Madeleine Zurowski

Master of Science (Physics) student, Madeleine Zurowski, recounts her experiences during her time on exchange at the University of California, Berkeley, and Princeton University.

Madeleine Zurowski. Picture: Supplied

My name is Maddy and I am currently studying a Master of Science (Physics) at the University of Melbourne. Spending time overseas has significantly increased my cultural and networking skills. In my undergraduate degree I was lucky enough to be accepted to study at the University of California, Berkeley, on exchange, an experience that not only broadened my academic life, but also brought me closer different people from all around the world. It might sound extreme to say this, but looking back now as a Masters student, I truly think that this opportunity was one that has helped to shape me as a person.

It was nothing short of incredible to study at Berkeley. As a very well regarded institution, particularly for my own field of interest (physics), the professors and tutors were all experts in their fields, more than willing to dissect the finer points of their research and knowledge with you. Office hours were crowded; people were there to talk to the teachers about anything from the current homework assignment, to what grants the professor was thinking about applying for next year, the best way to win a Nobel Prize, and what the teacher thought about the Bernie vs. Hillary primaries.

Getting a taste of this kind of experience while still an undergrad meant that I jumped at the opportunity to spend time at Princeton (twice!) as part of my Masters of Science (Physics). Now a graduate student, and at a different institution, my relationship with the permanent faculty was different, but I still found myself treated like an equal. This was seen through invitations to social gatherings with them, where politics, science, and inside jokes were all discussed freely.

Maddy at the University of California, Berkeley. Picture: Supplied

The term networking can be ambiguous, as I would certainly hope that the academics and fellow graduate students I have worked with at Princeton have become professional connections, our connection is more ongoing. Considering that the academic with whom I did most of my research still emails me to remind me when the closing dates for applications for PhD in the United States are.

What impressed me the most, however, was the way that these esteemed academics treated us like equals. At one point during the semester, I had scheduled a meeting with one of my lecturers. When I turned up to his office, there was a plaque on the door, declaring that ‘these corner offices once belonged to Robert J. Oppenheimer’. Walking in, slightly bowled over, I mentioned to him how excited I was to be having a meeting in Oppenheimer’s old office. He told me that he still hadn’t become accustomed to it himself, and we sat down to talk about my planned research project. I’ve since found out that this particular professor is a leading researcher in astrophysics. Professors I have spoken to at the University of Melbourne have travelled to America to undertake postdocs with this him, yet he still took the time to make sure that I felt comfortable chatting to him, while encouraging me to push myself academically.