When I first received my acceptance from McGill I was excited – and then a little nervous.  I’d heard that the courses at McGill could be quite difficult and this did not instill confidence in my abilities to manage the workload.  Since (successfully) icompleting my exchange I have received several questions about what the study was like, how it compared to ANU and if I had any tips on managing the workload, so I thought I would share them here.

Off to class on my first day – it was 13 degrees!

The first thing that freaked me out about studying at McGill was its 5 course equivalency to full time load in ANU.  I am a full time student at ANU and I often find myself struggling around midterms to juggle 4 courses, I couldn’t quite fathom how I would manage 5.    However, while on exchange I didn’t have a job, any extra-curricular activities,  executive meetings or residential hall obligations.  Funnily enough this left me with a lot of free time – most of which I filled up with traveling, meeting new people and experiencing Montreal, but it also helped me deal with my fifth course.

I also had the foresight to organise my degree so I only had Arts courses to complete while on exchange – English literature and arts electives – by completing my Genetics courses in the first three years of my degree. This meant I could combine slightly easier electives my English courses that would be assessed by essay instead of exams which made mid-semester and final exam periods more bearable. I know a three-year planning window sounds like the work of a slightly neurotic control freak, but I started thinking about exchange in my first year so it made sense to structure my courses this way.  If there simply isn’t a planner within you, or there are a couple of tricky courses you must complete on exchange, look into also doing easier electives (some that are completed online) or complementary courses you can use your background knowledge for. At McGill some fun ones include Chemistry of Food, the Science of Storms, Canadian Cultures and Contexts and The Art of Listening.

A snapshot of my studies during the term

One thing to note is that none of my classes were recorded.  If I missed a class I made sure a friend was there to take notes for me, or planned around it by not needing to write on the topic discussed.  Most science and business lectures are recorded, but do not count on this when you create your timetable.

The most stressful thing was enrolling in my classes. When enrolments first opened it seemed all spots were filled by domestic students and there was no space for exchange students (because we are given access slightly later).  My advice:

1. Refresh your enrolment page every few days until the add/drop period ends (about two weeks) and spots will open up as people move around between classes.  Snag these spots.

2. Email the professor explaining the issue – sometimes they can’t do anything about class size but sometimes if there is a lot of interest, they may expand the class and let you know.

3. Attend the first few lectures anyway – a few of my lecturers had a sign up sheets for people who weren’t enrolled in the course and they kept track to see who consistently came, eventually offering those people a spot in the course.

A photo of campus taken from inside of McConnelL Engineering Building

I LOVED studying at McGill.  A friend told me excitedly before I left, that Canadian professors get something called tenure and then teach whatever they’re passionate about. Essentially this means I was able to take courses in Horror films, Teen cinema and the Anthropology of Religion, which are rather niche in content and wouldn’t be offered at home, because it was a Professor’s area of interest.  Each academic took such pride and interest in curating their course because they had the independence to do so and as a result I enjoyed them all very much.  I was nervous that they might mark essays at a different level to Australia but I found they had a very similar standard, and if not all TAs and lecturers were open and available for discussion during office hours.

In front of the Arts building on my last day

Finally, for most of us exchange is pass/fail meaning on your ANU transcript the actual grades won’t get recorded to your ANU transcript. Your ANU transcript will only record the number of ANU units completed (this might differ if you are applying for some graduate programs – also, note that your actual grades will be recorded on the transcript provided by the partner institution.).  This system means you can experience a new system of teaching and learning and take courses you enjoy without the pressure of having to do really well. So take courses you love – don’t be intimidated by their reputation because while the courses at McGill are not easy, they are more than manageable with some clever time management and combination with easier electives.