So I’ve been a student in the University of Edinburgh for five months now and therefore I feel like I’m in an adequate position to give you an overview of the uni life. As much as your exchange is about meeting new people and socialising, you can’t really deny the fact that going to classes and studying is also a big part of it. So I thought I’d share some things that maybe surprised me about the academic side a little bit, or that are just different from what I was used to back in Tallinn. My degree is Social Anthropology so I can only really talk about what it’s like to study something Humanities related, but hopefully the “science-heads” can find some useful tips as well.
Firstly, probably the biggest difference between Tallinn and Edinburgh is that the number of contact hours (e.g. the hours actually spent either in lectures or tutorials/seminars) here is much smaller than it was back home. You are expected to take three courses in one semester and for each course you usually have two 50-minute lectures + one 50-minute tutorial/seminar in a week. It was pretty hard to get used to the 50-minute lectures at first, since in Estonia our lectures were usually 1.5 hours, but also a lot of the times 3 hours. It’s pretty crazy to think about it now. Since there are only two short lectures in a week for one course, they tend to be pretty intense and demand really focusing. Also because you don’t have to spend a lot of time at uni, you are expected to do a lot of individual work. For us, anthropologists, that means reading, reading, reading. I almost feel as if I’ve read more in these past five months than I have in all my previous life, but I don’t mind at all. I wholeheartedly enjoy most of our assigned readings.
Next, one of the perks of big universities is the wide choice of courses. Not sure if this only applies to me, but I had the freedom to basically choose ANY courses (any subject area, any year) I found interesting. That means that I can truly focus on those areas of anthropology that really interest me and I love it so much. And the selection of different courses is astonishing so I’m sure everyone will find something for their taste.
Also, continuing on the topic of freedom, you basically have the freedom to plan how your school week looks like. That is because of the fluid times of the tutorials and seminars. Lectures of course are pre-scheduled for you and take place at the same time for everyone and you can’t argue with that, but you can plan your tutorials exactly how you want. It depends on the course, but usually you have at least 2-3 different tutorial times to choose from. That means that your week will look exactly how you want it to look. Either you prefer your contact hours to be spread out throughout the week (this means shorter days at uni) or you like them to be crammed up in 2-3 days and have the rest off, the choice is yours. Last semester, for example, I had Fridays and Mondays off which meant that I had a 4-day weekend. Amazing, right!?
Actually the concept of tutorials was new to me when I first started uni back in September, so just in case I’m going to quickly explain what they are. Tutorials usually consist of your tutor and about 10-15 other students. This is the time to discuss readings, share your own ideas, ask questions and plan essays. Since the lectures tend to be pretty big and crowded, your tutorials are the perfect time to get some alone time with your tutor and to go over the topics that were discussed in the lectures. It is usually expected that you’ve done some readings for them and sometimes you need to bring in written personal responses. I’m sure the format of tutorials varies for different courses, but that’s how it’s usually been for mine.
Your final mark for the course is usually constructed by two essays. One of them is shorter, due somewhere in the middle of the semester, and usually counts for about 20-40%. The other one is longer (3000-4000 words) and counts for 60-80%. That one is due the end of semester. A really pleasant surprise was that the lecturers usually provide you with a long reading list at the beginning of the semester and you are expected to use those readings in your essays. In Tallinn, for comparison, we always had to find our own sources. The University’s online portal – MyEd – has an impressive online library through which you can access most of your readings (from articles to full-length e-books).
If I’m correct then there are 11 weeks in one semester. There is a week long break in the middle of each semester which is the perfect opportunity to get your mind off uni stuff and for example do a bit of traveling (that’s what most international students do). The off-week in February is called Innovative Learning Week and also offers a lot of cool events at uni. During my ILW I took a roadtrip to Manchester and Liverpool (both extremely cool and vibrant cities), when my other international friends spent theirs in Cyprus, Copenhagen, Wales etc. The choice is yours!
In conclusion, I just want to say how happy I am with UoE and all my courses, professors and co-students. You can feel the curious, hard working, dedicated vibe whenever you set your foot to campus. Keep in mind that it is the Top 19 university IN THE WHOLE WORLD so it’s definitely not easy, but the quality of teaching you get back is totally worth every second of stressing in the library and every sleepless night (there aren’t that many, don’t worry). I love to know that I can 100% trust the education I get from here and it humbles me to think that I am an anthropologist who is trained by many of the field’s most brilliant minds. Another BIG reason to love Edinburgh!
I hope this post has helped to answer some of the questions you might have had and/or gave you the confidence to know that choosing UoE is definitely the right choice.
Until next time,