What university students are enduring now to be successful later on.
Story and slideshow by Ryan Matthew Thurston
It’s late on a Saturday night, and while most students are sleeping, partying or hanging out with friends, Ben Battistone, a freshman from Salt Lake City, is busy studying.
“I spend 15 to 20 hours a week on homework, conservatively. If it’s a test week I spend probably about 30,” he said.
He has a good reason to study. Although Battistone is only 19, he has big plans for the future: He wants to be a doctor.
“My dad is a doctor, so I grew up around it,” he said. “I’ve always been a quantitative person, so the sciences come naturally.”
Battistone has been studying at the University of Utah for almost a year. He’s not entirely sure what kind of doctor he wants to be, but whatever his specialty, his primary focus is helping people.
“I want to make a positive difference,” he said. “I really hope people don’t do it for money or job security. You’re sacrificing quality of care. If someone’s in it for the money, they won’t be as passionate and motivated as if they’re in it for the people.”
Helping patients is an essential part of any medical profession. As one doctor told Battistone, “They don’t treat patients, they treat people.” But he says the extra workload is worth it.
“Students in general are under a lot of pressure,” Battistone said. “You have to balance a lot of things in class while being asked to somehow take extracurricular activities. It’s crazy sometimes.”
The tremendous workload is a common theme among science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) majors. Ben Adams, a biomedical engineering major from Salt Lake City, has experienced similar trials in his pursuit of going to medical school.
“I don’t know that the major is the most important part of it,” Adams explained. “I’ve been considering changing my major to biochemistry or kinesiology.”
Between taking classes and studying, Adams also plays defense for the No. 1 ranked lacrosse team in the nation. Participating in sports has also influenced his career path.
“This summer I had a hip surgery done,” he said. “That doctor was incredible. He did such a great job that it made me think this is maybe something I want to look into.”
Like Battistone, Adams only takes four classes a semester, but considers his workload to be significantly more. Each class requires more work outside of it and contains harder concepts within.
“I’m in 12 credit hours, and it’s supposed to be a lighter load,” he explained. “But I probably spend upwards of four hours a day on calculus and bioengineering.”
Such a workload might seem unfamiliar to students with different majors. But for STEM majors and pre-med students, it’s a common thread that binds them together.
“I think about how the workload differs between majors a lot,” Adams said. “Some kids have 16 credit hours and have more free time whereas I’m swamped the whole day.”
Adams isn’t complaining though. He understands the work he has to put in might be more than someone else, comparatively.
“The end goal is very desirable,” he said. “Helping other people is something I want to do. It’s challenging but worth it.”
Helping people is a consistent theme across STEM majors, even for those who don’t want to go to medical school. Stella Ray is a chemistry major from Park City, Utah, but says she eventually wants to teach the subject in high school.
“I took chemistry all three years in high school,” she said. “I was a teaching assistant and tutor for it as well, and that’s how I decided I wanted to teach it at the high school level.”
Although Ray is only 19, education has always been something she’s wanted to work in. She explained that while chemistry can be challenging, having to work hard to understand the material has given her a greater appreciation for it.
“I like the challenge that chemistry poses,” she said. “Physics makes like no sense to me, but chemistry poses enough of a challenge that I had to work at it, and because of that I ended up liking it more.”
Ray also puts a lot into her studies, but often does so with friends to make things easier.
“The classes that require the most effort are my calculus and chemistry classes for sure,” she said. “It doesn’t feel like a ton of work though, since I have such a good support group of friends.”
Interaction with others is something Ray anticipates as she pursues her career.
“I think maybe more so than the subject of chemistry I love teaching,” she said. “That is my No. 1 priority, to become a teacher.”
Ray explained that in high school, she was amazed how different teachers led to different experiences for students.
“A lot of my peers have had different teachers,” she said. “Usually if they didn’t like chemistry it was because of the teacher they had. If you have a good teacher, even if the subject doesn’t come naturally, you’re still going to enjoy it more. I want to be the teacher that makes this subject accessible to everyone.”
Whether they are studying anatomy, chemistry or biology, the students at the University of Utah all seem to be tied together by more than just their workloads. Those who really work at it all seem to have one goal in common: helping others.