Academic Experiences in Melbourne

By Dinah Whitear (University of Melbourne, Australia).

So I’m about half way through my semester here at Melbourne University and I’d say it’s about time to talk about the academic side to my exchange here…

Tomorrow will mark the start of my 9th week here at Melbourne Uni, and with only about 3-4 weeks of teaching period left, I’d say this semester has flown by! It actually scared me when someone said to me the other day ‘so you’re almost done here then’, when I said I was only here for a semester, and I guess it’s true! Well, almost done my actual study period – I’ve made sure I’ve left myself a good month and a bit of travelling time here in Australia afterwards so I won’t be jetting back home anytime soon that’s for sure! So for those of you looking to study at Melbourne Uni, you may be interested to know what it’s like and how the academic aspect differs with Manchester. Well, obviously I can only speak for my subject – I study neuroscience back home at Manchester but am part of the ‘bachelor of science’ degree here at Melbourne (I will explain why later) – but there may be some general aspects that apply to your degree too.

So firstly, as I’ve already mentioned, I’m part of the ‘bachelor of science’ degree here at Melbourne. This is an important point to consider because Melbourne uni, like most other Australian and American unis I think, structure their degrees rather differently – instead of having to choose such a specialised degree from the start of your course, you usually only have to apply for a broad degree like ‘science’ and then you will only have to specialise at the later stage of your degree. So, if I were you I’d get in touch with Melbourne to find out what area exactly you should be looking to apply for because otherwise it can get rather confusing!

Another thing I’ve had to get my head around is the fact that their degrees are four years here, and that’s not including an honours. That means their first year here is much like our last year at college before we go to university, their second year much like our first year at university, and so on. This may mean you may find some overlap in the subject matter in the courses you study here in comparison to Manchester but, as I said, this may only apply to my course and I’m not sure what it would be like in other ones. For this reason, I chose to mix and match the level of my course – I’m a second year student and decided to do three second-year level courses here and then one third-year level course. I have so far found this quite challenging, but in a good way. I do feel that when I go back to Manchester I will be better prepared for the demand of work since the third-year courses here are assessed in a similar way to the third-year courses back home; as a science student I am not used to doing many essays, but my third-year course is in fact 80% essay-based. I guess I do feel pretty intimidated by this but am hoping it’ll all be okay with some hard work!

I have found the lectures here a little different to those at Manchester – I think the class size is slightly smaller, but the main difference being the intimacy of the lectures. I was used to having lecturers standing further away in our lecture halls at Manchester (in my classes anyway) – here, however, I find that they are practically on the first row! As a consequence of this closeness, I have to admit that I have found napping in lectures a lot harder! I don’t think I’ve seen a single person fall asleep here at Melbourne! I guess it’s a good thing and has taught me to switch on that’s for sure!

I’d say the assessment, and therefore the workload, is quite different here for my course as well- for starters, I’ve had mid-semester tests, and quite a lot of them to say the least! This has meant that I’ve had to work a bit more consistently throughout the semester, something I have to admit I wasn’t at first used to. I think it works out quite well though as it means there is less cramming at the end of the semester and means you’re probably better prepared. I’ve had a lot of weekly online tests too -something I am used to back in Manchester – but the style of some has taken some adapting to! Here they do things called ‘blogs’, where it’s almost an online forum with several other classmates where you are assessed for your discussion over a certain topic.

Something I have found dramatically different here, though, is practicals. In Manchester, the life sciences subjects are very lab-based. Here, I’ve had a total of 6 practicals in the whole semester, and that really is nothing in comparison to back home! They don’t seem to have a compulsory practical element like Manchester do, unless you specifically choose a practical-based module. It depends what you’re looking for, but for me, I’ve quite enjoyed the fact that I don’t have to do labs so frequently and the ones that I do do are pretty cool! I’m doing an anatomy module and so we’ve been designated four time slots throughout the semester where we spend some time in a dissection room – for me this was a real draw to Melbourne as I wouldn’t have had the chance to do this back in Manchester. I have found it really interesting and am so glad I’ve had the opportunity to do something I wouldn’t have done otherwise.

So yeah, overall, I would say there are some differences, but in general I wouldn’t say it’s too much of a shock in comparison to the academic lifestyle we’re used to back in Manchester – apparently it’s a lot harder for the American students to get used to because they’re used to a different way of learning. The campus here is great though, such a nice environment to be in – more of a campus feel than a city, little bit more green and so much going on all the time! Although the libraries don’t have as accessible opening hours as those back in Manchester, you learn to work around it and the facilities really are good – I’ve had to get used to working with macs, as that’s pretty much all they use here!!

As a last tip, I’d say make sure you have a good look into all the different course options on offer to you – it is pretty important to make sure you find something you think you will really enjoy! Good luck!

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