University of Wisconsin-Madison: A Student Interview

Samantha earned her bachelor’s degree in microbiology and genetics from University of Wisconsin-Madison. She specializes in algebra tutoring, anatomy tutoring, and a number of other subjects. Below, she shares her experience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Describe the campus setting and transportation options. 

Samantha: The campus is very easy to navigate, and is right next to the state capitol and downtown. Madison is very bike-friendly, and there’s a bus system that can get you anywhere you need to go. The university provides students with bus passes each semester. It’s very difficult to own and use a car on campus, simply because there’s nowhere to park.

How available are the professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants?

Samantha: I’ve been able to forge wonderful relationships with my professors because they’re so personable and accessible. They really care about their students, and many of them have open door policies. My advisers have been great and have done their best to help me sort out requirements for my double major. Most of the TAs I’ve had have been good as well.

How would you describe the dorm life – rooms, dining options, location, socialization opportunities with other students?

Samantha: I lived in the only all-freshman dorm on campus, which was very social. Everyone was in the same boat of not knowing anyone and made an effort to reach out. The dorm administrators also put together countless activities for us and tried their hardest to make the dorms feel like home. Other dorms have different vibes depending on how many upperclassmen are living in them.

The dining halls on campus are good, fairly priced, and easy to get to. I remember running across the street from my dorm in the middle of winter to grab some ice cream at the dining hall because it’s just so good.

There are always more events happening on campus than you can attend, and there are definitely many clubs and organizations to join. The student organization fairs are a great place to see what’s happening and find people with similar interests. It’s so easy to get involved because there’s something for everyone.

Which majors/programs are best represented and supported? 

Samantha: UW is definitely a STEM school. The humanities are also very well represented and very diverse, but most of the funding goes to STEM programs. Madison has a reputation to uphold in the biological sciences, and as such, the biochemistry, genetics, and microbiology departments are very well respected. Engineering and computer science also have a significant presence.

I studied genetics and microbiology because of my interest in disease. My departments are very well funded because of the impacts they have made in the field of scientific discovery, and I believe they use their funding wisely. We have fantastic labs with new, up-to-date equipment, and we learned cutting-edge techniques to use in research.

How easy or difficult was it for you to meet people and make friends as a freshman? Does Greek life play a significant role in the campus social life?

Samantha: Greek life is definitely present on campus, but it isn’t overwhelming at all. It isn’t as large as it is at many other universities, and most of the Greek housing is sequestered to a specific part of campus.

I thought making friends as a freshman was relatively easy. I joined a student organization filled with outgoing people, and I made an effort to find people in my dorm to befriend.

How helpful are the Career Center and other student support services? 

Samantha: I haven’t had to use the Career Center services on campus, but I’ve only heard good things. Each college on campus tends to sponsor a career fair every semester, and some big names show up including Google, Microsoft, Promega, and DuPont. It’s a really great opportunity to network and find a job or internship.

How are the various study areas such as libraries, the student union, and dorm lounges?

Samantha: We have many different libraries on campus that are great for studying and group work. They’re also scattered all over campus, so you never have to trek too far to get to one. The student unions on campus aren’t great study spots, but they are used for group work or just hanging out with friends. The Union Terrace during the summer becomes a hotspot for social gatherings and fun in Lake Mendota. The dorm lounges will vary greatly depending on the dorm, but plenty of people use them to study in.

Describe the surrounding town.

Samantha: Madison is a fantastic city with a distinct personality—it captured my heart the first time I visited. Madison offers plenty of opportunities to go sailing and swimming in the summer. As the capital city of Wisconsin, there’s always something going on in town. The music scene is great and everyone’s always friendly. Off the top of my head, I can think of six significant venues that are always hosting some sort of entertainment—whether that be a band, comedian, play, or orchestral performance. Finding things to do in winter gets a little more difficult simply because you won’t want to walk anywhere in the cold weather, but there are certainly still things going on.

How big or small is the student body? Were you generally pleased or displeased with the typical class sizes?

Samantha: Madison has about 30,000 undergrads, which is fairly sizeable. Depending on your classes and class standing, they can range from 15 individuals to about 300. The larger classes are always taught by a professor and usually have smaller discussion sessions once a week led by a TA. I never felt like the class sizes were an issue because the professors are still very accessible via email, office hours, and review sessions. You tend to lean on your TAs more in the large classes because you interact with them more, despite the fact they aren’t doing the teaching.

Describe one memorable experience with a professor and/or class. Perhaps one you loved the most or one you regret the most.

Samantha: Honestly, choosing one moment is a struggle for me because my experience at UW was so wonderful. As a microbiology major, I was required to take a laboratory course that taught us many modern research methods, and at the end of the semester we were taught how to brew beer from start to finish. Each lab group was assigned a different yeast, and we were to make one “proper” brew and one “improper” brew by changing fermentation conditions. At the end, we sampled the beer using gas chromatography to analyze its contents, and those of us who were 21 also used sensory analysis. We also compared the differences in taste and gas content in the “proper” and “improper” beers to learn what different brewing conditions can cause the yeast to do. It was an incredibly gratifying experience, despite the fact our beers weren’t very good!


Check out Samantha’s tutoring profile.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.