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  • Writer's pictureSAMS UoA

Help! I Don't Know What I Need to Know!


It’s hard to believe that the summer holidays are nearly over with only 10 days left until semester 1 starts! As a biomedical science major going into my final year, I thought I’d write a short list of things that you might want to tick off your list before the first day.

University log-in (UPI) Hopefully by now, you have been accepted and enrolled into the course you’ve chosen. Once this is completed, you should have been emailed your username (also known as UPI) and have been given instructions to set up a password for your university log in. It is crucial to have this completed  and ready before the first day because your UPI and password will give you access to Student Services Online (SSO), Canvas, and your university email. SSO contains all the administrative information for your enrolment, which includes your timetable, fees, paper concessions, and so on. Once logged into SSO with your UPI,  your timetable will be displayed on the home page of SSO; providing that you’ve enrolled into your papers. On the other hand, Canvas is a Learning Management System (LMS) where lecturers and course co-ordinators are able to put specific course information as well as send out announcements to students.  Once you’ve logged into Canvas using your UPI, it would display all the papers that you have enrolled for Semester 1.  Please note that even though Semester 1 is approaching, some papers have not published; this simply means that you would not see a ‘folder’ on your dashboard (home page of Canvas).  Don’t worry too much about this, just make sure that you have enrolled  to the specific paper (which can be checked on SSO); the course co-ordinator will publish the paper soon on Canvas before Semester 1 begins. If you are lucky enough to have all your papers published on Canvas, make sure that you read all the information and announcements that are posted on each of the published papers on Canvas. These are crucial as it contains information about your course guides, recommended textbooks, and heaps more. It does take time to get used to using Canvas, so it is worthwhile to have a play around with the different tabs and explore Canvas if you have time to spare. Last but not least, your UPI also gives you access to your own university email. The email address should be and this is the email address that you should be using for any university matters. It is crucial that you use this email when emailing lecturers and course-coordinators as it proves that you are enrolled as a student at the university and they will prioritise your email over non-UoA email addresses.  With the semester fast approaching, some lecturers/course-coordinators are already sending emails to student, so do make sure you get into the habit of regularly checking you emails.

Canvas dashboard showing all the papers that you've enrolled in. Only papers that have been published would appear on dashboard.

Course guides Before I start, it is important that you understand that course guides are not textbooks! Course guides are specific to each paper they contain all lecture notes for that paper as well as lab manuals which you will need to bring along for every lab. In addition to that, your course guide contains useful information such as a timeline for the paper, due dates for assignments/test, and contact details for lecturers and course co-ordinators. It is definitely worth getting hold of a copy (either physical or electronic copy) for every paper before the first day of semester so that you are well-prepared. Some papers do not produce a physical copy of course guides, instead they choose to upload the lecture materials on Canvas (for example, POPLHLTH111 did not have a physical course guide). Meanwhile some papers do have a physical copy of the course guides available for purchase. The details of where you can purchase the course guide and the cost should have been either emailed to you (to your university email) or posted on Canvas, under the specific paper. From memory, I purchased both BIOSCI107 and BIOSCI101 from UBS while CHEM110 was purchased from the Student Resource Centre.  For papers that do offer physical hard copy of the course guide, an electronic copy is often uploaded on Canvas (free of charge). This means that you do not need to fork out extra cash to purchase a course guide!

Stationery & Lab coats On your first day, you need to make sure you have all your stationery and equipment ready! Throughout my first and second year, I’ve tested out different stationery and found that keeping it simple is the key. By keeping it simple, it reduces the amount of time and money wasted on trying to make my notes ‘pretty.’ Believe me, just keep it simple! Here is what’s usually on my list of stationery:Refill pad (I used 2x Refill pads a semester)Bic: medium ball point pens in red, blue, and blackA pack of highlightersPencilEraser Ruler  Black Permanent Marker (Sharpie): important for labs, you dont want to waste time running around asking to borrow one from other students Stapler: handy for labs!There’s been a long debate over which method of note-taking is best and to be honest with you, it really depends on the individual. Through trial and error, I’ve found that using refill is much better than using my laptop. The main reason is that having a laptop increases the chances of getting distracted during lectures; yes I am guilty of being on Facebook during lecture! By having pen and paper in front of me, there’s nothing to distract me.  A huge benefit of taking notes with pen and paper is that because writing is much slower than typing, you begin to get into the habbit of actively listening to what the lecturer is saying and jolting down only the main ideas. This way, there is less lecture notes for you to go over when you review the lecture! Moving on from stationery, you will also need a lab coat and safety glasses for your BIOSCI and CHEM labs. There’s no specific ‘brand’ or style of lab coats or safety glasses, you can purchase them new (often from USB) or second hand (which is often cheaper). The only thing you want to be aware of is the fit of the lab coat and safety glasses. For the lab coat, make sure that the sleeves are not longer than your arms and you must be able to fully button up your lab coats when asked. For safety glasses, make sure that they do not fall off your nose when wearing them. If are planning to wear your glasses underneath your safety glasses, make sure that the safety glasses are big enough to accommodate your glasses.

Laptop vs Refill - Which would you prefer?


Many first years have asked whether or not they need to purchase the recommended textbook for each paper. The answer is no! Speaking from experience, I did purchase all the recommended textbook for the core papers in First Year Biomedical Sciences (Campbell biology, Fundamentals of Organic Chemistry, A&P,  and Epidemiology) but I barely touched any one of them. Why? Well, because I did not use the textbook as my first source of information, but instead I looked at my course guides, lecture slides, and recordings to abstract as much information as I can. If I don’t understand a certain concept that was discussed by the lecturer, then I would use my textbook to seek for different approach of explaining the same concept.

My rule of thumb for textbooks is: Wait until the lectures have started and after 1-2 weeks ask yourself whether you need extra help with the lecture content. It is also useful to borrow the textbook from Short Loan or the general library to read through a couple of relevant lecture and help you evaluate whether you should purchase a copy of the textbook.

So there it is, my short list of important things that I would recommend to all first year students! I hope that this can help you prepare for the next coming days. If you need any help, please feel free to send SAMS a message on Facebook, email me at, or leave a comment below.

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