What it’s really like studying SCIENCE in my university!

“Let me tell you about the four main categories in science,” said our Biology lecturer, on our very first lecture of the semester in university. I could not see my coursemates, but I could feel everyone’s ears perk up. Whoever heard of four categories of science? We’ve only ever heard of three.

“First, math is the most fundamental,” she says. “Then what is the most basic science after that?” “Chemistry,” someone tried. “No, it’s physics,” said our teacher. True. I suspected that was why doctors are commonly physicians in the US, because the word physic originally referred to both the practice of medicine AND to natural science (Merriam-Webster, 2020). “Then the next would be, Chemistry, and then Biology,” she finished. “Then Physics is derived from Math, Chemistry is derived from Math AND Physics, and Biology has elements of all of the above.”


One thing I have discovered as in the first few weeks of studying foundation in science at university is: every one of these scientific categories has elements of another category. Math is most fundamental, and therefore only seems to relate to nothing, when you study it on its own. But when you get to the “more derived” subjects, you will see all the interconnected relations between the sciences: there is differentiation (math) in Physics, there are complicated molecular structure of chemical compounds (chemistry) in Biology, and there are logarithms (math), gas laws (physics) and enzymatic graphs (Biology) in Chemistry.

It truly is really interesting, when you see the bigger picture come together. You see the purpose of why things happen; why you are studying math when it seems to be just about numbers. Seeing the patterns and interconnections gave me a new insight into the subjects we had been studying ever since high school; and I wondered why we weren’t exposed to this earlier.

But here’s the really cool thing. I am not sure about other universities. Personally, I am certain not many universities must have this weird concept in their foundation in science syllabus: in our recent Physics exam just two days ago, a white blood cell and a Bacteria (Biology) are racing toward Point A at the speed of 20μm/s and 50μm/s respectively. Calculate the relative velocity of WBC to the liquid…. I laughed, as I read through the question on my digital exam paper, in my room. Maybe exams and studies have dulled the minds of people, and they don’t play as much as I do, and they might find me too peculiar for their tastes. But little things make me laugh, and that does not compromise my intelligence. I think that was a very lighthearted element to include in an exam, a strange rojak, as we like to say here in Malaysia (rojak = a mixture of random foods, used to mean a mixture of random things / languages spoken together, etc).

It’s cool.

Many of my lecturers are really good teachers. They bring across the topic to us clearly, they are prepared for what we might not understand, possibly due to their years of experience, or credentials in the field. They teach us the why of things, which is the whole point of studying science, and a great way to pique our interest.

I am really grateful for the opportunity to study foundation in science at my university. It gives me a fresh insight into science. Although I have been more of a quiet person in my primary and secondary school years, I hope to grab this last stage of education – tertiary education – with both hands, and learn and discover as much as I possibly can.

~Rachel Tan Hui Xin, 20 July 2020.


Meriam-Webster. (2020). Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/why-is-a-medical-expert-called-a-physician

First graded exam at university! (and end of Week 5)

We’re at the end of week 5 now. It is Friday, 3rd of July 2020.

University coursework and assignments are piling up. We are going to have a few minor exams, but minor they may be, they are going to be GRADED.

I am going to sit for my first ever graded exam for Chemistry in university next Wednesday, at 6.30pm – 8pm!

(Yes, you heard that right. And we will still have 3 lecture classes in the morning before that. I will be so exhausted by then. I have never in my life done and exam at 6.30pm.)

Then, I will also have biology, physics and math exams in the following weeks.

I cannot afford to flunk these exams, not when I am aiming for a CGPA of 3.5 for the entire foundation year to get into MBBS (medical degree). I shall be sure to work hard, and do well all the way. To tell the truth, I am lagging behind a bit in catching up with my assignments, and everyday the pile grows larger and more difficult to handle.

Somehow, I must find a way to coordinate all my assignments and revision such that I can keep up daily with my work.

As for online learning, I am beginning to recognize my disembodied coursemates by voice, which is funny. I am also becoming more familiar with some of the names in the online meetings – names of my coursemates, who don’t talk during class, so unfortunately I’m sad to not be able to get to know them! Our time will come… next year, probably.

Our university has announced classes on campus will resume only next year, even though the Malaysian government has very recently declared that primary and secondary school students will be going back soon, universities will be allowed to reopen soon, and even cinemas and theme parks will reopen their doors soon. But our university has declared online classes for the May and October trimesters. We’ll have to wait. 😥

(*28th of January, 2021 update: With the COVID situation now, it seems my 3rd semester (January trimester) will be online, too. Looks like my entire foundation year will be online. But I don’t mind, I think online lectures are quite an experience as well. )

I will be working very hard on time management and understanding certain topics for the next few weeks.

When I’ve established a organized system for my learning and I have gained control, I will come here and announce it here!

Being able to keep up would also mean I have finally gotten my university life in order, and that would allow things to feel steadier.

That’s all for now. Wish me luck for my exams! :b

~Rachel Tan HX, Blog author, 3 July 2020.

Two days in Week 3 of university life!

14 June 2020, Sunday

Aaaand it’s the start of the third week already, just like that. It is a Sunday, and the pace is already picking up. After telling us that we needed to form groups of four for a biology presentation during Week 1, our lecturer finally attached the assignment guidelines for this video presentation during the weekend, on our e-learning platform. I immediately scrolled through it and downloaded the video presenting app they suggested we use, Active Presenter, and will be exploring and familiarizing myself with the functions as soon as I have the time. Fortunately, I had formed a group of four the very instant the instructions left my lecturers lips, and had secured my group and created a Whatsapp group specifically for us.

We were happy to realize that we shared identical timetables for the whole semester, and I began to get a grasp on how the system of assigning timetables worked at our university. Perhaps being in the same practical group for chemistry had something to do with it. Chemistry is a core science subject, so that is entirely possible.

Now, what we need to do is to decide on any topic in the field of biology that is within our foundation syllabus, and do a comprehensive 15 minute video on the subject. There are still three weeks until the deadline, so I will be focusing on the more pressing matters (other assignments) first.

15 June 2020, Monday

2pm: My chemistry tutorial class and practical class took most of the morning and afternoon. The chemistry report I was assigned today must be turned in today. I also have a lot of odds and ends to get done, most of which are tutorial questions, that are compounding both in volume and difficulty.

I must learn to keep up with all these, stay on top of my game. It is necessary for survival, while still being able to enjoy myself. I need to work harder and faster. I need to push my boundaries.

If I were to be very honest with you, I have not being pushing myself to the max; my bed is available nearby and I keep falling asleep after a long lecture.

No. I need to keep going.

My current motivation to keep at it is reminding myself of the bigger picture and why I am doing this. The thing about studying science is that although it is so universal, it causes us to lose focus of the main purpose very easily.

In an hour I will go for my last lecture of the day: math. Then I have until dinner to pick up the pieces.

Forgot to tell you, today is also my mom’s birthday! After my math lecture ended at 4pm, we immediately went downstairs to cut her cake. My mother ordered her favourite, exotic flavour: pandan gula melaka. The cake had coconut shreds on top.

This is why I am only back at 5pm. Our math teacher taught us the remainder of the first topic: Sets, which was a concept we had already learnt in secondary school.

“So, what is the universe?” he asked.

At first I thought I heard him wrong. Then I realized he meant universal set, the encompassing set that includes all sets given in the question.

“You must choose from this universe,” he stressed, hovering his cursor over where the universal set was.


Wow! Do you mean to say you know of dimensions other than this, sir?

Second week of lectures, done!

HEY! Where did all the time go? Is the second week of university done and gone already?

Week 1 mostly consisted of ice breaking and briefing sessions. (Click here to read about my very first week at university!) I am now done with week 2 of foundation in science, and this week has been a reasonably manageable one, and the pace has not picked up so much that I cannot catch up – not just yet.

This week, we have just been given some assignments to do, and I am learning to adapt to this different part of uni life that is having to complete tutorial questions and practical lab simulations before attending tutorial and practical classes respectively. In high school, we seldom had to complete anything before entering the classroom – homework was always given to us to do after the class.

This week may have felt a bit short because Monday was a public holiday for Malaysia, so there were only 4 days of lectures. Our lecturers did not hesitate to set replacement classes throughout the week and the next, to make up for lost time.

Due to a replacement class for math on Thursday morning and a combined scientific report writing and APA citation & referencing workshop on Friday, the last two weekdays of Week 2 were FULLY BOOKED. That is effectively 6 hours of (four) lectures on Thursday, with breaks in between, and more than 5 hours of lectures on Friday, with no break in between – I was literally seated in front of my computer, attending live sessions from 8 – 1.40pm back-to-back. Non-stop.

“Welcome to medicine,” said my father, when he saw me hurrying upstairs after lunch, to continue with the third lecture on Thursday. “That’s probably how studying for your medical degree will be like.”

“I don’t think so,” I replied. “Medicine must be way busier than the second week of our foundation year.” I huffed and puffed as I bounded up the last of the steps, not allowing myself to be deterred by my busy schedule – but only because I knew studying medicine must be a ton lot more hectic than this, and if I could not survive this now, then there was no need to talk about going up to the degree level. So this little bit of busyness has to be beneath me. I do not mean that in an arrogant way, but simply because with the start of my path in medicine, I know I must shift my very definition of “busy”.

Still, I am thoroughly enjoying the new experiences of online classes AND the different way of studying required at university, despite being stuck at home 24/7.

It’s Saturday and I am using the weekend to do some self-studying of Cell Biology. Time to throw myself into the third week!

I am in a university lecture call now!

6 June 2020, Tuesday, 1.13 pm

And with that my first lecture week has ended and the new week has begun. About an hour ago I just finished attending a class on cell biology. I fell asleep out of exhaustion, despite having a lot of messy Biology notes to organize, and I literally woke up to the sounds of my father waking me up for my next lecture class: English.

I felt immediately embarrassed. My dad has to wake me up to attend my own classes! It should be my responsibility. I made a note to myself to set an alarm on my phone if ever my lecture periods are quite close to each other, and I plan on getting a cat nap between then.

1.35pm: Our teacher is going through How To Make Inferences now, but she is a little bit rushed in her teaching and I struggle to keep up.

2.10 pm: I am out of the lecture now. I have to take some rest, again. After that I will start working on Bio and leftovers of English.

2.45pm: I did not set an alarm. However I think my body, despite being extremely tired from staying up until 1.30 am last night watching my Biology teacher’s prerecorded videos on Carbohydrates, could not fall into a deep sleep because it knows it has things to do.

Now, let’s get to work!

I did manage to glean two quite useful things from my English lecture, and that is

1. inferences made must elaborate on and demonstrate a deeper level of external understanding as compared to what the paragraph is clearly stating, often including things that may be implied by the paragraph or is not even stated anywhere in the paragraph, and

2. the main idea of a paragraph can be found by underlining the main points as if you were making a summary of the paragraph, then writing a blanket main idea that seeks to cover the concept of all those key words as best as possible.

As for the details on how to answer the questions, I might go back to the replay and watch again. Time is tight, though, and I still have my biology notes, which needs thorough organizing for a smooth flow of thought, and a partial report to prepare. I have one more lecture for the day, though, and that is….

A mathematics tutorial class! From 4-5 pm. I’ll update you on that after the class! For now, I really must work a bit on Biology and English. See you in about three hours, real time.

3.19pm: I’m back so quickly, to tell you about something else. I went back to watch my Biology replay first. But I cannot concentrate on understanding what my teacher said in reply to a question I posed during the lecture, even though I know full well I need to. All I can focus on is judging my very own self, for my tone, for my fluency and confidence in communicating, for the way I asked the question, the way I “hassled” my teacher for the answer. Some part of me knows I am only being persistent in my studies, knows I have tried my best, knows I probably wasn’t being as annoying as I felt I was. Only I think so. But I have never been good at things like this.

I will keep working on overcoming this. It’s a small problem, and soon I will learn to judge myself less and be more natural. I already find my foundation so interesting and gradually I know being passionate and absorbed into my courses will take my mind of silly things like picking at the itty bitty details like the tone of my voice of my lack of confidence. Remember, if anyone can love yourself the most, it is you. So don’t waste time judging yourself for every single flaw. Acknowledgement of these flaws are still important, but don’t start feeling disgust of yourself. It is very debilitating and unhealthy.

I know my burning curiosity for learning will take me far, and all these barriers within myself will eventually fall away.

5pm: Alright! I am now done with my first math tutorial class. I have never had such a tutorial session like this before university, and it is a useful type of class specifically for asking questions based on a set of questions given to us to do. I think such sessions are very helpful indeed, and it makes us keep practicing.

5.15pm: I’m going to sit on my bed next to my window, just to soak up some Sun. I haven’t felt the warmth of the Sun on my skin for ages now.

6.20pm: Phew! It’s really hot. I’ve drawn the curtains. I’ve made a list of coursework and other odds and ends I need to get done, all academic related. I’ve got five things on the list. Going to get them done now, one by one! Hopefully I can get them done before dinner, which is…. too soon. Oh dear.

Let’s go.