Matt Maerz

How did you first decide to study a Biology-related degree?

I first decided to study Biochemistry in my final years of high school. I really enjoyed taking a wide breadth of classes, but I was particularly enthusiastic about Chemistry and Biology. I knew that I wanted to study something with clinical relevance, but I was unsure of studying medicine as a first degree. So, unable to decide between Chemistry and Biology, I chose an area that was both developing and dynamic and branched both subjects: Biochemistry.

Why did you decide to study at St Andrews?

My sister studied at St Andrews a number of years before I did and consequently our family visited her several times throughout the year. I fell in love with the town, its small size, the age and history, and as a Canadian the idea of a rounded four-year degree was more appealing to me than a very direct three-year course.

What are some of your degree highlights?

BL4211 – Antimicrobials- Mode of Action and Resistance – This module by Dr Peter Coote was my favourite module during the course of the degree. It highlighted to me one of humanity's greatest threats; Antimicrobial resistance, but also encouraged me in that we have the power to drive change and potentially save millions of lives.

My Fourth Year research project – In my final project I worked with Professor Gunn-Moore's lab group and focused on components of Alzheimer's disease. I think it was here that I felt as though I was doing science that could potentially have a tangible clinical impact. The dynamic and environment of a research group is so different from the rest of university, you are surrounded by people who are incredibly passionate and knowledgeable and are deeply committed to their work. I thoroughly enjoyed being a part of their research and contributing, even though my part was relatively small.

The third highlight of my degree was probably my fourth year as a whole. In fourth year, there is a much higher degree of freedom for students to pursue areas of biology that they are interested in. There is more flexibility in terms of learning and assessment and we are far more exposed to frontline research and its impact.

What do you do outside class at St Andrews?

Outside of class I tried a number of different clubs and societies. In my first year I was a part of the boat club and spent a great deal of my time rowing in Perth, but through the later years I became very committed to one of the local Churches and have become involved in helping many of the students there as they go through University. I was president of Toastie Bar in my third year and enjoyed getting to know a wide variety of students and townsfolk. I have also become particularly fond of swimming in the North Sea.

What did you learn about yourself while at the University of St Andrews?

What I learned about myself was extremely helpful, but not particularly easy to take. At St Andrews I've realised that I am not the smartest, not the best at sport, not the wisest, not the best at science or academia, really, I am pretty average. While this was frustrating and disheartening at first, what I found over the course of my degree is that specialty in a particular area is quite a rare thing. And while people gifted in those areas amaze me, what I have come to know for myself is that deep friendships and support are just as important if not more important than my own ability to accomplish something.

What advice would you give anyone considering a Biology-related degree at St Andrews?

I think that the best advice I can give to someone considering a Biology-related degree is that Biology is an incredible field that gives insight into many aspects of life, sport, health, diet, the environment, it gives opportunity for travel, exploration, and discovery. My advice though would be to find good friends; people who will support you and people you can support. Work hard and enjoy your studies, but rest well and pursue a balanced life.

What is your next step?

My next step is really several big steps. This summer I will be getting married to my amazing fiancée and shortly after that I will begin studying Medicine as a graduate degree at St Andrews' new ScotGEM program. My aim is to pursue a career as a rural GP in Scotland and thus to stay deeply involved in science, health, but also with people and communities.

name: Matt Maerz
degree: Biochemistry BSc (Hons)

Matt Maerz