Studying abroad: a year in Seattle

Max Nolte, an MPhys Computational Physics student, is spending his Fourth Year of studies at the University of Washington.

Being a rather ambitious student, I first had trouble finding equivalent courses to what I would have to study in Edinburgh. University of Washington (UW) students only need to declare their major in their third year and so some of the Fourth Year Physics courses seemed too simple for me and I did not want to waste any time on too-easy courses. Thus I decided to take two First Year graduate (PhD) classes. 

The first year of Physics graduate school in the US is extremely hard and students get inundated with homework. I managed to pass both classes and learned more than I have ever learned in any course, but this quarter I was wise enough to only take one graduate class. There is a lot more continuous work during the term in American universities than in Britain and the homework counts more. This means more stress during the semester, but also less stress in finals week. In my classes the finals were only worth between 20% and 40%, while the homework accounted for as much as 45% of the grade.

It can be very difficult to get into certain courses (not Physics though), since they fill up quickly or have major-specific restrictions. But there is a wide range of other courses offered and you have the unique chance to take classes you cannot take in Edinburgh. I attended a seminar on Computational Neuroscience and will take a full class in it in my final quarter. And in the Physics department it is possible to conduct undergraduate research (for credits) with some of the professors, which I recommend. I am working on the theoretical X-ray absorption of water this quarter.

Life in Seattle

The University of Washington is a large public university in Seattle and supposedly has America’s most beautiful campus (on sunny days). I love Seattle because it is a big city surrounded by some of the greatest outdoors America has to offer. For an outdoor enthusiast the Pacific Northwest is a paradise. I brought my kayak all the way from Europe and on quiet days it takes me only thirty minutes to drive from my house to the closest whitewater river (that was the reason I applied to the UW in the first place). Mt Rainier (14,411ft), the highest mountain in the State of Washington, is visible from campus on most days. There is plenty of skiing and hiking all year round (I met a guy who went skiing on Mt Rainier in the middle of summer).

The best part of my stay so far has been my Christmas break. I bought a cheap car and went on a 4,400-mile road trip down south. We visited San Francisco, Yosemite, the Redwoods, Las Vegas, Tijuana, Los Angeles, Death Valley and many, many more places.

A few other random, but awesome facts... There is a wide variety of good food in the U-District (University District). Vietnamese Pho is one of my favourites. The gym is bigger than the one in Edinburgh, it is free, the pool is always open and there are cheap classes. There are many sports clubs and societies. Make sure you quickly learn American Football rules to support the UW Huskies (who play to more than 60,000 people at a home game). Seattle is very liberal (they legalised gay marriage and marijuana in Washington) and it is very cycle-friendly.

I can only recommend spending your year abroad at the University of Washington. If you have any doubt, listen to what a wise man once said: ‘Don’t think about it, just do it.’ (Or send me an email).

Study abroad

If you would like to gain experience of studying abroad, the University of Edinburgh can offer you several options. Most students choose to go abroad on their Third or Fourth year of study.

You can apply for a year abroad either through an ERASMUS or an International Exchange programme. More information, including a list of available destinations, can be found on the University International Office's Exchanges page. Or you can contact kristel.torokoff [at] (Kristel Torokoff), who coordinates all types of student exchanges in the School of Physics & Astronomy.