Interview: Nicholas Buttgieg


Today I caught up with Nicholas Buttgieg for brunch at Corinthians. After downing some chia pudding, granola and single-origin coffee like proper Melbournite snobs, we discussed whether objective moral values exist, why young men need to be given responsibility to grow, and how we can improve Five's resources and teaching methods. This guy is brilliant. Listen and learn...

So is it 'Nicholas' or 'Nick'?

Well, Nicholas is my birth name, but I have grown accustomed to people calling me Nick.  As well, 'Nickle Pickle' has also been a satisfactory choice of name among my primary school students.

What do you do at Five?

I tutor mostly secondary school students in English, maths and the sciences, plus one lovely class of primary school students, at the Point Cook and Derrimut campuses. 

How did you get such a high ATAR?

I was in control with my study and always planned and adhered to my routines and timetables.  I ensured that I chose subjects which I knew I was going to enjoy, as this kept me motivated to study.  I always kept school, family and part-time work as my priorities, which kept things moving smoothly and mostly stress-free.  Also, I was constantly looking for any resources which could be beneficial to my studies, whether it be consulting with teachers, completing every worksheet or exam I could get my hands on, or reading the best advice on maintaining personal wellbeing and work ethic.

Many students tend to think numbers define them, such as the amount of hours one studies or practice exams one completes, even the ATAR score itself.

What do you study at Uni?

This year, I will be commencing a Master of Biochemical Engineering at the University of Melbourne (it’s alright, most people don’t really know what it is!).  It’s sort of like what goes on behind the scenes in the production of some resources we sometimes take for granted, namely our drinking water, foods, cleaning products and pharmaceuticals.

What are your plans for the future?

Firstly, I would like to finish my Masters at the end of 2016 with all my research and design projects successfully completed.  Following that, I am hoping to land a graduate position in either the water or dairy industries, depending if research is my forte or not.

Do you have any tips for students who are wanting to get a high ATAR?

I feel that the one thing a student needs to do well above all else is self-discipline, a quality with multiple requirements.  Students need to be motivated and seek to find even the slightest enjoyment in studying.  I kept a laminated timetable which allowed me to plan out my week and prioritise tasks, including sleep.  Once you get into the swing of this routine, your life runs like clockwork and you end up staying focused a lot more of the time. This minimises stress, and that is when one knows they are in control.  Many students tend to think numbers define them, such as the amount of hours one studies or practice exams one completes, even the ATAR score itself.  Instead, the emphasis should be on customising your own work ethic and the value you get out of what you put in.    

Where did you work before working at Five, and what did it teach you?

Before Five, I worked as a shift supervisor at a restaurant for two years.  I remember telling people how much of a challenge it was, yet it was something I enjoyed doing.  Any leadership role requires solid communication skills, and I remember dealing with so many kinds of people, such as crew, customers and my managers.  However, working here did become quite fast-paced, and one problem could escalate quickly and cause dissatisfaction.  It is important to always maintain a professional image, even in difficult circumstances, and deal with people with a sense of understanding.  Sometimes it is worthwhile to just step away for a moment and recollect your thoughts before continuing.  Leaders need to maintain a positive working culture where everyone achieves their goals, works with the highest efficiency and opportunities for feedback are always present.

Now for some easy questions...

What's the purpose of our existence?

I believe humans are meant to navigate their own way through the universe in life, using the people around them and the resources provided as tools in the process.  A young child will always cling to figures much older than they are to keep them at bay, and are probably not aware of the journey that awaits them.  The older one gets, the more autonomy one receives and a greater understanding of resources available is understood.  But in order for all humans to reach their goals, we must be stewards to the universe and to others around us, or else the potential for conflict and suffering would arise.

With so many problems in the world, what can one student do to make a difference?

A student who really wants to effect change should not be focusing on who, what, when and where, but rather how and why.  Why does this injustice, inequity or oppression exist?  How do we mediate these problems as peacefully as possible?  Students who continuously keep asking why will find passion quite easy to come about, and will always be perceptive about any developments and the answers to how. 

Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.
— Viktor. E. Frankl

If you were stuck on a boat for 5 days and could only take 5 things, what would you take?

  1. A novel, preferably ‘Life of Pi’ by Yann Martel (a beacon of hope)
  2. A photograph of somebody I love
  3. A roll of toilet paper
  4. A supply of bubble tea
  5. A selection of songs from my favourite artists


Interview by Peter Hanley
Founding Director of Five Tuition