Academic differences between Manchester and UBCO

By Jing-Jing Hu (University of British Columbia Okanagan, Canada)

To all those coming to UBCO, or interested in coming to UBCO, here are some differences that you might be interested in knowing beforehand:

  • Term dates and alternative assessment

The second term at UBCO starts about two weeks earlier than in Manchester and lasts about four months. Since the start of the term at UBCO falls into the January examination period in Manchester, you have to arrange alternative assessment for these exams. While it is in most cases possible to arrange alternative assessment in the form of an essay in more discursive subjects, such as Politics and Philosophy, other departments, such as Economics, require you to sit your missed exams during the August resit period for the first time. While it felt nice not to have to study for exams in January, the alternative assessment, the deadlines of which coincided with the start of the term at UBCO, as well as the academic system at UBCO both require good time management.

  • Course choice

Since it usually takes four years to complete your bachelor’s degree in Canada, exchange students from Manchester usually take third year courses. You are, however, allowed to take one or two second year courses. What I noticed is that some second year courses complement my first year studies in Manchester very well while in other cases third year courses were a more appropriate choice. For this reason it is useful to email the professor about the syllabus before you make your choices. At UBCO, as in Manchester, you are allowed to add or drop courses within the first two weeks. After that there is another deadline here in February, up until which you can still drop courses, but with a W (for withdrawal) standing on your transcript. Although withdrawing from a course is not recommended as you would need to do the required number of credits per semester in order to complete the equivalent of a full year at Manchester.

  • Teaching methods

Different from the typical combination of lectures and tutorials at Manchester, there are no tutorials for most courses here at UBCO. Instead, there are two 80-minute classes per week for every module that you take. The class size is much smaller with usually no more than 100 students in one class. In one of my classes, there are just 40 students which is a great contrast to the 200 to 300 people you sometimes find in a lecture theatre in Manchester. I enjoy the small class sizes, since it makes it easier to get to know your classmates and generally facilitates class contribution. Many students ask questions during class and it is not unusual to do exercises in class and to discuss the answers afterwards or for the professor to engage students in a discussion. You also get to know your professor better and, as in Manchester, all professors have regular office hours and are very willing to help with any problems you might have. Moreover, there are TA (teaching assistant) hours as well. Teaching assistants are usually students that have taken the class before.

  • Assessment methods

Whereas there is usually a great emphasis on the final exams in Manchester, the final exams often accounting for 60 to 100%, more weight is placed on continuous assessment here in Canada. There are a variety of assessment methods that are used, such as midterms, group work, take-home midterms and exams, graded assignments and homework. None of my finals accounts for more than 40%. If, however, you miss one of your midterms, the weight of the midterm is usually added to the final. If the midterm is worth 20%, for instance, then missing this midterm would mean that the final exam accounts for 60% of your grade. Although it takes pressure off you to do well in your finals and spreads the workload throughout the semester, this makes it even more important to stay on top of your work and keep up with the reading throughout the term.

  • Essays

Essays or term papers here often require you to choose your own topic or pose your own question within a certain framework, a little bit like a mini-dissertation. It gives you much more freedom in your focus and research and allows you to explore a certain aspect of the course that is of particular interest to you in greater depth. The preferred writing style and form can vary slightly from the way you are used to structure essays in Manchester so that I would recommend asking the professor about any formalities you might be uncertain of beforehand, such as referencing or the word limit.

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(Can’t finish a post without a picture of the beautiful scenery, I just love the view too much. I am sure you will too if you decide to come here 🙂 It looks even more beautiful in real life.)

School Life

By Chris Tenant-Flowers (North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA).

Hello again!

firstly let me apologise for my absence from this blog. I really didn’t believe it had been as long as it had been since I posted but time is really, really flying by this year. I do plan to be able to post a few more of these in the coming weeks as I have a brief gap in my workload it seems (fingers crossed). With that in mind it seems like a good time to perhaps talk about some of the differences in school life that I have experienced over here. This is after all an academic experience and not just another chance for me to travel!

So the first difference worth mentioning for anyone coming here, and especially for those from England, is the workload. It is considerably higher than you will find you experience most of the time in England. In many ways it is closer to what we all experienced during A-Level rather than university, though of course more challenging. This semester three out of my four classes each require a weekly piece of work to be submitted, usually based upon the readings set for that week.  I personally quite appreciate this as it does mean that firstly, you always keep up with the work and reading, which as we all know, is very easy to let slip for weeks and indeed months at a time in England. It also means that you do get into the habit of being productive generally and I feel it is a situation that will much better prepare someone for the ‘real’ working world after university. As well as these regular assignments there are normally two or three bigger pieces of work and then multiple exams. Now this may sound like a lot but due to the greater number of assessments it means that none of them are as all-encompassing and therefore as full of content as their English counterparts, and also they are not weighted as heavily. This has the benefit of meaning that if you miss an assignment or don’t do as well in it, the impact is not as great as in England where a class is often decided merely on the merits of one essay and one exam.

As a result of this I would say much of the class material is perhaps a little less in-depth or maybe intensive as it is in England, however there is certainly more of it which makes up for it. I can safely say that there have only been 3-4 weeks in England where I have worked as much as I do on a weekly basis here. That said I have yet to get as stressed about pieces of work as I have in England so it all does even out.

So beyond classes, what other differences are there as far as the academic side of things goes? Textbooks is a big one. As I said there is much more reading to do here, however unlike in England, or at least Manchester, the Library cannot necessarily provide everything and so most students have to buy their textbooks. The price of this can be very high, often exceeding $80 per class on books. Indeed I and others have dropped classes on the basis of the cost of textbooks. There are ways around it and it isn’t the case for every class. Indeed my first semester I managed to avoid buying books for all four of my classes, so it shouldn’t put anybody off of coming here but it is worth thinking about.

The other big difference is interaction between students and teachers. It is much closer here than what I have experienced in England. Pretty much all third and fourth year classes (the vast majority of courses are four years here) are small enough that teachers can get to know individual students. As well as this the teaching style involves much more interaction. Most classes actually include a percentage of the grade for participation in class, so talking and interaction between students and professors is greater. As well as this there are many more chances for interaction between students and staff outside of class. Either at events (often for extra credit in class as well!) or teachers simply getting to know you. All of this leads to a very different relationship to staff than I became used to at Manchester and one that I can see certainly having benefits as far as things such as job references are concerned.

Anyway, I am going to draw this to a close here but as I say I plan on padding out my blog contribution a bit more in the coming weeks. Holidays and trips definitely seem worth talking about later. but for now, BYE!!!

Why studying in the USA is FABULOUS

By Helen Sheldon (Stony Brook University, New York, USA).

Now my final exams are over, it is time to summarise my academic experience here in NY. This post won’t be full of fancy travelling pictures but if you are considering studying in the USA, this is an important read. It will surely persuade you that studying in the USA is a very, very good choice to make…

Exams finish in December – and this means no revision for January exams over the Christmas holidays!! There may seem a lot of exams in the USA throughout the semester – mid term and final exams seem to span the whole time – however I am now able to fly home and have a Christmas where I can truly relax without the thought of exams in the back of my head! This is a true luxury! It also means I have revision-free time at home to get a big head start on my dissertation that most people complete after January exams throughout the next semester.

Exams are frequent throughout the semester in the USA, but the majority of them aren’t cumulative! This means that there may be two midterm exams for each subject throughout the semester and one final exam for each, but most of these exams may only cover around 9 lectures each, even the final exam! In the UK our exams are at the end of the semester, cover ALL the lecture series, and count for around 90% of our whole unit grade. In the US each exam may count 25-30% and covers only a few lectures. This is another luxury of the US education system that I will miss! The final exams were a breeze in comparison to end of semester exams in the UK!

Extra credit everywhere!! I originally found this hard to believe, but in one of my subjects there was opportunity to gain 10 extra credits for the class. This is 10 extra marks you simply add on to your end total mark. For extra credit the Professor may set quizzes etc, and if you take the small amount of time out of your week each week to do these, the results are worth it! For example I did all the extra credit assignments in one of my classes, and this means I now have over 100% in the course.. Hard to believe when we work our socks off for over 70% in a class in the UK!

If you’re there over the summer period- you walk to lectures in the sun, and leave the lecture in the sun! If there is one thing to bring up the mood as you’re walking to your lectures, being able to wear summer clothes and walk in the heat is one of them! You may think that the sun would put you off doing work as you don’t want to be sat inside missing the heat, however it made me work faster and more efficiently so that I could go out and enjoy the sun! I am not looking forward to the gloomy rain of Manchester that awaits me back home, where I will replace my summer clothes with a rain coat and wellies..

If you study a science, the regulations on laboratory work are very different to in the UK.. Without delving too far into details, the USA are more relaxed on their animal testing regulations in University. This definitely provided me an insight to this field of work that I wouldn’t necessarily have gained staying studying in the UK.

Next to no classes run on a Friday!! I had a three day weekend all semester, and this is a common theme throughout Universities in the USA. I was able to travel much further afield and visit more places on the weekends thanks to my dreamy timetable that gave me Fridays and all of Monday morning and afternoon off!!

If these points alone aren’t enough to persuade you to want to study abroad in the USA, then I don’t know what will!

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!