Chapter 3. From Student Protest to DNA Synthesizer

Roughly five years ago, studying molecular biology in Graz, Austria had become routine for me, even though I just had started two years before. My dreams of an open, exciting, and less restrictive chapter in my educational career had been crushed between the authoritarian university system and its routine of boring, one-way lectures, memorization of books, and writing tests.

Luckily, everything changed one night when I met a friend at a party who told me students would be gathering to protest new fees, the elimination of voting rights for student representatives, entrance exams, and increased pressure to finish a degree, which they believed led to educational negligence. I went to the protest to see what was going to happen and found myself at a lecture-hall occupation a few hours later.  Those three months of occupation turned out to be the most intense experience of my educational career.  I was encouraged by my fellow protesting students to think about education and speak up, to vote at the daily meetings and take part in change, not just consume.

We developed four core demands:

Universities in Austria are public institutions, but the greatest percentage of voting-age people there—the students—have few to no voting rights.
No acceptance tests
There’s no serious way to determine whether someone is going to be good in a particular field of science before letting them actually learn about it.

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