I do like traveling and working in research (given that you have appropriate funding) + being on an international IEEE committee requires just that. There have been a lot of trips this year that I haven’t even mentioned on my blog.
For each and every single one of them I do have a blog post in my draft folder, which I just never got around to finish and publish. Mostly because these trips usually turn out to be so intensive and exciting, with so many new experiences and people, that it seems virtually impossible to capture them in a blog post. This weekend I was in the Bath and London (UK) for four days.
I’ll do it differently this time. Instead of trying to capture everything I’ll focus on one topic: UK/US campuses vs. Austrian campuses.
After I had come back from UCLA in 2008, I did get one question frequently: What’s different? The answer is: many things. One of the main differences I experienced in the US and did find again in Bath is the way universities there are not only places for focused professional studies, but places where you actually live. Both at UCLA and at the Uni of Bath you’ll find banks, grocery stores, bars, gyms, running tracks, on campus housing and so much more. It is like they are small self-contained villages. In addition to that a myriad of student clubs enrich the experience of living on campus.
The university I am studying at right now (Johannes Kepler University Linz) does have some of these features, after finally having moved most of their departments to one centralized campus. Still, try walking campus on an idle weekday night (apart from Thursday, which is the big party night on campus) and you’ll find it to be deserted. Don’t get me wrong, you will see countless researchers behind windows and the occasional, sleep-deprived grad student heading for the vending machine. However you won’t encounter undergrads in their training cloths or campus sweaters, you won’t see dancing or fencing classes behind all-glass window fronts, the posters won’t invite you to join some fancy chess, music or religious club and you won’t be able to find a running track.
In Austria if you want to engage in any of these activities, it’s up to you to look for them somewhere else. Unis are for learning and for taking exams, but the institutions won’t tell you or make suggestions whatsoever about how to live your outside-the-uni life. Neither do they care about whether you take pride in studying at this very place or not.
Both systems have advantages and disadvantages. I do feel that the UK/US system generates social pressure and it is easy for students to get lost in different activities every night, with the potential danger of burn-outs. On the other hand I do think your time at uni should be wholesome and teach you more than just the subjects you are enrolled in, which is in favor of the UK/US campus culture.
The Austrian/German system does generate a significant amount of graduates who are not involved in any social activity at all, which I think is utterly wrong. Don’t ask me for numbers, but I can give you a few examples which ended up having quarter-life and midlife crises. On the other hand not having your hands full with all that uni social stuff, leaves space for students to get involved in their local communities. Plus the lack of university driven activities does of course also not rule out the possibility that students with a shared interest form unofficial clubs.
These observations are obviously very subjective and might not apply to all schools. Whatever kind of system you are in or about to enter, I do have three pieces of advice regarding campus life and your time at university in general, which I’d like to share with you:
- Move out of your parent’s home. While I would suggest a dormitory for starters (you’ll get to know so many people who will help you and who you can help) an apartment is also an option. This is the time for you to become self-dependent.
- Engage in at least one social activity or club, but monitor your stress level and learn to say “No” when required.
- Go abroad and enjoy the ultimate step of self-dependency. It will, for a limited amount of time, give you the opportunity to design your daily life from scratch, plus I guarantee you, you will learn more about yourself than ever before.
Having said that, I have to add that advice should always come with a disclaimer, so I’ll simply cite Mary Schmich here:
“Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.”
What’s campus life at your university like?