The difference between undergraduate and postgraduate studies

by Warwick Pitman

My honours year thus far has been a very different year compared to my years as an undergraduate. The first thing I noticed is that there is more freedom given to students to learn about the science they want to learn about. I often found myself going down different rabbit holes, spending hours reading up on topics that I found particularly interesting. An example of this was an obsession I developed with axolotls during my regenerative medicine module. I also quickly noticed that more responsibility is given to honours students to enhance their learning. I think one of the reasons that permits this is that there is a step away from being so mark obsessed, therefore as an honours student one must have the desire to perform as well as one can in presentations and assignments for the sake of one’s growth as a future scientist rather than for the mark one will achieve. Another obvious reason is the requirement for one to do a research project, where you determine how much literature you want to read and therefore learn. This is very different to being given a set of lectures to learn from, which is of importance at an undergrad level, to learn the language of the field and different forms of evidence, but I do believe it limits one’s capacity to learn as most students only focus upon learning the lecture content that they will be tested on.

During the module component of the course, we did receive lectures, but were most often assessed via presentations. My favourite assessments were coming up with project proposals and then presenting your ideas to the class. In this way one uses the experimental techniques taught in the lectures/discussions and then applies them to an area of research to find something novel. I loved these assessments as I felt like a scientist. Someone that reads the literature, identifies gaps, and then considers experimentally how one would fill the gap whilst also being aware of experimental limitations.

Another aspect that I have enjoyed about my honour’s year is being integrated into a lab. It is enriching to be around masters students that help teach you the different techniques they have learnt over the years and often serve as a guide considering that they have already completed their honours. Also, I cannot forget to mention the impact my supervisor, Dr Mubeen Goolam, has had on my honour’s year. He has always replied promptly to my emails and been available for meetings whether they are online or in person to discuss my project. Whenever I speak with him, I try to take in as much information as possible considering he has already got some of his work published in impressive journals such as Cell and Nature whilst working under professors that have contributed tremendously to the field.  

Overall, the difference between an undergraduate and a postgraduate degree has enhanced my growth as a future scientist in the world of research and has provided me with greater clarity on whether I want to engage in a career of research.   

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