Many a first-year student is currently asking themselves: What’s the best way to approach studying? How do I motivate myself? How do I set the right priorities? How do I distribute my energy? How important are networks and friendships? How do I make good use of the many support services offered by UZH?
The examples of Noemi Vogel, Kenny Dobler, Patrick Diener and Amely Walser show that there is no one-size-fits-all recipe for being a student and that many paths lead to success. These four students – along with six others – were each recently awarded an Excellence Scholarship and will begin their Master’s studies at UZH in the fall. Below they tell us about their everyday lives as students – how they approach studying, what drives them, and what their post-graduation goals are.
“I try not to build a very fixed picture of the future, and instead to follow the threads that interest or excite me. As an undergraduate, I realized that I was drawn more to the technical side of things. Anything to do with computer science and neurobiology interests me a lot. That’s why I chose neural systems and computation for my Master’s.
Last summer I did a research internship on computational biology in Professor Konrad Basler’s lab. I evaluated a dataset of single cell sequencing experiments of different cell types from healthy and diseased mouse intestines and from colon cancer patients. The insight I gained into working in a lab was very valuable. I was left to my own devices to find something out with this data set – that’s when I realized how challenging it can be.
I’ve been able to acquire a lot of knowledge over the last three years. When you study biology, there’s a huge amount of material. The danger is that you try to learn everything. But there’s simply not enough time for that. Especially at the beginning, I tried to distinguish what was most important. That made a big difference to the rest of my undergrad degree.
I need the right atmosphere in which to learn. Most of the time that means sitting at a table in one of the hallways on Irchel Campus and listening to electronic music. I enjoy the flexibility of being a student, and being able to manage my own time. Thanks to the online lectures, I can organize my weekly workload more flexibly, which means I can work as well.
I currently have a job during the semester correcting analysis and statistics exercises. I also work part-time at the Institute of Forensic Medicine. I’ve been working on a machine learning project there since February. It entails developing an algorithm that analyzes computer tomography images of corpses to find out how much gas is present in the dead body. In addition, I’m a bartender at the Brauerei Oerlikon, where I do one or two shifts a week. The physical work makes a good change from studying.
The Excellence Scholarship will be a big help for me. I’ll no longer have so much pressure to earn money to fund my studies. Because I’m changing focus, I’ll have some catching up to do when I start my Master’s. So it’ll be great to have more time available.”
“I first came in contact with chiropractic medicine during my exchange year in Alabama during high school. The father in my host family was a chiropractor and treated me after a sports injury.
Chiropractors are specialists the entire musculoskeletal system. I find it fascinating to discover how joints, tendons and muscles work or don’t work. I am now even able to pass on some of the skills I’ve learned – how to listen to a lung or palpate a shoulder, for example – to other students in tutorials. I enjoy teaching and being in contact with people. In general, I’ve learned a lot about dealing with people during my studies. Knowing how to deal with patients, in particular listening carefully, is in my opinion essential for a doctor. This aspect is often somewhat undervalued.
For me, studying means being curious and exploring new things. Thanks to my Master’s thesis – which is part of a larger study – I’ve already gained a first taste of conducting research. I investigated whether chiropractic care affects proprioception – the perception of the body and its position in space – in individuals with chronic lower back pain. I carried out measurements on 30 people using a force plate, then evaluated the data. I had to recruit the subjects myself. I plan to write a paper on my work and submit it for publication.
As far as I can, I follow my own rhythm in my daily study routine. I mostly watch the lectures online – slightly sped up. I like to get up quite early so that by 9am I have the lecture part done. After that I do other things, such as preparing for a practical class, going to work, or playing volleyball at the ASVZ.
I try to get most of my studying done during the semester. I do all of my studying on my tablet – I don’t write out summaries or little cards, I just read the powerpoint slides through carefully. Luckily, a lot sticks.
Financially, like for many students, it’s not always easy. I work as a patient attendant in a hospital, and I recently also started a new job on the reception desk at a chiropractic practice. Thanks to the Excellence Scholarship, I will no longer have to work every weekend and will have more time for my studies. I’ll even be able to start on my PhD while I’m still studying for my Master’s.
I’d love to keep one foot in research after I graduate, alongside working in a practice for chiropractic medicine. That way I’d have my own patients to include in studies.”
“My credo is: the more I get out on the bike, the better I do in my studies. I need to balance studying with physical exertion. I never had such bad grades as when I was injured and couldn’t ride. I’m a cyclist; I have an amateur license and race nationally in the U23 category. I am currently working on qualifying for the elite category. In principle, however, I put studying above training. I know that these five and a half years are about acquiring the essential knowledge I need for my future profession.
Since I do so much sport, I’m forced to manage my time very well. I attend all lectures at the Vetsuisse Faculty, but I go home to study. I always study with a timer and am very conscientious. In the run-up to exams, I get up at 6:15 each morning, study until 8am, have breakfast and study some more until 11:30. Then I take a longish break to go cycling until 5pm. Then it’s back to studying in the evening until 9pm.
Almost all of my colleagues write notes or summaries, and they usually study in groups. That’s not my thing, I always study alone. I look through the slides and try to understand the connections. With this approach, I am much more likely to see the various commonalities that exist between subjects. I find it more efficient to study this way.
I grew up in a very rural area. At home we have four cats, two dogs and seven chickens. For work-experience at school, I was able to shadow veterinarians; I’ve known since the fifth grade that I wanted to become a vet, specifically for farm animals. You can’t ask animals how they feel – but that’s what I find so appealing and exciting about veterinary medicine. You have to be able to ‘read’ the animals. Of course, as a veterinarian you need a firm foundation of knowledge, but if you have no affinity with animals or don’t know how to handle them, the knowledge is useless. That’s why I’m trying to get more experience with animals – for example by working on a farm, as I did last summer.
When I graduate, I’d like to go to South Africa to practice as a vet there for a while. I imagine that people in Africa in general have a more intuitive approach to animals precisely because they spend so much time with them. I could learn from them and conversely, maybe my expertise would be useful there.”
“I’m one of those people who likes to plan and start revising early, I don’t like having to cram the night before. For the exam period, I make a rough schedule of what I want to study on which days. Then I work through the semester material again. I revise by writing out key points on little cards, so that I have to actively reproduce the material. I find that more effective than writing summaries. I use learning platforms provided by the Faculty of Medicine, for example Via Medici. It contains reliable information and previous exam questions.
I nearly always go to the Careum library to study, because my room in the flat I share is tiny. I also attend the lectures on-site – I find I get much more out of them than if I watch online at home. If the lecture topic looks complicated, I read up a bit beforehand. When learning new material, I try to understand the broader context first. That makes it easier to learn later.
I’m willing to spend a lot of time studying, it’s definitely the top priority in my life. But I also get a great deal of enjoyment from it, because I’m acquiring knowledge about human beings. I think my choice of subject is a pretty practical one, not least because it leads to a specific career. I don’t have to struggle with questions like “what’s the point” when I’m studying.
Highlights of my Bachelor’s program were definitely the practical courses – dissection, for example. What specialty will I pursue later as a doctor? I haven’t decided yet. Initially I thought that I would gradually eliminate subjects and narrow down my choice, but in fact the longer I study, the more interested I am in all the areas.
Until now I haven’t had time to work much alongside my studies. The Excellence Scholarship gives me financial independence and the freedom to pursue other interests or get involved in student groups or volunteering. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to study and don’t take it for granted. That’s why I want to give something back. I’ve been supporting a girl from Bangladesh for the last year with the Zurich Asylum Organization. I was the only person she could speak German with outside school. I showed her some study skills and we went on outings together, such as to the UZH Zoological Museum.”