.

The camps are organised by more senior science students and are designed for you to get to know other first years. Since you’re going to be spending the next few years together this is a smart opportunity to take. The organisers have a range of activities planned, so even if you’re not that keen on laser tag you can still have a blast on the trivia night. Plus the students who run the camp have lots of advice, such as which computer labs are open late and which lecturers never answer their emails.

Meet the first year department heads.

You’re going to be seeing these guys a lot through the year. They’ll take your classes, help you in your labs and dispense your grades, so it helps (a lot) to meet them. Luckily for you there’s an afternoon set aside in O-Week for that very purpose. They’ll introduce themselves to you, tell you what courses they cover and which buildings they live in. Whether they leave these buildings to return to actual homes at night is a matter of debate amongst senior students.

Attend BBQs.

Free food! Who doesn’t love free food? O-Week is so full of barbeques you could probably live off them for the week (and many do). The barbeques are a great place to meet other students and talk about whether you are in fact planning to study, say, physics or are just at the physics barbeque for the food. Another bonus is that most of the barbeques are organised by student-run clubs. Joining these clubs now is a great way to get discounts for the movie nights and balls they will hold later in the year.

Join PAL.

Students who attend the Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) sessions gain higher marks than students who don’t attend PAL (according to lecturers). If you need an additional incentive, the PAL sessions are basically free tutorials run by senior students (with input from the department heads). There are multiple sessions held every week, so odds are you will find a space in your busy timetable to attend one – or more than one if you’re keen.

Don’t forget your lab wear.

As a science student, lab coats and glasses will probably become your (stylish) uniform. You can get them at the Co-op or from the chemistry/biology societies. The latter usually come with a funny logo on the coat pocket and membership of the said societies. Footwear is also closely regulated in the labs. While some do permit trainers, all draw the line at thongs/sandals/heels and anything else skin-exposing. Your safest bet is to bring a pair of plain leather boots. Funky gumboots, hiking boots or doc martens are all creative and acceptable alternatives. While the labs do have gear for forgetful students, they are not pleasant to wear. The coats are more yellow than white, the goggles look like snorkel gear and the shoes are disgusting, mismatching and uncomfortable.

Reference everything.

Information that is not properly referenced is likely to get you into trouble so make sure you do it right. In first year they set aside several classes to show you how this is done. A good rule to follow is if a non-trivial fact or opinion didn’t originate from your own experiments, it needs to be referenced. Oh and plagiarism? Don’t even think about it. They have software that checks for that. They will find you out, and you will burn.

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