Talented Student Program and Advanced Course

Mary Elsley

Mary Elsley

Career Path

Bachelor of Science (Advanced)
Majoring in Microbiology and Immunology
Currently in third year
Involved in Talented Students Program since first year

"A lot of the advanced courses focus on cutting edge research. It pushes your understanding well beyond what you can find in the textbooks. It also gives you the opportunity to do research of your own.”


How do you find the advanced units affect your study, as opposed to the more mainstream units?

A lot of people say that the advanced courses are a lot extra work, and that the workload might affect your marks. In first year they only recommended you take two advanced units out of four each semester, but I've never found it to be a problem. In first year it's really the same amount of work, but it's pitched at a higher intellectual level. In second year you do different projects to replace some of your assessment like third year. Overall it's just a great experience and a good way to extend yourself.

Do you find that it is increasing your interest/passion for science?

Absolutely! A lot of the advanced courses focus on cutting edge research. It pushes your understanding well beyond what you can find in the textbooks. It also gives you the opportunity to do research of your own. A lot of the areas in this building - Biochemistry, Microbiology - give you an advanced essay or presentation. Often the research is related to the coursework so it complements it nicely.

Can you think of any topic that you covered in your advanced units that you found really interesting and that you wouldn't have learnt about though the normal program?

In Microbiology, we got to nominate our own topics on vaccine production; I chose to do whooping cough. I was able to go and research the current public health issues around whooping cough as well as the current improvements in vaccine development - all of this is not material that you can find in the coursework.

What are your plans for the future?

I think I want to do an Honours project and see how that goes. I'm keeping my options open at the moment and recently sat the GAMSAT too. I'll see whether I like research and if not I think I'll probably do Medicine.

What got you interested in SMB programs?

At School I wasn't interested in Science and was going to be an Archaeologist. By the time I reached years 11 and 12, Science had become a lot more interesting. I decided to come to the University of Sydney to do a Science Degree. I took Biology, Chemistry and Maths in first year and I really enjoyed the Molecular Biology and Genetics courses.

The reason I actually did Microbiology was because a friend of mine did the TSP project in that area and absolutely loved it and convinced me to do it. Microbiology started as being an extra subject to fill my units, but I absolutely loved it. I'm no planning to major in it! I was advised not to take Biochemistry by my High School Biology teacher, but I was interested in Genetics so I took Molecular Biology and Genetics in my second year and I ended up really loving the Biochemistry aspect. I'm always in the SMB building!

You're in your third year now, would you have any advice for students starting their first year about how to progress?

Do subjects that you're interested in, rather than what you think you should be doing; a lot of people come to Uni planning on doing a particular major and when they get here they find they don't like it. They become confused by all the different options. You should research your options in advance. Use the handbook!

As far as the workload goes, make sure you manage your time effectively. Science students have a lot of face-to-face hours, but that shouldn't be something that puts you off.

How did you find the lab work and how do you think that contributed to your understanding of things?

The labs compliment the theory work nicely. They allow you hands-on practice at using the techniques you hear about in class. Things make a lot more sense once you've had the opportunity to do it yourself and understand why uou're doing each of the steps. Getting a result at the end of experiments is always reassuring. If you are going to be a scientist, it really helps to have the ability and skills required in the lab.

What's your favourite thing about science?

The current research that is going on right now. All the exciting discoveries that are happening: new vaccines, the way proteins in our body work and interact. It's really good to have that understanding of who we are, what the environment is and how it all works together.