So You’ve Just Started Undergrad

Author: Olivia Mei Lin Lee

There are many things 3rd year me would have loved to have told 1st year me- Don’t take things so seriously. Are you sure you’re going to skip putting on sunblock today? You should really throw those out instead of trying to cook it– and while I have developed a freckle or two with my oversight, there are some things I would like to have known better when I first started my Marine Science degree. My friend Kessia (who has graduated and was a JCU blogger) and I came up with a few points we thought we might share with any freshers keen to do things better than we did! While some points may be degree-specific, others are general and based on common sense (which you might question we had a lack of).

  1. Invest in a good bike if you’re going to be here for longer than a semester

My bike was not the greatest as I was being cheap and opportunistic. I got mine from an exchange student before she left and although it took me to many places, there were many things wrong with it that made cycling up hills or with groceries a huge pain. Please don’t be cheap and get a good, proper road bike. And a good metal lock to deter those bike thieves. Although a good bike might be $100 more than you’re willing to pay, if you will be riding it every day, it is an investment someone should have smacked into past me.

  1. Join clubs early as you get busier in 2nd and 3rd year.

Kessia and myself were both active in clubs and we helped a lot with activities around campus. This would have been great when we were overly-free first years, but it took a lot of time management to do that together with all the things we were juggling in 3rd year. For me, I was still pretty shy in first year and didn’t want to take on any leadership roles, but if I had decided to step up earlier, I knew I could have done so much more for the clubs I was in. If there is something you want to see get done in a club such as a fun event, sometimes you have to step up, suggest, and organise it yourself.

Case in point, someone in the Asian Association stepped up to suggest we create a K-Pop dance group to perform for Cultural Fest, and we are now performing for the 3rd year with a growing cohort of active members that will be taking over the seniors.

  1. Learn more about volunteering from lecturers and at Orpheus Island

Everyone always talks about volunteering and I remember in my first year I found it really hard to find out more about it, such as who to talk to and where to go. There wasn’t an updated page with a list of projects that undergrad students could volunteer for, a lot of it was just word of mouth. Don’t be intimidated to e-mail or approach lecturers to ask them if their labs or PhD students need any volunteering (most PhD students will need help, especially over at MARFU). Even better if you have a field of interest and you can focus on a researcher/post-grad student in that field. E-mail them and ask, in this case you would need to be a bit thick-skinned, but as long as you are polite and show you are eager to learn, the most they can do is tell you there is just no work at the moment. There are also places like MARFU, FinPrint, TropEco, and TropWater that have internship and volunteering programs, which can lead to bigger things! A friend of mine who was very committed to FinPrint is now helping with field work, catching and tagging sting rays as well as starting her own minor project.


There is ongoing volunteering at Orpheus Island where you can take care of the grounds and spend the rest of your time snorkelling and resting on the beach. Aside from it being a semi-vacation, It is a great opportunity to meet researchers, and it matters so much more if you have someone inside putting your name down as a potential volunteer at AIMS or somewhere else.

  1. Get your certifications done to join the JCU dive register

Joining the JCU dive register allows you to do volunteer trips that involves dive work and this is great experience as most classes only start doing intensive field work in 3rd year. If you can get some experience in 1st and 2nd year, you will not regret the extra knowledge. However, this was a pricey order for me as being on the register meant you had to have a Rescue certification, a boat license, first aid attendant certification, and various courses that would have burnt a whole through my pocket or just burnt myself entirely. If you are going to save up for something, this helps in the long run.

  1. Take pictures and cherish the good times


Unlike Kessia, I hate taking pictures and have only just recently been taking more to show my family what my work is like. If you can, invest in a GoPro so that you can look back and see how that Manta in Bali looked like (something Kessia and I will never be able to do because we did not have a camera with us). No one takes pictures to look back on the difficult times, remember to fill your camera up with good times, or if (like me) it’s not your style to take photos at every chance, cherish your memories.

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