Voyage of discovery
By Ben Skuse
More than just a well-earned break, going overseas during your degree can give you new experiences, skills, and friendships that last a lifetimes.
Bradley Thompson went on a semester-long exchange to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the USA in his third year of a degree in computer systems engineering at the University of Adelaide.
“The experience broadened my horizons on a global scale,” he says. “Living in a different country does wonders for your personal and academic responsibility, time management, budgeting and maturity.”
In 2013, Rebecca Davies was one of two Australian undergrads awarded Australian Gemini Undergraduate Summer Studentship, which gave her the chance to spend 10 weeks at the headquarters of the Gemini South Observatory in La Serena, Chile.
“I was given some astronomical data and asked to look for interesting trends and features,” Rebecca says. “One year later, I published a paper on my work.”
Rebecca recently completed a Bachelor of Philosophy (Honours) at the Australian National University (ANU), majoring in astronomy and astrophysics.
“Travelling has allowed me to develop networks and contacts in astronomy departments around the world,” she says.
“It shapes your personality and gives you a unique perspective on science, research and the world around you.”
Rebecca will start a PhD this year at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany.
Her experience is just one of an almost limitless number of different ways to immerse yourself in another culture during your degree. But more than just course credits, studying abroad offers the chance to embrace life and opens up a world of opportunities. Travelling, working or volunteering abroad can give you a chance to enhance or simply escape study before tackling the business end of your degree.
“Nights in the telescope control room taught me more than textbooks ever could,” she says.
Many students who go abroad during their studies do it through their university. Generally opportunities range from a few days at a conference, or a few weeks on a research project, to two semesters at a foreign university.
Many Australian universities have agreements with overseas universities (or have overseas campuses) for one- or two-year exchange programs, and the courses studied can be credited towards your degree back home.
Hillary McArthur recently finished her undergrad degree majoring in medical science at ANU. In her third year she did a six-month exchange with the University of Manchester in the UK.
“It broadened my knowledge through courses like the history of mental illness and developmental biology,” she says.
“I also learnt a lot about cancer, which was useful for my Honours year at ANU.”
“Travelling gives you a unique perspective on science, research and the world around you.”
Author: Ben Skuse
Ben Skuse is a UK-based former mathematician turned professional science writer, who has written for the Careers with STEM magazines for over 5 years. You can follow him on Twitter @BenSkuseSciComm.