Choose your own Science adventure

14 November 2017

With a new shared pool of minors and majors being offered from 2018, we asked some recent Science graduates how studying complimentary units influenced their university experience and beyond.

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Philippa Specker, Bachelor of Psychology (Hons)

Alongside my major in Psychology I completed a major in Gender and Cultural Studies with the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, graduating this year. Studying two different disciplines concurrently was very well suited to me – it gave me an opportunity to switch tempo and add variety to my study at uni.

Having a diverse area of expertise is of great benefit to graduates. Not simply because it increases your options for postgraduate study or employment, but also because it expands your skill set and ability to use different approaches to solving problems.

I’m currently working as a Research Assistant on two different projects across two universities. Although these research projects are in the area of psychology, one on eating disorders and body image among adolescents and the other on mental wellbeing among refugees, both have benefitted from my background in Gender and Cultural Studies. For instance, my work on eating disorders has been informed by my understanding of gender stereotypes and how they influence eating behaviours in young people (such as girls feeling pressure to be slim and boys feeling pressure to gain muscle). Similarly, the cultural understanding I gained from my arts major has helped ensure the cultural competency of the research and engagement I do with refugee communities.

My best advice would be to always pick subjects you have an interest in, even if they don’t appear to be related. You’ll always be surprised by the ways different disciplines complement one another in the long run. After all, time spent pursuing your interests is never time wasted!

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Hunter Smith, Combined Bachelor of Science (Hons) and Bachelor of Arts

I combined Science with Arts, graduating in 2014. The variety of topics and subjects the two faculties meant that I could study subjects that I was interested in.  

Studying in two areas at once was an interesting experience. Science and arts involve very different types of study methods, with arts involving low contact hours and heavy reading requirements, and science involving many lectures, tutorials and labs every week. Science is much more focused on quantitative and objective results and facts, and arts on the process of thought and academia, so even the way work was assessed was different.

In addition to two degrees simply looking better on your resume, studying across two areas has actually given me an edge as a management consultant even though it isn’t directly related to either area. The quantitative and data analytics skills I learned in science combine well with the more qualitative writing and abstract theorising skills I gained as part of my arts degree.  

My advice to anyone studying or looking into study is that first year subjects are often less interesting than intermediate and advanced level courses, due to the fact that they have to focus on the basics and the grounding of what will be developed upon in more complex ways in later years. So look at the courses that you want to be doing in the later years of your degree, and take the subjects which will allow you to do well in those courses.

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Felicity Nelson, Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts (Hons)

I studied Science with Arts, graduating in 2014. Studying two areas really satisfied my curiosity. I loved almost every subject at school and I didn’t want to give that away at university, so I keep my Arts degree as broad as possible, studying modern history, English literature, art history, ancient history, philosophy, Spanish, Dutch studies (on exchange), religion, and US studies. I’m very much a big-picture person, a generalist, and it was great not to have to pigeon-hole myself too early.

I like to think my two degrees also gave me an edge academically – on those occasions when I actually applied myself at least! I was an arts student who came at questions with rigorous, evidence-based thinking, and a science student who had no trouble smashing out an essay or a thesis. The latter was a cause of great envy among my more science-minded peers.

The only downside was that I was almost never in a class with the same set of students. This made it difficult to make friends, but I made up for this by joining the Science Revue and musical theatre society. Honours was also a really fun, social year (surprisingly!).

Interdisciplinary learning is still very rare; everyone is a specialist these days. Often my job as a medical journalist at The Medical Republic is to connect people and ideas across very different fields, and to invite experts to think critically about the latest developments. Having a bit of perspective makes this task easier – and every so often I find myself raising questions that haven’t even occurred to the experts!

It never ceases to startle me how valuable a broad education is in journalism. I have drawn on almost every single subject, and every different way of thinking in my work – from philosophy, to ethics, human rights, the law, biology, chemistry, and microbiology. Everything is relevant!

Above all, a mix of the science and the arts has helped me to master the art of clear communication. Arts students often get lost in waffle, whereas science students sometimes forget how to tell stories. A little of both is best.

My advice would be that it is never a waste of time to take strange subjects that don’t relate to your career goals. Employers like interesting people, so indulge your interests at university. There are so many students who are narrowly focused on one area of study. You can really differentiate yourself by being a little kooky in your subject choices.

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Jun Tong, Bachelor of Science (Advanced) (Honours) / Bachelor of Arts (incomplete!)  

I combined Science with international relations and politics, graduating in 2013. And it was fun! Different departments have different academic cultures and studying a double degree means you can have your fingers in more pies. Moving from a lecture on American presidential elections to a laboratory lesson on cane toads made me feel like an academic tourist. It was hugely enjoyable.

Studying across different areas highlighted that all scholarly disciplines have common values, like logical rigour and clear expression. Understanding this meant that I'm now confident and eager to learn about new disciplines and enter new fields. Different disciplines to us students are like different cuisines to chefs: most are great fun and worth our attention.  

Until very recently, I was a PhD student in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences where I studied evolutionary history. Now, I'm a management consultant in the healthcare industry. My present work bears little resemblance to what I studied but having studied such a variety of things gave me the confidence to tackle this fresh challenge. During my degrees, I learnt how to find new things out, how to ask stupid questions, and how to exchange ideas with others. It’s surprising how far these three things get you!

My advice for future students? Choosing is hard! Good choices require a ton of introspection and reflection. It's tempting to mime and ape our role models or to do what they tell us. One useful way to make an informed choice is to frame your education in terms of skills you'd like to learn. Are you keen to learn how to understand and analyse quantitative data? Do you want to acquire strong writing skills? Many skills aren't exclusive to a particular subject area but this is a helpful way to think about improving your academic self.