Edinburgh vs. Boston: 3 Differences
Less workStudying in Edinburgh, there’s less work—on the surface. Don’t be fooled. Sure, there aren’t weekly tests, at least not in the humanities, and pop quizzes are out of the question in any of the classes I’m taking (which include a history class, an ethnology class, and a Chinese literature class). You don’t even technically have to show up to lecture, whereas participation is 10%, 15%, even 20% of your grade at my home university just outside of Boston. Most of your lectures at the University of Edinburgh are large affairs, rarely any less than 30 students, and no one bothers with attendance. Tutorials, on the other hand, are a different matter. At my home university, we call them Discussion Groups. During the tutorial, a small section of the class meets together with the tutor for open discussion on the readings or the week’s lectures. Here is where it’s really important that you keep up with the work, even if no one is going to test you on the readings. It’s important that you contribute during tutorials; for one, attendance is a thing here. You sign a paper and everything. But, more importantly, it’s really awkward if you don’t participate. The tutor will toss a question onto the table for discussion and in all three of my tutorials, they will stare at everyone until someone comments. They will wait you out, not saying anything, just watching. The awkward silence increases and you feel it as a guilty pressure if you actually didn’t do the readings.
For me, the most shocking thing about the courses is just how short they are. Now, I’m just speaking for the fall semester at University of Edinburgh, so it might be unique here, but there are only 11 weeks of courses this time around. Starting a week into September and we’re done a week into December, leaving nearly a month for final exams. Most classes meet three times a week, with a fourth spot for tutorials.
When I say I feel like the time has flown, I think it’s fair to admit that a large part of it is there’s not really much time to fly.
Another thing worth mentioning, I think, is the distance between teachers and students (be aware that not all your lecturers will actually be professors; they’ll have the same experience and degrees as your professors back home, just not necessarily the title, which is used with a bit more respect here in the U.K.).
You’re treated as more of an adult here, capable of asking questions on your own and doing the work without a reminder for your own sake. That’s not to say they don’t want to help, it’s just that their primary occupation is as an academic rather than an instructor.