How is academic life different at Auckland?

Emily Barnes // University of Auckland

After possibly the longest summer break ever (a whole 4 months!), I am finally back for my second semester at the University of Auckland. I spent most of the summer travelling around, with the highlights including a trip to the South Island where I visited Milford Sound in Fiordland and hiked the Abel Tasman Great Walk, which had some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen.

Abel Tasman
Section of the Abel Tasman National Park walk 
milford sound
Moody Milford Sound

However, whilst I could write post after post on all the amazing landscapes and attractions New Zealand has to offer, I thought I’d focus this one more on how the academic side of university varies here compared to Manchester.

1) Different case study examples

Studying Geography and Geology, I often get taught case studies that help consolidate understandings of how geographic and geological process work in the real-word. I’m now taught from a southern hemisphere perspective, and all my modules tend to refer to concepts and case studies relevant to New Zealand, Australia and the surrounding Pacific countries. New Zealand is a much more interesting place geologically than the UK, which was part of the reason I chose to come here, and so far, I’m really enjoying learning more about specific geographic and geological topics I wouldn’t have exposure to back at Manchester. For example, in my Engineering Geology module there was a significant focus on Australian mining as these is a common field for NZ geologists to go into. It’s also cool to see features I’ve only ever seen theoretically in books, such as a back-arc volcanic chain, as a real-life example of New Zealand’s Taupo Volcanic Zone, as it really helps to visualise and identify processes and end products.

2) Continuous assessments

As is the case for many universities abroad, it is more common for modules (called papers here) to be continuously assessed throughout the semester, in contrast to maybe one large coursework essay and a final exam worth 60-100%, which was common for me at Manchester. This means each week, on top of attending lectures and the readings and note writing associated with these, I have to complete assessed labs, each worth 5-10%. Mid semester tests are also common and can mean that by the actual exam, as much as 80% of the module has already been completed. For example, in one of my modules, I’d already done 30% of the work by week 3.

Whilst this takes pressure of during exam season, as exams have a much lower weighting than at Manchester, more work is required throughout the semester. In order to complete the assessments, you need to be up-to-date with lecture material, which can be a good thing as it forces you to keep motivated and engaged, however means the work can seem very full on and stressful at times.

3) Lots of computer-based laboratories

Initially I assumed my assessed labs would be similar to the geology practicals I had at Manchester, which are very hands on in a classroom. However, I was surprised as here, for both my Geography and Earth Science modules, labs are much more computer-based. There seems to be a focus on using programs such as Excel, Arc GIS and specialist modelling software to process and analyse data sets, aiming to relate this back to concepts learnt in lectures. Having limited prior experience with such, it took me a while to fully understand what was going on and how some of the programs work. Whilst these have been beneficial, expanding my knowledge and letting me use some really cool programs, such as one that processes seismic reflection data, I think I prefer the practical style back at Manchester, where it’s a lot more hands on and easier to understand the relevancy of what I am doing.

This one might be a bit specific to studying Geography and Geology, however, my friend who does Psychology also has lots more computer labs than back home, so maybe this might be an observation for science subjects in general?

4) Exams

As mentioned above, exams are often weighted a lot less here than they would be back at Manchester, which does ease the pressure and stress during the exam season. Mid-semester tests also mean that the material has been revised before, which make final revision a lot easier, especially as in some cases, where material covered in the mid-semester test is excluded from the final exam. So, whilst I’ve found exams here a lot less stressful than at Manchester, the format in which they’re held can be a little weird. For starters, it’s common for exams to be held on Saturdays or late in the evening (my friend once had one that started at 8pm!). Each exam, regardless of subject, also has 15 minutes reading time before you actually start writing which can be confusing when you’re not expecting it and try to start writing immediately which isn’t allowed!


Hopefully this post has been helpful for those considering studying at Auckland or New Zealand in the future!


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