The Inside Scoop: What it’s like to study at the University of Otago

May 20, 2019 | 0 comments

The University of Otago. Home to warm couch fires and freezing flatties alike.


Founded in 1869, the University of Otago now has campuses spanned across five main centres throughout New Zealand. With campuses in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Southland, the main Otago Uni campus is located at the heart of Dunedin.


But, aside from tales of first year health science students giving their hall mates wrong answers and rent cheaper than the rest of the country but at sacrificial costs, what is it really like to study at the mighty Otago?


We spoke to three students of the past and present to find out.


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Otago University Association Football Club in 2019. (Courtesy of the University of Otago Facebook page)



Insider: Fresher.


1. So, you’re a first year at Otago Uni. Were there any stereotypes or misconceptions you’d heard about Otago before going in?


I’d heard that Otago was mainly a university for students wishing to study Health Sci or Med. I am currently studying Law and Arts and had therefore heard I would be disadvantaged if I didn’t study Law at Vic, as I would miss out on the opportunities associated with visiting parliament in Wellington.



2. Was it as expected or were those misconceptions exceeded?


These misconceptions were definitely exceeded. Although there are certainly many students studying Health Sci, I have spoken to plenty of students studying various different degrees ranging from Commerce to Music. Since being here I haven’t felt disadvantaged by studying at Otago at all. My lecturers and tutors have been very supportive and I’ve heard that later in the course speakers from parliament come down to Otago, providing many opportunities for students.   



3. What was the transition like going into Otago, and how has that changed (or not changed) now?


I’ve only been studying here for just over 2 months, yet it feels so much longer. I was lucky enough to get into a hall with incredible staff members and RAs who have helped make the transition process run as smooth as possible. My hall organised so many events during the first few weeks, which made it super easy to meet new people and form friendships. Everything seemed quite overwhelming when I first arrived, however now I feel very settled, and have access to a range of support groups and resources if I ever need them.



4. Where’s your favorite place to study at Otago?


Probably the central library, as there are so many different areas for people with differing study needs. There are individual tables for people who like to study alone, group tables for people who want to work alongside others, as well as areas of complete silence and areas where discussion is encouraged. There are also soundproof rooms for groups that want to discuss projects without disturbing others. My hall also provides tutorial rooms which I like to study in sometimes (especially when the weather isn’t the nicest) as well as my room.    



5. If you could give one piece of advice to your high school self, what would it be?


Probably to get involved in as many groups as possible. Whilst academic results are important, so is involvement in social and community groups. Not only do they look great on CVs and university applications, they are also a great way to relieve stress and meet people.  



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University of Otago Central Library.


Insider: Mid-year.


1. You’re no longer a wide-eyed first year. What’s life like now at Otago? Has it gotten harder? Easier?


As I am in my second year of university, I’m no longer staying in a residential hall, and instead am flatting with some people I met in first year. Flatting has taught me to become more responsible for myself as I am having to cook, clean, buy groceries and pay bills for myself, and have a job, as well as studying. Although not having to cook or watch my power usage in first year was great, I am enjoying these extra responsibilities in my second year, and have found that I am becoming more experimental with my cooking by trying new things to make my current recipes better.


In terms of studying, in first year I studied first year health science, where the papers were pre-selected with a little amount of leniency in terms of paper subjects. Now in my second year I get to focus more on what I am interested in which makes the studying a bit easier and I feel like I am more engaged in class, compared to last year.



2. Describe a typical uni day for you in a couple of sentences.


A usual day for me would include waking up at around 8am for my 9am lecture, having a shower, getting ready, making sure my fit is bangin’, and then heading off to the lecture theatre where my first lecture is – usually skipping breakfast but making up for it with a big lunch which I usually have after my two lectures. I only have at most two lectures a day with both happening consecutively and in some cases a 2/3 hour lab in the afternoon. If I’m not working in the evening as a kitchen assistant at the residential college I was at last year, then I usually go to the gym in the evening.   



3. What’s the best and worst thing about studying at Otago Uni?


The best thing about studying in Otago is that all the university’s facilities are all within such a close distance to each other making it really easy to get around, and the city is flat so you don’t need to worry as much for hills and stuff like that unlike in Wellington.


In my opinion, the worst thing about studying at Otago is probably the drinking culture. I like to relax and have a good time like anyone else but at times it does become a little too much for me personally, especially the times on Saturday nights when I’m trying to sleep or study or watch Netflix in peace. Some nights throughout the week, even on Monday-Wednesday nights, I often can clearly hear the loud thuds of bass coming from flat parties on Castle Street which is located near my flat on Dundas Street.    



4. Where on campus do you get the most bang for your buck for a feed?


In the Link, there is the Campus Shop which sells pies for $2.00 which I feel like is a steal. It’s a nice place to go if you need something quick to eat if you’re in a rush, or if you’re looking for a cheap snack to eat before a lab or a lecture.  I also like to go to the St Davids Café next to the St Davids lecture theatre to get a sausage roll or pie or coffee.   



5. If you could give one piece of advice to your first year self, what would it be?


One piece of advice I would give to my first year self would be to have a good balance between my study and social life and to try find an effective method of note taking earlier in the year. This is mainly because I was unsure of how to properly take notes in a way which works for me and didn’t really find a good method which worked well for me until the start of the second semester. I also feel as though I didn’t prioritise my study as much as I should have, often going out most weekends and watching Netflix when I could have been using my spare time more effectively. 



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Six60 performing at 660 Castle Street in early 2015.



Insider: Graduate.


1. Congratulations – you’re officially a University of Otago alumnus. Describe your uni experience in a couple of sentences.


Uni of Otago was the best experience ever. It’s a very student friendly campus and attractive. Constantly new things happening around the campus which makes it exciting for students at uni.



2. What are you doing now that you’ve graduated? Has your degree helped you in any way?


I’m now working as a pharmacist in wellington after doing a 4 year pharmacy degree. The degree was helpful in order to work in the health professional field.    



3. Would you recommend Otago as a university to study at? Why or why not?


I would 100% recommend Otago University. I also went to Victoria University for a wee bit. I enjoyed Otago a lot more. The experience and friends you make along the way make the journey worthwhile.     



4. Are you still friends with people from uni?


Yes, even though a lot of friends you make are from all around NZ and some even from around the world. I’ve managed to keep in touch with a majority of them. I still talk to them on a day to day basis. They are just a phone call away even though they are far away.    



5. If you could give one piece of advice to your undergrad self, what would it be?


Priortise my work and social life. Try new things. Push myself out of my comfort zone to try new things. Uni is a time where you learn to find yourself and your interests as a person.



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A University of Otago 2017 graduate. (Courtesy of the University of Otago Facebook page)



A special thank you to our interviewees:


Fresher is a first-year student studying a Bachelor of Laws and a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Economics with a minor in Environmental Management.


Mid-year is a second-year student studying a Bachelor of Science majoring in Neuroscience and Psychology.


Graduate graduated in 2018 from the University of Otago with a Bachelor of Pharmacy. 


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