Friday, 16 December 2011

New World vs Old World. Battle of the degree's

Since September this year, I have left my home country of Britain to pursue a PhD at the University of Ottawa, Canada. I have completed my undergrad and masters at the University of Plymouth, UK, and felt that it would be interesting to compare the degree I have to what students here gain. I have been teaching first year and will be teaching third year geochem next term and through talking to my fellow students here I’ve begun to build up a picture of the differences in our degrees. These thoughts are entirely my own.

Time is money, as they say, degrees in the States and Canada take four years, while a Bsc in Europe will typically take 3 years full time, composed of two terms/semesters. Masters will take a year/two (Mres), while in the states and Canada you’re looking at a 2 – 3 year masters.

Every university is different, and I can only go by what I’ve seen / experienced the colonies are much deeper, mainly it’s a thing of time. Whereas in the UK a student will study only ‘geology’ from day one, here the first year is more based loosely on ‘science’ enabling incredible flexibility to be carried through. Like chemistry? You can study it as a significant component of your geosciences degree. In the UK that would have to be a geology and (say) chemistry degree, dual honours. In fact, here at Ottawa even non associated subjects can be used, maybe you like poetry? That can count…. While in the UK you’re (I assume?!) welcome to sit in for a lecture or two, but it counts for nothing.

Projects are much better (in my opinion) here at undergrad level than they were back home. While most British student geologists will spend a summer mapping some cold, windy and rocky place (in my case Norway) then write up what I saw with some thin sections…. Hardly ground breaking (even if it hadn’t been mapped in that depth before)! A student here at uOttawa will have a choice of deep and fascinating projects; even in a few cases heading off to the GSA meeting.  

These costings do not include the cost of living or (necessarily) fieldwork expenses
Undergrad tuition fees:
uOttawa: $2,710.65 a semester (*2) =$5421.3 a year      £3,359.63
University of Plymouth (2011 entry) =    £3,375                  $ 5,445.79
University of Plymouth (2012 entry):  £9,000                       $14,522.12
So, until next year (2012) it’s pretty comparable. Although it must be noted that the total cost of tuition is 33% more in Canada due to the extra year. Postgrad is comparable to undergrad, but that a present is beyond my scope.


Canada has the huge benefit over the UK that it is a country with active mining and oil exploration as well as a geological survey which typically employs students. In the UK there are rare opportunities; I for example wandered over some Scottish hills for a month during the break between my Bsc and masters. While a comparable student in Canada would be able to seek (very profitable!) employment with a mining company, gaining experience and contacts. Commonly such large sums of money are earnt, that fees can be paid by summer work – leaving a graduate  essentially debt free.

So, what’s better?


Actually, I’m not saying that a Canadian degree is better than a British degree; that would be crazy of me (since I have British degree….) but from where I sit, in my debt ridden tower, Canadian students, although they have longer to study, which in itself can be beneficial – 3 years simply is not enough time to get really into a subject – hence the masters and Phd.  I also haven’t done a Bsc at all 24 universities that offer geology in the UK or the hundreds in Europe, but thanks to the Bologna Process and the Geolsoc of London accreditation  I can be reasonably sure that my degree and experience from Plymouth is representative, at least in the majority to experiences and degrees from British and European Universities.

But what does this mean to British Geology graduates on an international stage? Despite my degree taking less time and me being the youngest grad student in the department (despite being 1 degree ‘above’ 2/3 of my fellow grad students) it still has given me brilliant experiences, memories and knowledge, which I am and will continue to use to brighten my career. Canadian students though, they can see where they’ll go, there is a small ex-Plymouth graduate community in Perth, Australia – simply because if you want to work in geology you need to be where the work is; and that isn’t Britain, its Australia, Canada…. The new world.