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Exchange report on Sydney University, Australia by Alexandra Runge

Exchange report on Sydney University, Australia by Alexandra Runge

Report on University of Sydney Exchange

Alexandra Runge

MSc Programme: Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation for Environmental Management and Modelling (GEM)

University of Twente (ITC) and University of Southampton

Nine weeks in a vibrant city, nine weeks down under, nine weeks between Uni and beach, nine weeks in which everything is upside down. Leaving the European summer and going to the Southern Hemisphere winter – sounds like a bad trade off. But when looking at the average temperature of 14° and 16°C in August and September and experiencing +30°C at the end of September, this leaves no reason to complain. You can get lost in a lively city with restaurants from all over the world, latest fashion shops or the local pub to watch some “footy”. At the same time you can go to the beach, swim, surf or just relax. Furthermore, there are gorgeous bush national parks close by that invite you for day-hikes or maybe even an overnight stay. And everything is just a bus, train or ferry ride away. There is definitely no reason - especially no bad weather - to stay inside and be lazy. Every day, no matter how bad the weather forecast was, still turned out to be beautiful and worthwhile for some exploring activities.

I was lucky to spend nine weeks at this place – Sydney. I saw whales, dolphins cruised along our boat, I spent time with an Aussie family, met professors and researchers at two well-known Universities, did field work at a seven mile beach and worked on my own master thesis. Everything I just stated was part of the University exchange programme that is an optional part of the GEM master course. So University, hardworking environment…but yes, everything I just stated sounds more like a holiday, or at least a fun time.

During my stay in Sydney I followed a diverse, personalised program. In nine weeks we managed to squeeze in two weeks of personal master thesis research, two weeks fieldwork with whales and dolphins, four weeks spent following a research internship and a five day intensive University course.

The first two weeks of my exchange started of slowly. I had time to get into my own thesis preparation, overcome the jetlag and settle in. Since I was directly in the city centre of Sydney it was easy to combine working and later going out to explore the city, a close look at Sydney’s well known sites included. I had a workspace at Sydney University, which was nice in order to get to know the University a little.

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Pic. 1: University of Sydney

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Pic. 2: Two Sydney Icons.

After two weeks, I changed location for the first time. I made my way south from Sydney to a small place called Huskisson, right on Jervis Bay, a bay that is known for its beauty and wildlife, especially the bottlenose dolphins and humpback whales. These were exactly the reason for me going down south. I had the opportunity to support Scott Sheehan, a marine mammal researcher, with his work in the bay. During the two weeks we went on whale watching cruises to collect data of whale sightings inside and outside of the bay. It was a privilege to go on whale watching cruises every day, recording the sightings, taking photos for whale identification purposes, getting to see dolphins, seals and the beautiful scenery of Jervis Bay – all in the name of science. The overall stay taught me many aspects of how to prepare and conduct fieldwork: What do we want to know? What data is important? How do I post-process the collected data? And what are (unexpected) limitations (e.g. the weather, commercial whale watching operators)? Besides that, I had the chance to spend two weeks with an Australian family who shared their everyday life and happily explained the Aussie way of life to me.

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Pic. 3: Spotting whales from cliffs.

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Pic. 4: Finally humpback whales.

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Pic. 5: The fin of a whale is like a fingerprint. A unique identifier.

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Pic. 6: Bottlenose Dolphins in Jervis Bay.

After two amazing weeks in Jervis Bay it was time to go back to Sydney. My four weeks internship was about to start. For the internship I worked together with a group of remote sensing scientist at a second University in Sydney, the University of Technology. For four weeks I processed MODIS time series data and calculated vegetation indices in order to find out if the alternating sun angle influences the vegetation index products. While doing that I learnt my first programming language. This was quite a challenge but at the same time it was fun working with a great supervisor, Kevin Davies, and very rewarding in the end. Working on a project for four weeks only was quite stressful but probably prepared me well for the upcoming master thesis.

The last item on the programme was an intensive University course. Back at University of Sydney, I joined the Coastal Management Field School. Together with around 20 postgraduate students I had two days of field work followed by three days of post-data processing and report preparation. The fieldwork took place at Seven Mile Beach, a gorgeous spot south of Sydney. On one day we explored the surroundings, looking at a marina construction site and two potential locations for a new marina. The second day we spent at the beach conducting hydrodynamic and beach slope measurements for 6 hours in order to assessed hydrodynamic processes. The day was a combination of taking measurements every 15 minutes and enjoying the beach. Right after the fieldwork we spent three days in the lab at Sydney University getting more input for the overall coastal management context and looking at our results. It was nice spending time with other students, working with them and getting to know them.

Pic. 7: Fieldwork at Seven Mile Beach.

Overall the exchange programme offered a variety of aspects and things to do. Especially the fieldwork experiences at Seven Mile Beach and Jervis Bay were really special. They provided insights into the practical work and at the same time allowed me to explore a new part of Australia. Australia is such a huge country and in order to get to know it and travel around you need lots of time. Unfortunately nine weeks are not even close to being enough, especially not when working at the same time. So to have the chances to leave Sydney for a while and get to know a different area was really great. And despite all the work and the tight schedule I did find time for one additional trip. I took a long weekend off and visited the red centre of Australia. I flew to Alice Springs and did an outback tour for three days. The tour included different hikes, cooking on the bonfire, sleeping in swags around the fire (below a sea of stars) and visiting Uluru, both at sunset and sunrise. A really magical place, in a magical surrounding. I am glad I took the long way to experience this.

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Pic. 8: Trip to Uluru.


  • ITC
  • Lunds Universitet