UT Student at Oxford: London trip and the tutorial system

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Westminster Abbey (left), the setting for every royal Coronation since 1066 and for many royal weddings

My first week here at Oxford was very busy, as I assimilated into the school and my life here for the next three months. OSAP rewarded us students surviving our first week with a trip to London. We had both a bus tour and a walking tour. On the bus, I learned that there are actually two main sections of the city: the financial district and Westminster, which is where some of the royals live. We were able to observe both places through rainy windows on our bus tour. After that, the rain fortunately let up for our walking tour around the Westminster area. We saw several historic cathedrals, Big Ben (sadly, covered in scaffolding because it was under construction), Buckingham Palace, St. James’s Park, and much more.

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Buckingham Palace, the official residence of the Queen


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St. James’s Park offers a nice, peaceful walk within the city of Westminster

Screen Shot 2018-02-06 at 8.17.15 PM.pngAfterwards, we had free time to enjoy the food in London and any of the museums (that, like Oxford, all have free admission). A few other students and I went to the British Museum and the National Gallery located in Trafalgar Square. The British Museum had so many incredible exhibitions, including Cleopartra’s mummy, the Rosetta Stone, and an Easter Island Head. I was also very impressed with the National Gallery because we were able to see van Gogh’s Sunflowers along with many other well-known pieces. Although it was a very cold day with intermittent rain, London was incredible to experience. We were also able to see the Lumiere festival while we were leaving the city. Lumiere is a light show that took place over that weekend. Many of the city’s buildings, monuments, and courtyards were illuminated with lights that mimicked stained glass and intended to represent happy times in the midst of winter.

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I was very excited to see one of my favorite van Gogh paintings in person! 
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Westminster Abbey during the Lumiere festival


Over the next few days following our excursion to London, my studies began to pick up. Most students, myself included, were able to meet with our tutors and establish the expectations and plan for the term. I was very surprised with the flexibility and personalization that is offered within the tutorial system. Essentially, I am able to focus my research on nearly any topic that peaks my interest. I have two tutorials this term: a primary tutorial in Developmental Genetics that meets once a week and a secondary tutorial in Women’s History in the Victorian Era that meets every other week. For each tutorial, I write a paper based on my readings and research over the week or over two weeks (commonly called here a fortnight).

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Interior of the Radcliffe Camera, where many history books and references are located. It is also a beautiful and peaceful place to study

In my primary tutorial, my tutor gave me three scientific journals to read through. I was challenged to pull out the relevant information and find other sources to write a paper explaining the specific topic he gave me. I was also encouraged to attend relevant lectures given by various university professors for the Cell Biology and Genetics courses.

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Interior of Oxford University Museum of Natural History. This incredible building contains many fossils and relics and is also the location of some of the lectures on Cell Biology and Genetics

For my secondary tutorial, I was given a reading list of over fifteen sources (I wasn’t expected to read every single one!) Some were online articles and some were books, which I found in the various libraries within the University. From these sources, I had to answer one of the five questions my tutor gave me on the fortnight’s topic. This tutorial is really interesting in the fact that I am also meeting with another student who is studying the same subject. I really enjoy meeting as a group of three rather than just one-on-one because we tend to have better discussions, and it is nice to have another person to bounce ideas off of.

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Mansfield College, the location of my secondary tutorial meetings

Needless to say, my tutorials require a lot of reading, research, and writing. As challenging as it sounds, it is achievable with proper time management, organization, planning, and dedication. Both of my tutors extremely helpful; they are interested in exposing me to many facets of my desired interests, while increasing my critical thinking skills. Outside of my studies, I am still able to enjoy clubs, museums, and other travels, all of which I plan to talk about in a future blog, so stay tuned!

Honors Symposia – Coffee Conversation with Dr. Laura Kane

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On Monday, February 5th, Philosophy professor Dr. Laura Kane led a Coffee Conversation in the McKay Hall common room. The topic of the conversation was, “How does social media use affect the way our relationships are formed or maintained?” Twenty Honors students discussed this topic with Dr. Kane for about an hour, exploring the dynamics of relationships in the social media age.

Honors Symposia – Dr. Stephen Blank

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Dr. Stephen Blank, a Russian foreign policy expert from the American Foreign Policy Council, spoke to UT Honors Students on February 1st. The focus of the talk was on Russian foreign policy in the modern era. The talk included discussion about how Russian foreign policy is in many ways a continuation of Cold War era policies. According to Dr. Blank, Russia wants to be respected and considered a great power, and in order for that to be the case, Russia needs to be feared. Thus, Russian foreign policy is driven by imperialism and efforts to unbalance other governments, creating room for Russian influence.

UT Student at Oxford: first week

Welcome to my new blog! For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Sammi Packard. I am a senior biology major from the University of Tampa. I was fortunate enough to be selected for the Oxford Study Abroad Programme (OSAP) for the 2018 Hilary term. I am very excited to share my experiences here with you in this blog!

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Cornmarket St. is a nice, pedestrian-only strip of shops and restaurants

My travels in the UK began when I arrived at the Heathrow airport on Thursday Jan 11. From there, another UT student (Nicole) and I took the bus to Oxford. I knew I would like the city as soon as I read its greeting sign: “Welcome to the City of Oxford: a Cycling City.” The architecture alone blew me away. There were so many beautifully old buildings and lots of cute shops. Nicole and I were fortunate enough to be neighbors, so we took a taxi to our houses together. My house is very comfortable with a good kitchen, living space, and backyard. I live on the ground floor, and two French students of a nearby business school and one other Oxford student live on the second floor (or “first floor,” as the British say). My accommodations also include a little dog named Ciboulette, which is French for chives!

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My house from the front
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The adorable Ciboulette

In the next few days, OSAP students went through orientation, where we learned about British culture, politics, art, architecture, what to expect of the Oxford tutorials, and overall how to feel at home in Oxford. My favorite part of orientation was the tours and inductions into the library and colleges. On Friday, we were able to go on a walking tour of Oxford, which helped to identify some of the many buildings. I still had trouble finding my way around the city, but it was amazing to see the gorgeous architecture.

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View of the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin and Radcliffe Camera (right)
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The Bridge of Sighs joining two parts of Hertford College
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Broad St.

On the same day, we were also inducted into the Bodleian Library, the main Oxford library. There are about a hundred libraries in Oxford, including the Bodleian libraries, libraries for specific subjects, and the college libraries. After the induction, we were given our library cards, called “Bod-cards,” which allow us to enter certain libraries and check out books from our college library. During the tour, I was astounded to learn that the Bodleian contains around 13 million books and houses nearly every printed copywriten book published in the UK.

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The Radcliffe Camera, a circular library that is a part of the Bodleian Library
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Old Schools Quad of The Bodleian Library

Monday was one of my favorite days so far because we were inducted into our colleges. There are 38 different colleges within the University, which are all self-governing. All students and teachers must be associated with a college. The colleges are similar to “houses” in Harry Potter, because they compete with each other in academics and sports but are still within the University. I was very happy to learn that I am associated with Christ Church because it is the prettiest college, in my opinion. The other two UT students (Nicole and Hayley) were also inducted into Christ Church. We were able to get a breathtaking tour of the grounds and the library that has special collections which included first editions of science volumes, original illustrations by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (A.K.A. Lewis Carroll), and Queen Elizabeth I’s personal bible.

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Tom Quad of Christ Church
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View of Christ Church from the War Memorial Gardens
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Special Collections, second floor of Christ Church Library
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Queen Elizabeth I’s personal bible

Overall, the first few days in Oxford had me completely amazed, and I’m so lucky I was given the opportunity to live here for a few months. I am looking forward to finally learning my way around the city, and I cannot wait to begin my tutorials to get the full Oxford University experience!

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View of Oxford from Westgate Shopping Center

Conferences – Laura Hearst & Dr. Abraham Miller

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Working with Dr. Abraham Miller, Honors student Laura Hearst recently combined a trip to California to attend the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology Conference with a visit to the California Academy of Sciences to examine some scorpion specimens. The pictures above show Laura and Dr. Miller examining the scorpions. The research is part of her Honors Undergraduate Research Fellowship.

Guidance – The Washington Center

The Washington Center (TWC) is an educational organization in Washington DC that provides internships, training, and courses for college students. Students from across the country intern in DC through The Washington Center. At UT, this opportunity is available only to Honors students in good standing, ideally Honors students who are entering the second semester of their Junior year or during their Senior year.

How You Apply

As with many of the opportunities in the Honors Program, there is a two-stage application process. First, you must apply through submittable.com (here) to the UT Honors Program. That application will be evaluated by the Honors Program Directors and potentially your department chair. If your application is deemed meritorious, you will then apply through TWC’s website. Because we pre-screen our Honors students before they apply to TWC, students are typically accepted at The Washington Center; we don’t know of any Honors students being rejected, but that is a possibility.

Once students complete the online application to TWC, the Honors Program Director will receive an email notifying them that the application has been submitted. The Director will then have the chance to review the application before recommending changes or approving it. Once the Director approves the application, it is submitted for review at TWC. Applicants can expect to hear back from TWC within a few weeks as to whether or not they were accepted.

When You Can Go

The Honors Program can send up to 3 students to TWC per semester, including over the summer. Honors students can intern at TWC during the fall or spring semesters at UT and can also intern during the summer.

How Credits Work

While at TWC, students will take two courses. One is a subject matter course (e.g., Political Psychology, Middle East Politics, etc.) and is referred to as the “Evening Course.” The other course is the LEAD colloquium, which focuses on professional development and internship success.

Of course, students will also be completing an internship. The internships vary widely and are tied to students’ interests and majors.

While all of this work (the two courses and the internship) is done at TWC, Honors students have to sign up for courses here at UT in order for the credit to transfer back to UT. Precisely what courses and credits students sign up for at UT has varied in the past. Here are some examples of what students have done in the past:

  • One student who interned at TWC during the spring semester signed up for 8 internship credit hours in their department (PSC 440) and also signed up for two sections of the independent study course in their department (PSC 450). That meant the student received 16 credits for the semester spent at TWC.
  • A student who interned through TWC during the summer signed up for 10 credit hours of internship in their major (CRM 401) and nothing else.
  • A student who interned through TWC during a different spring semester signed up for just 8 internship credits and one independent study course.

In short, there is some variability in how students sign up for courses at UT and how much credit transfers back as a result. Regardless of precisely how students transfer the credit back, they must work with their faculty advisor and the chair of their department to sign up for courses at UT before they head to DC for their internship and courses at TWC.

At the end of the internship, students at TWC will receive grades for their Evening Course, for the LEAD Colloquium, and for their internship. Those grades are sent to the Honors Program Director who forwards them to the students’ department chair. The department chair will determine what grades the students should receive for the courses they signed up for at UT.

How The Finances Work

Interning through The Washington Center is not free. Below is an explanation of what students will pay and what UT’s Honors Program pays.

  • Students will still pay their UT tuition since the credit hours will transfer back to UT.
  • If students want TWC to arrange their housing, TWC will send UT a bill. The student will be informed about the expense and will pay UT that amount and UT will pay the bill.
  • Finally, the Program Fee at TWC varies by semester but is between $6,900 and $8,420 (as of 2018; see here for the most current information). The Honors Program pays that fee.

Thus, students will pay only their regular UT tuition and the housing fee if they will be using TWC housing (students have the option of finding their own housing) while the program fee is covered by UT.

It is also important to note that students typically do not pay any money directly to TWC. Students will pay UT tuition and the housing fee and UT will pay all of the TWC expenses and fees. If students receive a bill from TWC, they should take the bill to the Bursar’s Office (or the Honors Program Office).