Interview with Dr Nick Wright

1) Nick, you didn’t finish your last year of high school. Did you feel that you were at a disadvantage to other students who had completed level 3 NCEA physics, biology and chemistry?
At the beginning, I did not feel too disadvantaged, as I went down to do a “Jumpstart” physics course. But I think I was disadvantaged, even quite late in the course other students were still talking about how familiar they were with the content I’d never heard of.

2) When people come to university, they seem to be having a great time. Many people claim that first year is the most exciting. However, at an early stage, you decided to dedicate most of your time to studying. Why was this?
Well that is not quite true. We partied hard and studied hard. But, there was definitely more partying in the first part of the semesters. The study process was an evolution. As friends, we would get together and study the content covered that week. As the content grew, so did our study time. But it was not ‘hard-out’ study from day one.

3) On the average day, how many hours a week would you study?
I don’t know… Towards the end of the semester, we studied for hours. It just depended if there was a test coming up that week.

4) Can you give me a numerical figure?
For the first few weeks about a couple of hours a day. Then, probably about week 7, it started to get more serious. At least 3 or 4 hours a day. Including weekends. This was on top of going to class. At the end it was insane. Some 14 hour days in there.

5) Do you think that it is fair to say that many health science students simply spend too much time studying ineffectively? How would you advise students to get the most out of their study time?
Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but I had some really ineffective study methods, on reflection. We had some lecturers tell us “make sure that you over the lectures when you get home.” so I would just read over the lectures again when I got home. But I don’t think that was ‘real’ learning. It was rote learning. I was not asking myself why something was important, or how it worked, so I missed the important reflective element there by not breaking it down into its simplest components.

One student I knew had some funny ideas. He would do all of the required reading, and some non-required reading. But he would base most of his study from textbooks. He would know all of these obscure facts, but it wasn’t very practical. Health science is about getting the marks in the tests. Many of the people marking the test don’t know or care about these obscure facts. So you how can you possibly get marks for something that is irrelevant? It is hard at times to have insight into how effective your study is, but if you talk to the Student Learning Centre, they can give you some tips.

I found that the most effective study was finding similarly motivated and capable students and forming a study group with them.

6) You were staying at Unicol in first year. In what ways did you find the tutorials at Unicol helpful?*
I did not go to some of the Unicol tutorials because we were at a more advanced level than the other students. Yet, some of the tutorials were really good. It is important to find tutorials that are a good use of your time. About half of them were good.

*If you are in a hall, you may have noticed that Health Science tutorials are run for free. However, for those not in a hall, you can attend the OUSA tutorials. See the OUSA office on Ethel Benjamin Place. The OUSA tutorials usually cost around $40 per subject, per semester.

7) Did staying at Unicol present any challenges to you?
It was kind of a cool year. I met lots of cool people at Unicol. But there were lots of people there who did not have similar goals. In some ways, it was kind of good to be surrounded by that, I was not surrounded by Health Science students all of the time, which helped me to keep a balanced perspective on things.

If Unicol was too noisy, we simply went to the library. There is enough space there, and it is open late.

8 ) You’ve claimed that you found the Health Science course to be boring. How did you cope with undertaking hours of study that you didn’t really find to be interesting?
It wasn’t all boring. Just at times you feel that there are some parts that are irrelevant to the goals that you have set. I wanted to do Medicine, but I thought that some of the chemistry stuff was irrelevant. I still feel that it is irrelevant.

9) Now that you have finished your Medicine degree, do you look back on your Health Science days and think that it all the long hours of studying were worth it?
Yeah, and no. That year had the most of everything. The most studying. Meeting the most friends. We had lots of really fun times. It was really cool because I found a group of people who had similar goals to mine, that we managed to achieve throughout the year. We’d have feedback throughout the year that what we were doing was good enough, or not good enough. We got a real sense of achievement out of that. Since then, I’ve been working as a doctor for over a year now, and I can look back at the whole training a bit more objectively, I’ve come to think generally of the health science course as probably the best part of medical school. It was hard, but we were lucky enough to get where we wanted to go from it. Of course, things are not always that straight forward, Shaun moved overseas and is a really successful businessman, Anni has finished medicine, but took a year off inbetween, Rebecca started medicine and then decided she didn’t like it about third year.

10) What was the motivation behind writing the aptitute book?
The way I view it was for this book to help other students who did not have a strong science background (such as ourselves a few years ago) to do well in Health Science. I remember how time consuming it was to try to find the relevant information. But hopefully people of all backgrounds find it useful.