Graduate Life & Imperial College

Imperial College London Visit (June 6)
by LeAnn Joy Adam (Oregon State University)

NAFAns tour the Carbon Capture Pilot Plant at Imperial College London
On our first day as a complete (and large!) group in London, joined by our colleagues arriving from Belfast, we spent 12 very fulfilling and intensive hours dashing from college to college where we were very graciously received by administrators, faculty, and students. At each institution (4 in one day) we were grateful for the opportunity to speak with current US students engaging in graduate study in a variety of fields and they shared some of the highlights of their personal and academic experiences in the UK.

A common theme has emerged in our conversations with students so far: when asked about the academic rigor of their UK graduate programs, students consistently comment that the pace is very different from graduate (or undergraduate for that matter) study in the US. This is absolutely not meant to diminish the level of challenge students experience; in fact, students have reported that they must employ a great deal of independence and initiative to ensure their success, which can be challenge in itself. Rather, students seem to achieve work-life balance with greater ease than in US graduate schools thanks to a system that allows them greater freedom to set their own pace, engage across disciplines, participate in student life outside academics, and enough space to reflect productively upon how their experience in the UK factors into long-term goals. They have multiple responsibilities, but find the time to enjoy the benefits of the massive global community that is the City of London. This dynamic appears to be particularly beneficial to students planning to return to the US for a long-haul graduate or professional program including medical school or the MD/PhD.

This makes me wonder whether there could be clues here about how to improve the experience of graduate students in the US, particularly when it comes to their overall well-being and mental health. Under intense academic and professional pressure, I’m uncertain whether our graduate students back home are thriving to the same extent as their peers in the UK, whom I observed to be extremely hard-working but also relaxed, happy, confident, and well supported by their academic mentors.

Some highlights from our visit to Imperial College:

Imperial College London is the only university in the UK to focus exclusively on science, engineering, medicine and business.

We were greeted at Imperial College by our hostess Catherine Eames and treated to a panel discussion with a large and impressive group of international degree-seeking students who shared their experiences and impressions of graduate education in the UK.  A few of their observations:

Strong appreciation for international campus community and global/continental point of view
Access to European conferences
Close collaboration with industry
Business program strongly connected to STEM
Funding for equipment spectacular
Work in research groups very independent
All programs of study are interdisciplinary
Easy to adapt to new educational system, but students must speak up with their professors if they need assistance or clarification

Following a student-led campus tour, we attended a talk by the Institute for Molecular Science and Engineering where we learned of a new graduate program in development, anticipated within the next two years: 1 year MRes with the option to continue to PhD with 3 more years.

Tour of the Carbon Capture Pilot Plant

More highlights from Imperial College:

Reputation and rankings:

Global Challenge Institutes

Award winning professional skills development program for graduate students: research development course, communication with advisors, ethics, writing retreats

Fees and funding:

Assistantships available for PhD students: stipend but no tuition remission
Funding is “pieced together” for most students
Dean’s master’s scholarship

Catherine Eames, Senior International Officer
Student Recruitment and Outreach


Author: uknafa2016

We are members of the National Association of Fellowship Advisors touring institutions of higher education in the United Kingdom in order to better advise high-achieving students in the United States who wish to pursue graduate degrees in the UK.

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