Education

Ok, so a couple of days ago I discussed with a friend of mine about the quality of education in Uppsala. We were just sharing our opinions, complaining about what we did not like, wondering how it was so high in the ranking lists. I mean I was aware of Uppsala while applying for university in the first place. People have heard of it, so we had high expectations.

While talking about how the truth has not spread by now, the idea came: there is no-one to tell it. Swedish students think it is good because they do not have anything to compare it to, people who work here would obviously not go around saying it is not a good university, and what do exchange students do? Write happy reviews about the time they are having, and in the end when they have to feel in a questionnaire about the quality of teaching they just say ‘well, it wasn’t too hard’.

And that makes sense. Nobody wants to be skunk and write bad things. Don’t get me wrong: it is not too bad. I guess it’s ok. But the standards are way off what I was expecting. So I have decided to tell you all about the problems that I find in this university’s system. Just putting it out there; I don’t want to leave you with a false sugary impression.

So the main problem is that you don’t really have the feeling of organisation. It seems to me like my course was organised by a single person who talked to his/her friends and colleagues about helping out by giving a lecture or two in this new course (that’s about my current course: the previous one was organised by two people and there were no other lecturers). So the lectures don’t really fit together very well. And they don’t have much to do with the topic of the course: neuroscience. Let me give you an example. We have a lecture about the enteric nervous system. The guy starts off by saying that the ENS uses a lot of hormones and neurotransmitters identical to the ones used in the CNS. Fair enough. And then he goes on about his own research which is about what affects bicarbonate secretion by the small intestine. Low pH and a bunch of substances. The lecture is filled with graphs showing the amount of the compound added in the ex-vivo system against the resultant bicarbonate secretion. Then his research goes into identifying the mechanisms of how these compounds do that.

There was no answer in the end. He just told us what they were suspecting and how they checked it. There was nothing neuroscientific about it, except one of the chemicals was melatonin and they were suspecting it’s the melatonin released from the pineal gland regulating the gut, but that turned out to be wrong. And that was that. So I feel I haven’t accumulated much neuroscientific knowledge.

It is important to note that it is not such a disaster. In fact, it is probably simply the fact that I was used to better that’s getting me frustrated. This isn’t an environment you can’t learn in: I did in fact learn some things on the way. On a positive note, I guess it makes the environment more friendly. In small classes of 30 people, you get to actually communicate with the lecturers, who are approachable. You can interrupt them, ask questions, and express opinions during their lecture. However, that doesn’t completely make it up to me, so I will be very happy to come back to professional organised Edinburgh-style teaching next year. Maybe I’m just a geek.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. I says:

    Maybe you’ve been fortunate in your experience of the University of Edinburgh. Don’t get me wrong, there are many good courses in Edinburgh, but there are many that are long overdue an overhaul, are stale in terms of teaching techniques, suggest long out-of-date readings and provide almost nothing of use to the student at all.

    In my experience, courses were generally well organised in Uppsala. There is obviously some difference between the humanities and the sciences in this respect. But from what you describe, it doesn’t sound so bad – guest lecturers are almost always beneficial, even if they don’t necessarily speak about something at the nucleus of the course. You complain about a course with multiple lecturers as well as a course that had to few – which is better?

    Uppsala places high in world rankings because of its prestige and research output – precisely why Edinburgh ranks high in world rankings but tends to do worse in UK rankings which take other criteria into account.

    1. Raly says:

      Research quality could well be the reason Uppsala ranks high. I was talkiing about the teaching quality, rather than anything else. I have friends in political science and in economy who are also not very happy with the way courses are lead, but of course I can talk only for Biology from first hand experience (and a limited amount of courses, too).

      Even though the presence of guest lecturers is nice and we can have a couple of lectures that don’t necessarily fit the topic, all the 32 lecturers were guests and we didn’t really have any ‘core lectures’. The problem always was that courses (so far, at least) have had 1 (or 2 max) organisers and it just feels like a lot could be imporoved. Like I said, it’s not so bad, it’s just that I expected more.

      I definitely am not saying that Edinburgh is organised in all the different levels. Again, I can only judge for the Biology department, and that one is great in Edinburgh. Everything is very up-to-date, lecture plans are clear, and labs are well equipped.

      I am sorry if I am putting anyone off checking out Uppsala: they may be some really good teachers and courses that I haven’t thought of trying out. I am just talking about my experience and thoughts so far.

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