As the end of my summer school experience looms – and the end of regular blog updates – I just thought I’d share a few random thoughts for anyone out there who might be considering applying for PCAS in the future.
Christchurch… grew on me, it really did. I hated the first few weeks living in the University owned apartments, but once I moved out of there, everything was much better. If you disliked living in a hall of residence during your first year of uni (as I did), then it’s probably best to avoid the Ilam apartments. There’s plenty of other options. It’s a fairly large city by NZ standards, and there’s a lot going on. You won’t be bored in Christchurch, and if you are, then you need to try a little harder! Flats are pretty easy to find on TradeMe, and it’s also pretty level everywhere if you don’t have a car and want to cycle. There are heaps of cycling lanes and Hagley Park is awesome for running around. There are a lot of ethnic food shops and vegetarian eateries, which I really liked. However – do try to make sure you get your living arrangements sorted before the course starts, because once classes begin you can kiss goodbye any weekends/free time, for the first month at least (see below). Moving places would be a real hassle (as one classmate found out) which is why I avoided it until I was back from the Ice and really couldn’t take it any longer.
Canterbury Uni… left me a little underwhelmed, the whole summer long. I’m only basing this on my previous experiences having studied down the road at Otago. In general I found the Canterbury University systems (library catalogue, IT services etc.) unwieldy to use, and the lack of… everything was pretty annoying. I know, I know, the place was a mess after the earthquake. But the library’s summer opening hours are ridiculous and it’s really hard to find places to work. Gateway Antarctica was unable to provide us with workspace in the first half of the course, apart from the classroom, which is really the last place you want to see after spending 30+ hours a week in there for lectures. That was a sore point for me. I’ve had two other Otago friends (starting this semester) say similiar things about enrolling at Canterbury, so this isn’t just me having a whine! On the plus side, we had free library interloans all summer (because of the earthquake); I had three books sent from the US free of charge. And the Uni gym is pretty good, and ridiculously cheap.
The PCAS course, workload, lecturers… were about what I expected from the Gateway Antarctica website. The lecturers were generally very good, with some standouts at both the good and bad ends of the scale. There is a lot of contact time in the first 4 weeks, which did surprise me a little. If you’ve done postgrad level papers before coming to PCAS, you might want to think back to undergrad days, when you could easily be trapped in a lab for an entire afternoon. PCAS is similar and you are expected to attend every class.
Assignments… PCAS is not exactly an easy ride to the Ice. Maybe easier than some ways, but Gateway Antarctica works hard to keep up the academic reputation of the course, and PCAS is fairly intensive with assessment. We did a literature review, three field reports, a creative project, a major group assignment and presentation, and a major research project. I’ve personally written about 16,000 words this summer, not including this blog. My advice is prepare for the ones that you know are coming. Everyone in PCAS submits an individual research project related to their previous studies or area of employment. You really want to have a good idea about this before the course starts (indeed, they ask you about it in the application material), and think about potential supervisors. They don’t have to be from the University of Canterbury, and it’s really left up to you to find someone who’s interested in your project and willing to supervise you. The literature review can be on just about anything, and it pays to have a fairly good idea about this one too, because you will be asked for your topic in the first week.
The field trip… well, you’ve seen the pictures. Antarctica will blow your mind. There’s nothing quite like it. If you’ve lived in a lot of field camps before, you may find it strange being in such a big group. I did. The PCAS experience does have a certain ‘school camp’ feel about it, and I think the success of the field trip largely comes down to the weather and the people you share it with. Both of which you have no control over (apart from choosing tent/cooking buddies) so I think the best advice is just go with the flow! You share a lot of incredible experiences with these people, and you will react differently in many instances. But at the end of the day you’re in it together and the thing works best when you look out for one another and respect the differences. PCAS thrives on diversity – embrace it.
So I guess, having been through all this, the question I’ve been asked most by friends is “do you recommend the course?” And the short answer is yes.
The long(er) answer is: it’s not for everyone, and it’s the kind of course where you’ll get out what you put in. The workload is heavy, especially in the first month where you have class 9-5pm most days, as well as assignments, when all you can think about is the fact that you are going to Antarctica in 4, 3, 2, 1 weeks. That part was the hardest for me.
But if you have a genuine interest in Antarctica (beyond just ‘getting there’) and want to make some great friends and contacts, then PCAS is probably one of the best things you’ll ever do. What’s holding you back?! 😀