In which I ditch my degree and move across the country.

I graduated.

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It’s a weird feeling. I’m done college. I’m supposed to go find work. Get my own apartment. Start a 401k. Be a grown-up and all that. That’s the general plan for college graduates, right?

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So, last February, I started looking for employment. I attended job fairs, sought advice from my career office, and sent my resume out to dozens of employers. You know the drill.

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All so I could start my exciting future as a full-fledged adult.

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With a bachelor’s degree in biology, I was likely to get some sort of lab technician job. You know, pipetting, running gels, growing cell cultures, doing someone else’s experiment for them. I more or less know the drill. I’ve done two co-ops in the pharma industry, and one internship in an academic research lab. Let me just say, I run a mean lab bench.

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So, yeah. Graduating college, getting some lab work. All very exciting stuff.

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It was amidst all my frantic job-hunting that I received this e-mail from Northeastern.

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Seriously, though, what was this? I’ve never taken a class in computer science before.

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The rest of the e-mail went on to describe why computer science was awesome, and why I should accept this spontaneous admission to some random master’s program. I know nothing about coding, but: it’s okay! This particular master’s program is designed for students with no prior programming experience. What’s more, the e-mail was signed by Northeastern’s dean of the College of Computer and Information Science. Northeastern does have a small campus in Seattle, it’s true. Was this legit?

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I guess we were about to find out.

What compelled me to even go to this informational lunch? I’m not sure. Perhaps it was my overwhelming enthusiasm for my future lab job. Or, my love for the study of biology.

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So my friend and I went to the informational lunch. We’re both in the sciences, though, and any good scientist has a healthy amount of skepticism.

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The dean had brought her second-in-command and two current grad students with her. They buttered me, and the handful of students who came, up with food and drink and handshakes and flattery.

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They then proceeded to give us the most enthusiastic pitch I’ve ever seen.

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Unfortunately for them, I wasn’t the only one who came in skeptical. One girl raised her hand and asked,

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I added my thoughts.

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And finally, another girl asked it straight:

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The dean seemed shocked that we thought it was a scam. For her, setting up this program had taken years. But, to us… let’s be real. Out of nowhere, you’re offered admission– and a scholarship– to a master’s program you hadn’t even heard of?

I wanted to cut the crap and hear the real deal. Civilly, of course.

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She went on to explain. Northeastern’s Seattle campus was built only a few years ago. It offers a number of graduate programs, including the master’s of computer science. Northeastern is hoping to grow the Seattle campus to have a couple hundred students, but they’re having trouble.

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The truth comes out: their program needs home-grown females. So, they’re offering us admission and a scholarship. That way, we could go and do the first semester for free. Try it out. If we don’t like it, we can always drop out and go home.

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My friend turned to me.

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If you haven’t seen the Sassy Gay Friend videos, you are missing out.

So, the dean and her crew seemed desperate determined to bring in some local, female students. Not everyone was as keen as they were, though. Take my friend, for instance.

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And this girl.

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They had contacted us too late. It was already April, graduation was approaching, and future plans were already finalized. Except for my own.

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I once again turned to the Sassy Gay Friend.

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I think you can guess what I chose.

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And that’s why, right now, you can find me in Seattle, Washington, starting anew with only my suitcases and my nerves.

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I guess Sassy Gay Friend said it best.

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Let’s see how long I last.


In which I discover that I’ve learned nothing for the past three years of college.

When I entered college three years ago, I took a free practice MCAT offered by Kaplan.

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Three years later, I took a practice MCAT again. This time, I was trying for real. I had been in college for three years already, so I had to do better– right?

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Apparently not. After three years of schooling, my score raised only by a nominal point.

Unlike during my freshman year, where I could just brush it off…

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…I can’t really ignore it now.

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Since I’m graduating college in a year, I actually have to think about my future now. Part of this has become studying for the MCAT, also known as the Medical College Admission Test. Among all of the grad school exams, the MCAT is particularly notorious. It is long, hard, demands a great deal of memorized knowledge, and is designed to weed out the weak.

The weak, including me.

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So I registered for one of Kaplan’s online MCAT courses.


I knew that I would have to study hard for this exam. It covers organic chemistry, general chemistry, biology, physics, and verbal reasoning– all subjects that I have struggled with in the past. But I was still a little shocked when I received my Kaplan review books in the mail.

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I was even more shocked when I started to read the material.

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As it turns out, I haven’t learned 50% of the content I’m supposed to know for the MCAT, ever. The other 50% I studied years ago. In between my full-time internship and increasingly time-consuming half-marathon training, I continued to study.

My first MCAT class rolled around.

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Try as I might, I could not keep up.

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But as life got in the way, even the weekends failed me.

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Falling so behind started to get to me.

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There was only one thing to do.

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So now, I’ve bought myself a little more time (literally, as changing your MCAT test date costs $65) to prep for this exam. In other words, I’ve delayed my inevitable collapse until October.

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Maybe I should go into business instead.

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It’s that time of semester again.

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Well, it’s that time of year again: the end of semester, where all your professors think it’s a great idea to make all your reports due at the same time.

I’ll be tackling those reports for the next week…

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…in the hopes of not failing all my classes. Though it’s going to happen anyway. Australian universities are weird.

So if I’m MIA for the next week or two, you know where I am!

(Sorry about that! I have a lot I want to write about Australia, trust me. But grades come first!)

University of Sydney is kicking my booty.

I’m a study abroad student. I’m only going to be in Australia for one semester. And for most one-semester students, there’s a common theme:

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However, Northeastern does not allow me to take all my classes pass/fail. No, every single class I take here will count towards my GPA– and this is a worrying thought.

You see, when you’re not some study abroad student paying out the wazoo to go to school in Australia, the University of Sydney is actually very competitive. USyd falls within the top 50 unis in the world (as opposed to Northeastern, which is still trying to break the top 50 in the USA) and is number 3 in Australia.

So, the school is more competitive, and the students are resultantly smart. But I’m smart too! Right?

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Australian uni culture, as far as I’ve seen, is a little different from the USA. For one, it’s much more independent. Here, kids are expected to sort of figure things out on their own. Great emphasis is placed on the final exam. Professors do not have office hours. And the load is heavier. As a biology major, I’ve found that every single class in bio has a lab, meaning that science kids usually have 4 labs in a single semester. In the States, I’ve been warned not to take more than two.

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And those labs, or as they’re sometimes called, “practicals.” I come from a school where I’m used to it being like this: 

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Here, all my labs are like this: 

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Of course, I might learn more if the university doesn’t hold my hand. On the other hand, I’m totally lost. After I did my first evolutionary genetics lab sans guidance or explanation, I got my grade back:

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And this was after I harassed the lab TA.

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Oh, no.

So far, I’ve been saved by my lab partners, who are usually Australians who actually know what’s happening. Actually, it’s really shocked me at how much they know. You see, I’m used to this: 

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All the students I’ve met here, on the other hand, have been like this: 

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Perhaps I’ve been encountering an odd breed of students, but all the kids I’ve met really love their respective subjects. They often mention truly wanting to learn, and how they aim for the knowledge rather than the grade. As someone who’s hated every course I’ve taken, this concept is foreign to me. I’m impressed, to be honest.

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And I’m also dead. The grading system at the University of Sydney is a little different from the USA. While US unis will often hand out A’s, the University of Sydney grades everything on a bell curve.

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Since I’m surrounded by this incredible population of passionate students, there’s no way I’m reaching that top 3 percent of kids. I’ll be surprised if I get “credit.” Shoot. How am I supposed to keep the minimum 3.5 GPA I need to retain my scholarship?

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So maybe I’m not so screwed after all?

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Ok, ok, I kid. I’m still super-worried about my classes. But, instead of this: 

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I’ve downgraded to this: 

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It’s an improvement.

I feel like a freshman again.

I successfully survived the first week of schooling here at the University of Sydney. Survive does not equal aced, though.

You see, the University of Sydney is a big place. The main campus is spread across two suburbs , Camperdown and Darlington. This is because the school caters to about 50,000 students, quite a bit more than Northeastern’s humble 13,000.

In fact, the typical Australian university (or, “uni,” as they like to abbreviate it here) is a bit different from American unis. We can observe one such difference from a sampling of my conversations with USyd students:

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In the US, college is almost equated to independence. Kids graduate high school and move out, often to schools hours away. In Australia, it’s much more typical for kids to live at home and commute to their local university. A daily commute of an hour or more is normal.

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But I digress. The University of Sydney is huge, and its campus is suitably large as well. And since I have a terrible sense of direction, this did not bode well for my first day of classes.

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The campus is so big that asking for directions from students might not result in success.

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Or faculty members, for that matter.

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Luckily for me, Australians are laid-back. They’re rather famous for it. So my professor didn’t care when I burst into his class…

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…20 minutes after it started.

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And that’s how I showed up to my first class 40 minutes late.

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Dayum, USyd. You big! 

Perhaps USyd’s large size also has to do with its age. The University of Sydney is the oldest uni in Australia and is resultantly home to the oldest buildings in Australia, which Asian tourists love to come and photograph. Like me.

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So, when was this grand university established?

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As fond as I am of Northeastern’s campus, it’s pretty neat to go to a school that looks like the set of Harry Potter. There’s even a Quidditch team!

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This will be an interesting semester.