Category Archives: University of Melbourne

The University of Melbourne Hunger Games

Candidates,” the voice boomed into the speaker system echoing across the high ceiling of the convention center.

“Reading time begins…now.”

I felt like I was in the Hunger Games.

3,000 final exam test booklets were flipped over in almost complete unison as students started trying to memorize and work through the test answers in the special 30 minutes allotted to them before the exam time actually began.   Special instructors had been hired to continuously walk up and down the aisles to make sure no one had a pen or pencil in hand- reading time is only for reading.  Get caught writing and its the equivalent of cheating.  Their presence had freaked me out.  They held their hands tightly against their backs or held clip boards to their chests as they peered over shoulders or would momentarily stop to watch a student work out a problem to ensure they were doing their own work.

For one moment before I began reading my own exam I allowed myself to take note of my surroundings.  I was sitting at a desk that had a perfectly measured distance between it and the surrounding desks; precisely enough of a space that no one could sneak glances at some one else’s exam.  The rows of desks seemed to extend indefinitely and at each one a student was hunched over an exam.  Besides the sound of pages turning there was complete silence in the cavernous convention center. I had seen the building before and had wanted to explore inside it but taking my final exam for my most hated class was not the way I had wanted to experience it.  Too bad I did not have a choice.

I looked down resignedly at my 43 paged Logic exam, it seemed as a thick as a textbook.  I had struggled all semester with Logic knowing I needed this math credit in order to receive my diploma from GWU in May.  And after all the pain and struggling I sat in this room worrying the same thing I had heard many of my other class mates worry about: Thanks to the bell curve, we did not know if we would pass the exam let alone pass the class.  It had been a much harder class then many of us had anticipated and although there were some star students destined to become mathematical geniuses my friends and I were not among them.

I sympathized with Katniss Everdeen as she stood on her platform waiting for the announcer to countdown the start of the Hunger Games.  If Katniss jumped off the platform too soon she would be blown up into tiny pieces.  If I had so much as bent the edges of the exam towards me before reading time officially began I would have been booted out of the exam hall with a big fat zero to fill in the space of my exam score.   Katniss stood there not knowing if she was going to live or die in the next few moments.    I too sat there uncertain of my near future.  Once I opened my test booklet and started scanning through the questions I would know whether or not I had a shot of passing the exam.  And if the exam was impossible I may as well be good as dead.  I was already going to just make it to graduation by overloading on classes during my senior year in order to fulfill all my graduation requirements.  Without this credit it might just tip the scales out of my favor to graduate in May.

I started scanning through trying pep talk myself that I knew the answers.  I got to a page that I had a question about and tentatively raised my hand.  A serious looking man with a clipboard came over and noted the time and my desk number on his paper.  Then he asked me what my question was.  In whispered tones, I explained my confusion about one of the questions and he jotted down notes as I spoke.  When I was finished talking he summarized my question and asked me if he had recorded it correctly.  I said yes.  He then told me he would confer with my professor to see if he could answer my question and, if so, to what degree he could answer my question.  I thought it was a bit over the top that my professor could not just come over and answer my question directly but agreed to wait until he returned with my professors answer.  In the meantime I continued scanning through the rest of the questions until the man with the clip board returned 5 minutes later to inform me he could answer my question.  It seemed I had timed it perfectly because no sooner had he left my desk when the voice came back on through the loud speakers making me jump in my seat.  ”Candidates,”  why the hell can’t they just call us students? I remembered thinking.  ”Your exam time begins now.”

Now I was allowed to touch my pencil.  I grabbed at it and started writing as fast as I could hoping three hours was enough time to get through the 43 pages of the exam.

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The Horrible Bell Curve

As much as I love the University of Melbourne I am not happy with their grading system.  I am used to the kind of grading system where you get the grade that you earn.  I have just recently learned that is not exactly the case at Uni Melbourne.  I very well may have misunderstood something or gotten the wrong information but here is what seems to be case.  Apparently the Uni grades on the bell curve.  The only time I have experienced teachers grading on a curve is when not enough students do well and they shift the grades upwards; it’s always to help the students.  Here it seems that in order to keep up their prestigious reputation they need to fail a certain amount of students, at least according to some of the other students I have spoken to.

While getting our papers back the other day our tutor explained that some students who got the second highest grade mark, H2A, should come and speak to her.  She said that not everyone could get the highest mark because of the bell curve and that some of the students who were given H2A’s had work worth an H1.  She thought that by talking to those students and explaining to them that their work was worth a higher grade it would make them feel better.  I don’t know if it worked or not but it would have been me I don’t think I would have been happy to learn that I did not get the grade that I earned.


Echo 360

One of the great things about University of Melbourne is their use of Echo 360.  This is an online program which provides a recording of class lectures cued to the lecture slides.  As I have just finished finals I found this technology immensely helpful as well as impressive.  As far as I know my school at home offers nothing quite as complex as this.  All I have had to study with in the past is basic power point slides.  It was a great study tool especially considering how much I struggled with Logic this semester.  Unfortunately this program also gives some students a reason to not show up to class but I would warn against falling into this trap.  One of my friends who did this was in the library for days listening to and watching all his lectures before his exam!


My Classes: The Good, The Bad and The Horrendously Ugly

Out of the four classes I took this semester, I would recommend two, strongly discourage one, and am indifferent to the other.

UNIB 20016: Same-Sex Desire: From God to Genes

I highly recommend this class to anyone!  It is a fairly easy class as far as what it asks of you for graded work (although I did not really enjoy writing 3 essays, 1,000 words each for the final.  I thought one would have sufficed.)  The class is really fascinating and is structured in a way I have never seen before.  It is called a University Breadth subject and what this means is that one topic is taught from across multiple disciplines.  In this case, we learned about homosexuality from Health, Law, Genetics, Religion and History Departments.  Every week we had a different lecturer come in from their respective departments, each an expert in their fields.  It was really fascinating and very engaging.  The readings are all collected from recent news and are usually short and interesting read.

Grades consisted of:

  • 20% online quiz
  • 20% 1,000 word mid-semester assessment
  • 60% 3 different 1,000 word assessments

UNIB10002 Logic: Language and Information

Stay far far FAR away from this class unless you are a Philosophy/Maths major (and even then I would not really recommend it) or sickly masochistic.  I took this class for the sole reason that I needed one final math requirement and my friend had taken it at my home university, enjoyed it and remarked upon how easy the class was.  What I learned in the first three weeks of the class is what my friend learned in one semester of logic at home.  This did not bode well for me at all. Within a month I was confused and after two months hopelessly lost in the class.  I am not sure why this class is labeled as a Year 1 course, my classmates and I agree it was an unfair trick to play on unassuming new students.  This class in unbelievably hard and overly complicated.  They were too overly ambitious in trying to cram so much information into one semester: linguistics, philosophy, computer science and I couldn’t even tell you what else.  Towards the middle of the semester I got so frustrated and fed up with the class that I didn’t go to lecture for a week.  This of course was a bad idea because then I only fell more behind.  Thing is, I was not the only one.  The classroom on the first day was at capacity, and it was a big lecture hall, slowly through the semester fewer and fewer students showed up.  On the final day of class there were only 13 students in the entire lecture hall.  No one was happy with the class or its instructors by the end of the semester.  I will just be happy if I pass this class.

Grades consisted of:

  • 50% mid semester exam
  • 50% final exam

 POLS20011: Sexual Politics

Because I am a gender studies minor I found this class thoroughly fascinating but I can understand how this class might not be for everyone.  Our lecturer was very well-informed and has actually written many books on the topic but, in my opinion, she comes across too strong sometimes.  She once made an offhand comment about how she chose to be a lesbian and that people have a choice in their sexuality.  This caused an absolute uproar in class.  She was also extremely unapproachable which I found thoroughly confusing and frustrating.  As I am minoring in the subject, the area interests me a lot and I would have loved to have one-on-one chats with the professor.  There were a few times where I wanted to speak to her after class and realized how hard it was to talk to her.  First of all, unlike most professors who wait until the entire class has filed out to make sure no one has any questions for them, this lecturer packed up her stuff and zoomed out of class while the front rows of students were still slowly filing out.  There were many times when she was so quick I didn’t even have a chance to stop her.  Other times when I actually did manage to catch her she continued on her pace, I was expecting she would stop so we could have a conversation, and made it distinctly clear each time I tried that she did not really have time for a chat.  I was pretty shocked at her lack of one-on-one communication skills (she seemed almost awkward) because she is a brilliant public speaker.  She is thoroughly engaging although her absolute lack of knowledge of power point can make classes a bit frustrating at times.  For the most part though she can keep the class laughing and she allows for and facilitates questions and a little discussion during the lectures, which I enjoy and missed in my other classes.

Grades consisted of:

  • 50% Mid-semester assessment
  • 50% Final Assessment

ANTH20001: Keeping the Body in Mind

This class I was more or less impartial to.  The assessments were easy and the topics were fairly interesting.  I was not a huge fan of the way the class was run though.  We had one lecture once a week for two hours and then a one hour tutorial.  I think the topic material was unique but the delivery kind of fell flat with me.  If you need to fill in your schedule with an easy class and this one would be fine to take.

Grades consisted of:

  • 40% mid-semester assessment
  • 10% oral presentation about mid semester assessment
  • 50% final assessment

Testing 1, 2, 3

Classes have officially ended at the University of Melbourne and after a week break finals have commenced.  The testing system is much different here than it is in America- it is so much more intense!

Essays

First of all, they are called Assessments here.  Second of all they go by word count instead of page count.  For some reason, I guess since I am used to page count assignments, the word count throws me off!  It really messes with my head when I am trying to write and the last essays that I have written have been really painful to complete.  Especially since they are very strict to people abiding by the word count.  Once you go 10% over or under the word limit your grade starts to drop.

They also have a very formal way to do submissions.  You must have a printed out cover sheet from the department your class is in.  This cover sheet specifically lays out the definition of plagiarism, its consequences and has a dotted line at the bottom in which to sign your name.  These cover sheets all have a blank box in one corner which needs to be passed under the time stamp at the department before being officially handed in to grade.

And once you have submitted your hard copy you then have submit an electronic copy via Turnitin.com. This website will scan your paper for plagiarism just in case the cover sheet on your hard copy didn’t scare you enough.

Exams

I am not sure what is worse the formality of assessment submissions or the formality of exams at the University of Melbourne.  Although I have yet to experience an exam first at hand I have heard stories.  Final exams, unlike mid-semesters, are taken super seriously.  You are assigned a seat number weeks before the exam and must show up with number in hand.  When you do show up you are not allowed to bring much and I think I would pity the forgetful person whose phone goes off during an exam like this, it would not be taken lightly.  After you sign in, you all file in to a huge exam hall which seats up to around 3,000 or 5,000 students all taking different exams.  You are instructed not to put your name on the exam but only your student number so that there the graders have no bias while grading.

And if all that pressure is not enough, here is the kicker- many final exams are worth 75% or 80% of your final grade!  I even know one girl who lives next door to me whose final exam was worth 100% of her final grade.  Yikes!


Welcome Week vs. O-Week

For a lot of international students preparing to study abroad at the University of Melbourne there is the question of participating in Welcome Week or (saving $565 AUD) and participating in O-week.  Before I came here I thought that the two programs were both orientation programs with the only difference being that the welcome week catered solely to international students.  I almost did not sign up for the Welcome Week and I will now be eternally grateful that I did.   When making the initial decision it seemed like so much money for a 4 day orientation that I was going to get a few days later from my residential college.  When I looked into it, though, I found out that my school-and apparently most universities would reimburse the money paid out-of-pocket to the program.  And this one little fact influenced my decision to participate in the program.

Welcome Week

I cannot say enough about how much fun I had in the four days of Melbourne Welcome.  I came to Melbourne not knowing anyone and was very fearful I would not make close friends because my stay here was so temporary.  After the first day of the orientation program I realized I sorely mistaken.  This program is funded by Melbourne University but is completely student lead, which I think was a smart decision on Melbourne Uni’s part.  Who would be better to orient a bunch of exchange Uni students then local Uni students themselves.  They were obviously chosen very particularly because the Welcome Program group seemed to the perfect group for the job.  They were the perfect amount of fun and responsible as to abide by the Uni’s guidelines while making sure we had a blast.  They showed us all around the city by day and introduced us to most frequented Uni clubs and bars by night.  The four days flew by and by the end of it I had made so many friends it only bolstered my open-mindedness to continue to meet more people.  Now the people I met during Welcome Week have become my very good friends and a welcome retreat from when College life becomes to repetitive.

 

 

O-Week

I want to be fair to both programs.  So first some disclaimers:  1. I can only speak about my experience at St. Mary’s.  All colleges have different anti-hazing policies in regards to O-Week, some more lax than others.  Janet Clark, for example, has a strict no-hazing policy while St. Mary’s tends to let a little more fly under the radar.  2. You only live once, there will be no harm in trying O-week one way or another.  Your experience my be very different from mine.  3. A lot of O-week also depends on personality type, if you are super laid back then a lot of what I had a problem with probably won’t bother you.

I think my two previous posts about O-week sums up my experience fairly well.  Although to be fair the first two days were the worst of the week after that everything else was moderately tame, except for waking up at 7am every morning.  I think my biggest issue with O-Week was simply a matter of age difference.  I have already lived through the harass-the-freshman phase of my life  when I was real freshman three years ago.  Then you move up the hierarchy.  Perhaps if I had been warned that O-week would be a tamer version of the  American Greek life pledging process I would have been mentally prepared.  As it was, I was running off the assumption that O-week was going to be just like the Melbourne Welcome Week.  My disappointment in realizing that it wouldn’t be the same was probably the biggest contributing factor for cranky mood during O-week.  Here is what I didn’t like about O-week:

  1. Being crudely, loudly, and annoying awoken every morning at 7am (after a crazy Melbourne Welcome Week I was hoping to catch up on some sleep.  I also ended up catching a cold from lack of sleep)
  2. Being bossed around by a group of students who I didn’t know and who were all about two years younger than me
  3. I did not have much in common with the “freshers” I was grouped into because they were all three to four years younger than me.  All of them had just left home for the first time and had just graduated high school.  I actually found it hard to relate to a lot of them.
  4. Having a strict 12pm curfew.  And when I opted out of one of the evening’s events thinking I could use a break from O-week by going out with Melbourne Welcome friends, I was told that if I do not go out with the college I cannot go out at all and I also could not have my friends over either.
  5. Number 4 branches into Number 5- Being treated as an actual freshman all over again in all senses.  A curfew?  Being told by random strangers who were my peers and mostly younger than me, that I could not go out and see my friends or if I went out with my college I had to be home by midnight?  I have never had a curfew in my life before and I figured at 21 I would never have one.  I was not happy to have all these rules strapped on to me because the other “freshers” had never lived on their own before.

Despite all of this though, its hard to look back at O-week and be mad about it.  That’s because all of the nameless, faceless students who bossed me around eventually became my friends.  I learned their names and recognized their faces after sitting down with them every night at dinner, after playing grueling rounds of softball with them and loosing every game, after attending rowing day as a college decked out in red and blue and cheering until we lost our voices for our boats, after all the little things and silly stories that happen in the hallways everyday.  I wasn’t happy during the O-week and was pretty grumpy about the whole thing but then again it was in that shared experience that was the first step in creating memories with everyone else.  This is a very Australian experience.  You have to earn your place in the group.  This much I knew and, as much as I did not like it, I kept my mouth shut and tried not to complain; in so doing I earned my place at college just like everyone else.


The Real World (or as close are you are going to get) of Harry Potter

Harry Potter fans get excited.  If you really want to feel like you are at Hogwarts then living  in a residential college will be right down your alley (especially Ormond or Queens which actually look like castles).

Per British academic tradition, residential colleges at the University of Melbourne have something called “High Table.”  Depending on the college this can happen two to three times a week.  Essentially High Table is a formal dinner held at college in which you must attend wearing your academic robes.  Colleges have different rules about what must be worn underneath the gowns.  St. Mary’s is very relaxed in their rules and only mandate dress clothes under your “accies” if you are sitting at High Table.  Other colleges are not so lucky and have to dress up suit-and-tie at every dinner.  Although I did hear a rumor about a bunch of senior students from one of the other colleges who, to celebrate their last High Table dinner, wore nothing underneath their gowns!  Perhaps they were inspired by the Scottish kilt.

High Table at St. Mary’s is very much like Hogwarts: there is an elevated table at the front of the dinning room where the faculty and General Counsel (Student Counsel) regularly sit.  Every dinner they usually invite a handful of students to join them at High Table so everyone can have a turn to really live out their Harry Potter fantasies.

Unfortunately no amount of clapping will make the food magically appear on the tables but the wonderfully friendly kitchen staff does seem to have a magical talent of making everything taste sublimely delicious.  And although there is no wizened Professor Dumbledore, Sister Liz is probably as close as anyone can get.   She is soft spoken but sharp as a whip with a surprising sense of humor.  She always has something up her sleeve to quietly end dinner, after she leaves us with the usual dinner blessing, and it never fails to make the student body crack up.  I think we laugh as hard as we do only partly from the jokes she tells,  the other part comes from the fact that these astonishing jokes are coming from the quiet nun at the front of the room!

Yes, I am using a pen as a fake wand.  I had to!


Australia- The Internet Diet

American Internet junkies beware!  The limitless WiFi of America is something Melbourne has yet to pick up on.  I did not realize just how much time I spend on the internet until I came here.  The University of Melbourne even surprised me because despite it’s rank of the number one university in Australia it not only has very spotty wireless but there is a limit to it!  We get one gigabyte a week- which for international students who use skype to contact their families runs out before the week is through.  Used to getting free wifi while standing in line Starbucks?  Get unused to it.  There are very few, if any at all, places that have free wifi.  So just a heads up to mentally prepare yourself before you leave.  And so that you can download pictures and videos before packing or you’ll be paying for every gigabyte while your are here!  Besides the internet limit wifi, in general, is just spotty and hard to find.  American college students, start getting used to the idea of being plugged into a wall at all times while working.  You’re new best friend: the Ethernet cable.


Australia- Grading System

excerpt from UniMelb:
H1 (American equivalent of an “A”)– Addresses the question; Has clear argument; Excellent grasp of concepts and ability to express and illustrate these; Case studies used effectively to demonstrate concepts; Well structured with clear intro and conclusion; Well presented; Very well written; Consistent referencing.
H2A (American equivalent of an “B”) – Very good grasp of concepts and ability to express and apply them; Question addressed but discussion flawed in some way – eg may involve some weakness in linking concepts or use of examples not effective; Well structured and presented; Well written; Consistent referencing.
H2B (American equivalent of an “C”)– Good grasp of concepts; Question addressed to some extent but discussion flawed in a couple of ways eg use of examples not always effective, not very well structured and presented. Referencing may be flawed.
H3 (American equivalent of an “D”)– Criteria could include some or all of the following problems: several flaws in discussion – question not completely addressed, logical linking of concepts misunderstood; use of examples not effective; paper not well structured; paper not clearly written or presented; referencing incorrect.
Pass – Some indication of effort to address the question and sufficient breadth of literature referred to, but a failure to develop a coherent argument, some serious mistakes or lack of comprehension evident; problems with presentation, referencing and writing may be present.
Fail (American equivalent of an “F”)– Does not address question; does not follow the instructions given for the assignment; has not addressed the literature appropriately, may have serious flaws in discussion, referencing, writing and structure.
According to discussion with students almost no one gets H1.

Australia- University of Melbourne Campus

One of my favorite things about the Uni is its campus.  It’s the perfect combination of suburban and city school.  The campus itself is located right at the edge of the city about 15 minutes from the CBD (also known as the Central Business District) and at the very end of one of the tram lines.  Despite the city-like surroundings around the campus, once you step foot onto the actual campus it feels as if you have stepped onto one of the big ivy-covered colleges in upstate New York.

The campus has such a cozy charm to it; I love walking to and from classes.  Although there are some more modern-looking buildings there are quite a few of the old red-brick buildings with lush ivy creeping up their sides.  The campus, because of its impressive size, also boasts a few different grassy quads, popularly used for sun bathing, cheeky drinks with friends and homework, and a plethora of alluringly situated tree-shaded benches, perfect for people watching or a relaxing reading spot.

I love my city university at home.  I love that we are right in the middle of everything and are easily connected to everything else.  The one thing I have always wished for though was a more charming campus.  But being directly in the middle of a bustling city I can’t have my cake and eat it too- if we are going to   But because Uni Melbourne is in on the outskirts of the city I really can enjoy the best of both worlds!