Philomena McDonald

In 2023, Philomena commenced a Masters in Mathematical Physics at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.  Philomena tells us about her year studying and living in Edinburgh.


My first year out of school has definitely been a very eventful one! The UK academic year doesn’t commence until September, so after graudating from KRB, I have had 10 months before starting my degree at the University of Edinburgh. As a result, I spent around 6 months working full-time in Sydney to save up for a 3 month solo-backpacking trip where I spent a month in Japan, as well as 2 months travelling around Croatia, Italy, France, Switzerland, Hungary, The Czech Republic and Germany. This definitely was a very transformative experience for me as it allowed me to make some life-long friends in situations I never would have thought I would’ve been in, exercise my independence travelling alone and increase my confidence. I would highly encourage any student thinking about travelling/backpacking before university starts to absolutely take a gap year – you’ll make some lifelong memories and have some life changing experiences which I think have actually really helped me better settle into university life as well. 


I’m studying a 5-year Integrated Masters (MPhys) in Mathematical Physics, which means by the time I graduate I would have completed both my Masters and Bachelor’s degree. In Scotland, the degree system is one year longer than most other universities, meaning more flexibility is offered around your courses and you can take different classes which don’t necessarily pertain to your degree. As a result, I’m studying both maths and physics, but am also taking a course in Japanese after having travelled there for a month prior to my studies.  I’ve loved all of my classes to date and the flexibility has really allowed me to hone-in on my interests and find prospective specialisations for later in my degree, such as astro, nuclear or particle physics. 


University accommodation in Scotland is very different to Australia, as there is much less of a ‘college’ lifestyle for new university students. Instead, most first year students live in self-catered accommodation in flats with 3-5 other people, allowing you to make really close connections with your flatmates and live a bit more independently. As a result, there are a lot more activities offered on campus such as sports and societies which you can join.  These societies often host events and socials all throughout the year! Some of these include the sky-diving, independent music or the ice skating societies.  I have volunteered as the Head of Social Media for the Travel Society which is called Ryanair Roulette! I’ve always been quite independent, so being far from home hasn’t been too much of a challenge but I definitely am looking forward to being back in Sydney for Christmas and seeing all of my friends. 

Overall, I cannot express how amazing the past year has been and the opportunities it has provided me – both travelling and moving so far away from home with little to no connections internationally may seem daunting at first but I promise, making steps like these are the only things that are going to push you outside of your comfort zone into having some of the best moments of your life!