7 things to know before studying at Edinburgh Napier University: an American’s perspective

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Shelly from the USA shares her top inside tips for studying abroad at Edinburgh Napier University.

Your first steps at Edinburgh Napier

"The thing about culture is that when you’re in it, you can’t see it"

The thing about culture is that when you’re in it, you can’t see it. It’s like trying to explain water to a fish. David Foster Wallace, an American writer gives this analogy:     

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

I’d like to be the old fish and you the young fish as you begin your swim through Edinburgh Napier University. Processes, definitions, and expectations to local students are like water to those fish. They don’t see it or notice it, so they don’t understand when you metaphorically ask, “what’s the deal with this water?” As you read my list, keep in mind that I did an undergraduate degree in the US and I am now pursuing a postgraduate degree in Edinburgh so you might need to adjust it for your own circumstances.

1. Timetables   

A.k.a. your class schedule. Remember in Harry Potter when the owls come into the great hall during the first morning of classes and drop Harry’s school schedule onto his plate? You will have a similar experience. There will be little opportunity for you to choose your classes or your schedule as most of your timetable has already been organised. You may have the opportunity to select some of your modules, depending on your course, providing you with the opportunity to select classes that interest you the most. Although, you won’t get to see it until your induction day (which is like orientation). 

2. Definitions

What is the difference between an essay and a report? Analyse vs evaluate? Instructions here are precise and when they use a word like the ones above, they usually have a distinct meaning and are not interchangeable. I’m still sort of guessing what they mean. From what I know an essay is a written piece of work without headings and a report is the same thing but formatted with headings and presenting an evaluation throughout. Analyse means to collect information and to evaluate means to use that information to make a judgment. I mean, sorry if I’m wrong about this, but that’s what I’ve deduced so far. I’m still trying to un-muddy the water.

"You can add or subtract 10% of the word count without being penalised."

Also, when they give you a word count there is a rule of thumb that you can add or subtract 10% of the word count without being penalised. Meaning, if the word count is 3,000 you can have a minimum of 2,700 and a maximum of 3,300. No one will tell you this, but it is a standard practice.

3. Personal study time

The expectation to learn on your own is much higher here than in the US. I have nine hours of classes per week and the rest of the week is to use as I see fit. It is expected that you will be able to execute exams, papers, and presentations that make up our coursework in a manner that reflects an overall understanding of the subject. Therefore, you should be reading and studying in your own time. There are usually only two assessments (what would be called assignments in the US) per trimester that make up the entirety of your grade. There are no smaller quizzes or points in between to make up for doing poorly on your assessments. Personal study outside class time is expected of you by the teachers but are happy to answer questions if you ask.

Student working on their laptop.

4. Theory

"Get ready for academic writing!"

There is a lot of writing. My MSc programme is International Marketing and I have spent most of my time writing papers and doing presentations. The coursework is much more theory based than practical and you are expected to know the theories and apply them in your written work. Get ready for journal articles, textbooks, etc. I can’t speak for all programmes so you might have a different experience in yours. Before I started university I definitely wasn’t prepared for the amount of writing. So, get ready for academic writing!

5. Similarity report

When I came back to study it had been seven years since I had graduated from college so forgive me if this is a thing that has become standard since that time. A similarity report is a feature on the coursework online submission software called Turnitin that screens your written work for plagiarism. It produces a report after you submit your assessment with a percentage of how much of your paper it has found on online sources. You can then view your paper and the sections which are the same as an online resource will be highlighted. There is a percentage range that is acceptable, but don’t ask me what it is. I would aim for 20% or less but I’ve never really been able to figure this one out. Just try to make it as low as you can and limit the amount of highlighted sections that are from other external resources.

6. Internationality   

"You will rub shoulders with people from everywhere!"

This is probably my favourite thing about Edinburgh Napier University. It is truly international. You will rub shoulders with people from everywhere! It will enrich your studies as you learn from classmates from Poland, Ireland, Germany, Spain, Mexico, Africa, Italy, China, etc. Even the lecturers are from all over the world!

International Student Ambassadors (Shelly)
International Student Ambassadors socialising.

7. Make friends

"Surround yourself with a good school of fish"

Above all the others, this last one is the most important. How do you think I learned all of these things? I asked my friends, the native fishes, whenever I didn’t understand what was going on. They are happy to help! Don’t make your life more difficult than it needs to be by trying to figure everything out on your own. Surround yourself with a good “school” of fish (see what I did there?) to make your swim as smooth as possible.

I wish you the best of luck on your journey overseas and in the words of Dory from Finding Nemo “just keep swimming!”

Welcome signage at Craiglockhart for new and returning students. Shelly Scofield is studying MSc Marketing and is from Utah, USA.

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