Calen Ryan exploring a billabong by boat, complete with a basking croc in the background!
by Maureen Paisley
posted 30 September 2009
For Faculty of Science student, Calen Ryan, spending the 2009 Winter term taking courses in Wollongong, N.S.W., Australia was just the change he needed while working on his B.Sc. (Hons.) degree in Biological Sciences. Calen explains, "Working towards an undergraduate degree can feel like an eternity. So I started looking into an exchange program to break up the routine of education, satisfy my wanderlust, and give me respite from one of our brutal winters!"
Calen heard about the World W.I.S.E. Resource Centre at the University of Manitoba though a friend, and decided to look into an exchange. He discovered that he could spend a winter term in Australia, and still take courses towards his degree. "I basically paid my tuition at the University of Manitoba, but attended university in Australia. You get the benefits of international study, but with the same fees as studying here at U of M."
His search for a host university, however, was somewhat unorthodox. He wanted several things: a high quality institution with a good reputation, in a smaller city, next to mountains and a beach! He was able to find it all at the University of Wollongong, and its proximity to Sydney didn't hurt either.
The staff at the World W.I.S.E Resource Centre helped Calen with information and details; they also have all kinds of resource information for students online. Noticing his excellent academic record, they encouraged Calen to apply for a highly competitive scholarship that landed him $5,000 AUS - a very nice perk for those long hours studying.
While studying abroad, Calen found that the perspectives and emphasis differed both in the research being and in the course subject matter. He explains, "For example, in Australia global warming and issues surrounding invasive species are given a lot more attention. As a developing Biologist, it was really interesting to learn about their perspectives and benefit from their specialized knowledge in certain areas."
Calen gained an appreciation for the subtle influence society and culture has on science and research, and how the importance given certain issues in science is not absolute. Scientists in different parts of the world approach topics from different perspectives and have developed expertise in different areas - and that gave him a broader understanding of his field.
He also found he was well-prepared for their education system. He discovered that his education at the U of M had given him a strong theoretical and practical foundation in his field. He had developed skills in problem solving, critical thinking, and scientific communication which meant he was well-equipped to handle the major assignments and long formal reports he encountered there. Calen was also able to see how some of the U of M program requirements gave him an advantage over students without the same background.
While abroad, he noticed that the Australian institution didn't have the same course and program options available to students at the U of M, and that they didn't have the same opportunities to be involved with research. "You have a lot of options in the Biological Sciences to pursue your passions and to get involved in research," Calen said. "That may not always be the case at other institutions."
Being enrolled in an Honours program is also important if you want to work in your field of study, enter a graduate program or consider a career overseas. "They place a lot of emphasis on Honors programs down under, so it's a wise choice if you want to keep your options open," Calen reflects.
He also felt more confident about his degree from the U of M. "You hear about people going to expensive ivy-league schools, and you wonder how your education measures up." After spending a term at another university, Calen believes that "we get an amazing experience at the U of M. We have some awesome Profs, and all the tools we need to succeed are here. It is up to us to take advantage of that."
Calen plans to continue with his ongoing commitment to his studies and to research, in order to get the grades and experience that he needs to be competitive for postgraduate funding. His goal is to make a career out of studying life, and to share that passion with others.
He says that he often has to explain to people, even other students, that being a biologist really is a job - a very cool job where you can travel, meet amazing people and never stop learning new things. He implores new students to work hard, keep an open mind and pursue what they are passionate about. The perfect way to do all three is to participate in an exchange with a foreign university.
Calen's advice for anyone looking at studying overseas: "Start your preparations early!"