When you come to university in your first year you have a lot to learn about how it all works. Then, if you decide to spend a year abroad, you often have to go through that learning experience again at your host university. And because there are plenty of other things you could be (and you would probably like to be) doing instead, let me make it a bit easier for some of you. Here are four key aspects of student life and the university system in France that I learned about during my first weeks at Toulouse.
Lund University and the University of Manchester have quite differing teaching and assessment regimes. I am now able to see advantages and disadvantages to both and why it is a great experience, if there is the opportunity, to try different styles outside those you are comfortable with and used to. Lund University offers a wide range of module choices which cover a lot of topics and agendas. As a human geographer and international student, I have to take at least 15 ECTS per semester from the Social Sciences School. If I wanted to take modules from outside this School, this would be allowed but I would not be a priority. However, there is still such a diverse range from Social Sciences where you can learn about subjects that you have not previously studied or potentially go into more depth about ones you have.
The way that the
academic year runs is different from Manchester for a start. Each semester has
two study periods within it, each of which runs for about half the semester.
So, for example in the first semester, the first study period runs from the
start of September until the end of October (ish) and the second period starts
at the beginning of November and finishes just before Christmas. The semester
as a whole also runs for a longer period of time. For 2019, the Autumn semester
ran from the 2nd September until the 19th December for me
and you have no real breaks during this time, i.e. there are no reading weeks.
This can make the semester feel really quite long in some ways, especially at
the beginning when Christmas seems very far off. However, the first study block
has just finished for me and I cannot believe how quickly it has actually gone!
The second semester this academic year is running from the 20th
January until the 5th June. However, the precise dates depend on the
specific modules taken.
Across the two semesters, you are required to attain 60 ECTS, the equivalent of 120 credits at home. This means 30 ECTS are taken per semester and generally 15 per study period. At Lund University, this is undertaken largely through 2 x 7.5 ECTS or 1 x 15 ECTS. This mean of learning enables you to have a strong focus on your module choices and keep up with the high amount of reading which comes with studying a social science. The amount of reading is balanced by the few lectures there are each week. I have on average 2 or 3 lectures per week. Additionally, the volume of reading is needed for the essays (for my module choices, there is one due about every fortnight) and is then reinforced by the seminars. Seminars are mandatory and, if they are missed, a ‘make-up’ assignment must be completed instead. The seminars normally take place prior to the assessment hand-in date to help with the writing of the assessment. This study pattern means that the assessments immediately follow the associated teaching and reading.
Something to note on the readings given also is that not all of them are online. Having said that, most pieces will be either online or in a university library, but nevertheless some classes may expect you to buy some books. However, I would say to always check UoM’s library search before spending your money as they have had most I have looked for so far!
are a few options of studying one 30 ECTS for the whole semester. I do not
think that I would recommend this as you would be doing only one module for the
entire semester with no other work to do, so it may seem repetitive even if you
enjoy it. Additionally, if you discover you do not enjoy the module, you are
then studying that one single module for the whole 16-week semester. As well,
Lund does not have a ‘pick-up/drop period’, where you can trial different modules,
so you have to do what you chose. I believe there are some cases where you can
change but it is not the ‘done’ thing. Of course, this is subject to how you
learn best and what you think will work best for your learning. The way in
which assessments are graded varies too. All assessments I have had have either
been marked on a sliding scale of A-fail (A being the highest and E the lowest
passing grade) or pass/fail (G/U in Swedish).
A Lund University tradition is
the ‘academic quarter’. I believe this is not unique to Lund but essentially it
means that, when classes say they begin on the hour, they actually begin at a
quarter past. So, if a class starts at 10:00, it will actually begin at 10:15.
Supposedly this tradition is from when students knew the time from the
cathedral in the middle of the city. When the cathedral’s bells rang at
o’clock, the students knew they needed to get to class for quarter past. As a
result of the academic quarter and a break in the middle of the classes, the
time passes very quickly. This is a particular perk if lectures are at 8.00 am
or 5.00 pm, the times classes can run from. Something to note is that classes
run all day on Wednesdays; there’s no half-day. Also, as far as I am aware
currently, there is no real break for Easter.
Although I can see many advantages to the shorter and more intense study periods, I would also say that there is something of a feeling of temporariness that follows it. In itself, the temporariness can have advantages and disadvantages if you do not enjoy your course for example (or a lecturer!).
By Madeleine Taylor (University of Maryland, USA).
So, I really haven’t been keeping up with this blog very well lately and I am about to explain part of the reason why.
The academics here in America could not be more different than back in England. I’ll lay out the differences simply:
Method of assessment: Here in Maryland I have at least 4 methods of assessment for each of my classes, with participation (attendance, talking in class and sometimes bi-weekly response papers) usually counts for around 20% of your final grade. For me, a massively keen student, participation grades have been great – but if you’re not used to showing up for class then this’ll be a harsh change!
Volume of work: Obviously with a minimum four assessments instead of the usual two in Manchester there is a lot more to get done here. In Maryland they call it busy work – work that isn’t particularly difficult but that takes a lot of time. This is what has been the most difficult adjustment for me. I have at a minimum seven or eight hours of work for each of my four subjects a week and then on top of that any work I have to do for assessment deadlines. This may not seem like a lot, but compared to the amount of work I did back in Manchester I would say in Maryland I do triple.
Mid-terms: Almost every class will have some sort of assessment halfway through the semester, and this is usually in the form of an exam. So be prepared to revise more. However sometimes this is an advantage as teachers may choose to only put material learned after the midterm on the final exam, which means less information to cram in when it comes to the last week of the semester!
Grading: Here is where the sun shines on this so far bleak account. I have been in Maryland for a little over two months now and I have yet to receive any grade below a 92% or an A-. Considering the volume of assessments I’ve had I think this is pretty impressive. And no, this is not me bragging about my intelligence – this is me saying that if you come here and do the work, you will get a good grade. Say goodbye to 65s and 68s.
Teachers: The teachers here are pretty different. I’ve found that they are much more willing to help you improve if you get a bad grade or even if you just feel a little flustered with the task at hand. They’ll give you extra credit (which is awesome: you can come out of a class with over 100%), or check your drafts, or discuss the lecture topics with you etc. Its not that my lecturers in Manchester won’t do this, its just the my lecturers in Maryland are much more accessible and approachable in these matters – they put the help out there for you to grab, rather than making you seek for it. Maybe this is babying, maybe this isn’t in the university spirit, but I sure appreciate it. They also have no qualms with knowing who you are, how engaged you appear in class and which piece of work you did and applying this to your grade. No anonymous marking here.
Getting to class: This may just be for me, but Maryland is a campus university and so I live a four minutes walk away from all of my academic buildings (yes, specifics help me sleep longer).
Breaks: Spring break (a week) is the only break you will get in your semester in America, so don’t expect the same amount of time off we get in the UK.
I hope this has been a comprehensive (and not boring) list for anyone interested in American university academics. Some things may vary institution to institution, but I hope this gives you a good idea of what to expect if you fly out here on an adventure of your own. Do not be put off, things may be different and things may seem harder or more strenuous, but I’ve found the work here to be enjoyable and engaging; anything different is exciting! It is definitely worth it! And now that my mid-terms are over I hope to update more frequently.