Archive for the ‘university of edinburgh’ Category

the moleskine podcast #3: interview with dr. ecks

June 26, 2009

This is the third episode of The Moleskine Podcast, which  features interviews with students and staff about graduate school in the United Kingdom. In this podcast, I will interview my former anthropology professor Stefan Ecks about the MSc. in Anthropology of Health and Illness, admissions, applications, and life after graduation.

secksStefan Ecks is the Director of the MSc. Programme in Anthropology of Health and Illness and a Lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh.

He received his Ph.D. in Anthropology from the London School of Economics in 2003. During his doctorate, Dr. Ecks conducted ethnographic fieldwork in Calcutta, India on notions of body, health, and healing.

From 2001 to 2004, he taught at the South Asia Institute at the University of Heidelberg where he established a medical anthropology programme.

At present, Dr. Ecks’ research interests encompass the theory and history of anthropology, medical anthropology, mental health in South Asia, the anthropology of pharmaceuticals, science studies, and popular Hinduism.


This podcast was recorded using a Zoom H2 and edited in Reaper. Thanks to Andrew Spitz at { sound + design } for the editing assistance and warg at Soundsnap for the beginning and ending loop “warg elizabethtown.”

And of course, big thank you to Stefan Ecks for letting me pick his brain.


Listen on your ipod, subscribe to The Moleskine Podcast!


interview with a gurkhas grad student

May 1, 2009

One of the great things about being at the University of Edinburgh  is having the opportunity to interact with so many interesting minds. Chandra Sing Gurung is one of those students. A Nepalese with three degrees and two more pending, Chandra has the kind of life story that would be featured on This American Life. It’s epic, moving, and cliché  — but in the best possible way.


Born in a small rural village in Western Nepal, Chandra had always wanted to excel in academics. However, due to poverty and the death of his mother when he was seven years old, he was only able to finish primary school. It was not until he was sixteen-and-a-half years old that he had the opportunity to leave his village and pursue education. Undergoing one of the most difficult and competitive selection processes in the world, Chandra was chosen out of hundreds of thousands of hopeful youth to join the legendary Nepalese Gurkhas soldiers. Joining Gurkhas makes you a hero in the villages,” says Chandra, “From the UK or American perspective, it’s like getting a place for postgraduate studies at Oxford or Harvard. That’s how tough it is to be a Gurkhas.” Chandra was selected for Singapore Gurkhas.

While stationed in Singapore, he took night classes in Business Information Technology at an off-shore campus of the University of Central England in Birmingham in Singapore. Entirely self-funded and self-driven, Chandra was the first Gurkhas in the history of Singapore to receive a bachelor’s degree. “I am a military man,” explains Chandra, ”while you’re with the Gurkhas, education is totally distant from what you do.” Despite the lack of formal encouragement, Chandra continued on with his education. In 2007, he received a Master of Arts in International Relations from Flinders University of South Australia in Singapore. In 2008, he received a Master of Science in Strategic Studies from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. In the Gurkhas, he rose to the rank of Commission Officer (Inspector), the Gurkhas equivalent of an army second lieutenant, “which is given to the ‘best of the best’ among the Gurkhas.” Chandra recently decided to pursue a doctorate in Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh. He is now pursuing a Master of Science in Social Anthropology as a part of his PhD and will be a PhD candidate from September 2009. His research interest is the Gurkhas diaspora, with a focus on the Gurkhas in the United Kingdom.

Chandra was kind enough to let me interview him, so over fanta, green tea, and cookies, we talked about his experiences in Nepal, Singapore, and Edinburgh.

How was the transition from Singapore to Edinburgh?

My transition from Singapore to Edinburgh was fairly smooth. I was in Edinburgh before, so I knew what to expect. However, there were things that surprised me. Coming from Asia, I thought that Westerners were not very serious about their education, so when I came here and went to the library, I saw all my classmates reading and studying all day, I was very surprised. The students at the University of Edinburgh are very hardworking and bright, perhaps the best minds in their field of studies.


What has been your greatest challenge in Edinburgh?

My major challenge was in the first semester. Because my first two masters were in totally different fields, Strategic Studies and International Relations, I lost in terms of disciplinary language when I was attending seminars in Social Anthropology the first semester.

The next challenge was, I wanted to get distinction in my master’s modules, but when I received my first semester’s results, I got distinction in none of the modules – that was a real challenge. In the second semester, I got the rhythm, I am much better now, but my challenge of getting distinction is still going on.

What advice would you give to international students?

When international students leave their own country and they are in UK, I suggest they learn the culture and language of the host country. At the same time, exchange the culture and language of their own with host country as well as with other international students. Take the best thing to their home countries. It doesn’t mean they have to do everything; they can filter the best things and take them to their own countries.

I encourage international student to be more active, rather than passive, so that they will make more friends and student life will be more fun. Participate in as much activities as possible within the University and beyond. For example, I had never done yoga in Asia, although I could have done, but I started doing it here. Currently, I am learning capoeira (Brazilian martial art cum dance) and Scottish Ceilidh is something I love doing now.

The idea here is, participating in activities broadens your stay mentally and physically. With these activities, you will make your life a lot more interesting as a student and at the same time, you learn a lot more. With so much goes on at University of Edinburgh and so many events that take place in Edinburgh, I reckon it is a great opportunity be here in Scotland.


What do you hope to do in the future?

My immediate aim is to complete a PhD and then gain some research experience in the Western world. Thereafter, I would like to return to Nepal where there is a huge brain drain. Most of the intellectuals in Nepal are leaving for greener pasture, probably due to ongoing political conflict. I, however, believe, as the citizen of Nepal, I should return to Nepal and impart the knowledge and skills that I have gained so far, I believe in contributing whatever way I am able to help Nepal. I believe the notion the good use of knowledge is an honour, and sharing is caring. There are many people to whom I can be a great help especially in my motherland.

My strategy is to teach at University in Nepal, and I would also like build a big public library at the heart of Kathmandu. There are university libraries, but, sadly, there is no public library in Nepal even at the beginning of the new millennium. To achieve my goal, if there is an absolute need, I will even go into politics, but that would be my last priority.

Situation changes, so does the strategy, hence, I wouldn’t exactly be able to tell you what I will be doing to fulfill my life long goal of helping people.

What do you think it will be like going back?

Although I lived in Singapore for a long time and am now in Edinburgh, I still have my own relationship with Nepal. There will be challenges since I have been away from Nepal for a long time. However, it’s possible to overcome these challenges. Being in the Gurkhas has made it easier for me to assimilate and adjust to new environments.

People in Nepal may have a different perception of scholars educated in the Western World, but I will see what strategy fits better. I am an optimist, “nothing is impossible, it is only impossible until one finds a solution to make it possible.”

make your voice heard, submit a course review!

February 21, 2009


Want to share your course experiences? Want to know make sure students know what Edinburgh University courses are really like? Check out the Course Reviewer!

The Course Reviewer is written for and by students. It is a platform for you to assess and share your experiences with other students.

I recently heard about this fantastic online reviewer through the Edinburgh University Association of Students (EUSA) and participated in their site feedback session. This is the first year of the Course Reviewer, so make sure to spread the word and get others to submit reviews.

The Course Reviewer is a great way for you to get and share insider information. Browse and rate other student reviews. Tell students about the workload, interest and teaching quality of a course. Assist students in deciding what courses to take next semester.

It might seem like a tedious chore, but trust me, it doesn’t take that long and someone will surely find the information useful and interesting.

Photo by flickr user jaredchapman.

things you wish you knew

February 5, 2009

Today, I met up with an alumnus of last year’s Cultural Studies Programme to talk about how she conducted fieldwork in China for her dissertation last summer. It was really helpful hearing about her experiences applying theory to practice, documenting the city, narrowing down her focus, finding contacts, and getting funding for her research. The last bit was perhaps the most surprising.

She told me that she received partial funding for her fieldwork through the University of Edinburgh Small Project Grant. I had heard of this award, but had no idea how easy it was to apply and receive funding until this afternoon. The application is fairly straightforward; it basically just requires a project outline, budget, and a signature from your course supervisor (no letter of rec necessary!). She told me that pretty much all of the applicants she knew received funding.

Having this insider tip made me re-assess the direction of my dissertation. Since I thought wouldn’t able to go back to Seoul to conduct fieldwork, I began framing my research in the context of memory and distance. But now that fieldwork is a possibility, I need to think about how I’ll incorporate the physical space of the city into my thinking.

To get the most of out grad school in the UK, you have to put forth a lot of initiative. Unfortunately, unlike the States, grants and scholarships are few and far between in the UK, especially for master’s students. Since there are a limited number of financial awards, they are often not widely advertised. You’ll probably have to dig a bit deeper to find funding for your research.

You’ve probably heard this many times before, but I can’t emphasize the importance of networking in academia. It’s these insider tips that remind me why I should be meeting with more students and professors outside of my programme.

why edinburgh?

December 5, 2008


Old College, University of Edinburgh

Photo by flickr user Simon Bradshaw

One of the reasons why I decided to apply to graduate school in the UK is because my field Cultural Studies started here. Another reason is that I wanted to work in Europe and figured the easiest way to do that would be to study here. If you graduate from a British university, you may work in the UK without a work permit for up to two years under the Post Study Work Programme.

After numerous conversations with professors and hours of online research, I decided to apply to four master programmes: Cultural Studies MA at the University of London — Goldsmiths, Media and Cultural Studies MA at Lancaster University, Critical and Cultural Theory MA at Cardiff University, and Cultural Studies MSc at the University of Edinburgh.

I was accepted to all four, but chose to study at the University of Edinburgh due to a number of factors:

1) I was interested in working with the Cultural Studies Programme Director Dr. Ella Chmielewska to explore graffiti, visual culture, memory, and the city (my interests have somewhat evolved since then)…

2) Edinburgh was the only university that offered me a research master’s. I applied for the taught MSc, but was offered the MSc by Research due to the focus and specificity of my research interests. The MSc by Research is more independent and research-driven than the taught MSc. I accepted my offer of admission at Edinburgh with the intent of pursuing the MSc by Research, but I ultimately decided to do the taught MSc because my research interests changed considerably after my accident.

3) Edinburgh offered the most international student scholarships, I was fortunate to receive the International Master’s Scholarship.

4) I emailed current students at all four universities. All of the students seemed happy and satisfied with their programmes, but the students at  Edinburgh gave the most honest and convincing answers.

5) While the University of Edinburgh may not be the best university to pursue Cultural Studies, it seemed like the best overall fit. The university has an excellent academic reputation and is located in one of the most beautiful, livable cities in the world. While Edinburgh may not be as bustling and cosmopolitan as London, it is still culturally rich and international. It is also significantly more affordable and seemed like a city I could live in for a long time.

6) My boyfriend Andrew was the final push. The University of Edinburgh was the only school he applied to in the UK. We wanted to stay together and live in the same city, so we both chose to study at Edinburgh.

Overall, I am happy with my choice. There are things about the university I dislike, but no school is perfect. Do as much as research as you can before you apply and commit to a school, but remember any grad programme is what you make of it.

health care in edinburgh: part 1

November 25, 2008

Photo Courtesy of Memekode

One of the great things about being an international student in the UK is that you qualify for free health care through the National Health Service (NHS). When you arrive in the UK, you will have to register with a local General Practitioner’s Surgery (which means clinic in British English). I registered with the Health Centre at the University of Edinburgh. Registering was fairly quick and easy, all I had to do was fill out a registration form, and bring my student id card and proof of address.

As many of you know, I fractured my vertebral column in a serious car accident in Seattle last August, so having access to good health care was a high priority. I’ve visited the Health Centre several times since I arrived in Edinburgh, and overall, I am satisfied with the quality of service, especially considering it’s free.

One of the best things about the University Health Centre is their drop-in hours, which take place from 9:00am to 10:00am from Monday through Friday. This means you can see a doctor almost every day of the week. But keep in mind, the waits are long and the doctors are usually rushed. If you’d like more time and personalized care, I’d suggest setting up an appointment outside of drop-in hours. The wait for an appointment is usually about a week long, depending on your doctor.

Because of my accident, I had to undergo physical therapy (they call it physiotherapy in the UK) and get x-rays. To see a physiotherapist, you can either fill out a self-referral form or get a GP referral. If you self-refer, it will take about six weeks to see a therapist, but if you get GP referral, the wait should be no more than a week. I have seen the University physiotherapist once, and the quality of care and methods seems to be the same as my therapist in the States. I plan to see the physiotherapist a couple more times once I have my x-rays analyzed.

Photo by flickr user memekode

no, you haven’t failed

November 21, 2008

I don’t know if this applies to all British universities, but grades (or should I say marks?) are considerably less inflated at the University of Edinburgh than American universities. Below is the University of Edinburgh’s Common Marking Scheme, which is based on 100-point scale. Most people don’t get higher than 70%, so don’t freak out if you don’t get above 90%.


70 and above

60 – 69

50 – 59

40 – 49

0 – 39


An excellent performance

A very good performance

A good performance

A satisfactory performance for the diploma, but inadequate for a masters degree

Fail for the diploma

first semester overview

November 17, 2008

I have far fewer classes and less required work than I had as an undergrad at the University of Washington. To give you an idea of what the workload and setup is like, I have laid out my academic semester schedule.

I only have two required classes once a week. I am taking Culture and Criticism I (one of the core Cultural Studies classes) and the Anthropology of Health and Healing (my optional course). Each class is two-hours long, combining both lecture and discussion. I have about three hours of reading a week for each class. Grades are based on two 4,000 word research papers due at the end of the semester.

I am also auditing Qualitative Approaches to the City and attending the Cultural Studies Salon, both which are about two-hours long and once a week.

The first week of the semester I took a mandatory Research Skills and Methods lecture-style seminar composed of over 200 students in the School of Literatures, Languages, and Cultures (LLC). This class was an introduction to the resources and materials available at the university and in the city. We had four classes the first week, which lasted for about two hours each.

In LLC, we are also required to take three topic-specific workshops, ranging from Methods and Materials in Medieval Studies to Researching Film in the Digital Era. These workshops are about two-hours long.

We also had to submit a bibliographic assignment at the end of the seminar and will have to submit a 10-page annotated bibliography at the end of this month.

Considering this is a full-time load, the number of classes and amount of assignments seems a bit light. Personally, I wish we had class and assignments more frequently. But, I guess it gives me more time to write this blog.

free films and documentaries!

October 29, 2008

I just discovered the Film and Documentary Library at the University of Edinburgh Language and Humanities Centre (LHC), located in the basement of David Hume. If you are a 4th year or postgraduate student you can borrow films and documentaries for home study. The library has over 5,000 videos and dvds, with many hard-to-find titles. I just reserved When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, Spike Lee’s documentary on New Orleans.

If you want to host a film screening, you can reserve one of the seminar rooms. Some classmates and I just started a weekly film and documentary screening. We just watched two fantastic documentaries: Lost in La Mancha and A Brief History of Errol Morris.

Most universities have resources like the LHC, so ask around if you’re interested in watching dvds for free!

international student centre

October 20, 2008

The University of Edinburgh’s International Student Centre (ISC) organizes events and trips to give international students the opportunity to meet other people and see a bit of Scotland. I haven’t participated in any of their events or trips yet, but next week I’ll be going on their Edinburgh Castle trip. Normally, the cost of admission to the Castle is £11, but with ISC, the price is only £2. ISC always has great trips and deals like this.