Supporting Taught Postgraduates

Studying in the UK

Some key features of what you can expect your academic education in the United Kingdom to be like, and links to further resources on this topic

Features of the UK academic culture

Many of our students join us from different academic cultures, and they can be confused about what is expected (and what they can expect) in the UK system. 

The UK academic culture is based on active and independent learning, and uses lectures, tutorials, and group working.  You may be familiar with these, however the following information may be helpful.


Lectures generally provide an introduction to different topics. These can consist of talks or presentations, which typically last 50 minutes, and are delivered by an academic member of staff (lecturer). You are usually expected to listen and make notes while the lecturer presents.  Sometimes you will be given the lecture materials in advance, and the lecture time will be used for discussion of the topic. 

You might participate in lectures on campus and/or online, and lecture recordings are often made available on Learn for you to review at a later date. This is a useful way to consolidate your learning, and explore themes in more detail.


This is a small group of students, led by an academic tutor and is a great opportunity to get to know other students and to ask your tutor about the course.  A high level of participation is expected and students should have read about the subject/topic in advance, in order to exchange ideas and views with other students and the tutor.


These consist of smaller groups, and usually take place after a lecture in a less formal sessing.  A seminar provides you with an opportunity to ask detailed questions, and debate themes and ideas.  In seminars you have the chance to develop a wide range of personal and key skills such as how best to communicate and present your views and to build up your confidence in speaking in front of others.  The level of participation is not as interactive as a tutorial, but more involved than a lecture.

You might participate in seminars in the virtual space, or on campus. Either way, a seminar provides you with an opportunity to ask detailed questions and debate themes and ideas.

Laboratory and practical classes

In subjects such as science, engineering and health-related courses, practical sessions are common. In these sessions, students have the opportunity to put their theoretical knowledge into practice.

Here the learning is very hands on and classes are designed to allow students to practise and develop a wide range of discipline-based techniques and personal skills.


This is a dedicated work and learning space (and time) for Art, Design and Architecture students, where the focus is on project-based learning. Studios are not just a physical space but can also be timetabled. Studio spaces will vary in size and staff input or teaching. (Some studio time will be supervised, others won't be.

Active learning

In the UK academic system, learners are expected to participate fully by preparing for lectures through reading, by asking questions and by joining in group discussions. Your programme may also involve group projects where all team members need to contribute

Forming opinions

Forming opinions, and developing your own conclusions, constitutes an important part of postgraduate learning. Your lecturers will want to hear your views, and you need to develop the confidence to express them. Listening to the views of other students will help you develop your own thinking and analysis.


The University has several central support services which may be of value to you such as the Careers Service; the Institute for Academic Development; The Student Disability Service; and Edinburgh Global.  You can also ask your personal tutor for guidance, or talk to your programme director.

Postgraduate support at The University of Edinburgh

Study Hub

You may or not be familiar with all the different ways you will be taught at the University. You may find what has worked in the past is no longer effective and you need to adapt how you study. Study Hub  is a collection of resources which have lots of effective learning strategies and tips that you can use to make the most of your studies.

Study Hub 

Academic conduct

Our students overwhelmingly want to behave in an appropriate manner by attending and contributing to classes and by completing assignments on time and without plagiarising.

University of Edinburgh guidance on avoiding plagiarism

When problems do arise, they often result from lack of clarity in terms of what’s expected. You can avoid this by

  • checking your programme handbook to find out about referencing,  expectations around assignments and group work
  • asking for clarification if you are unsure about how to present academic work
  • asking for help as soon as you realise there is an issue; it is easier to resolve problems early in the programme
  • giving yourself enough time to complete assignments
  • valueing your own work, and understanding why it is important that you reference the work of others properly
  • keeping proper notes, as it can be very challenging to reference properly if you are unsure of the details of source material. There are different systems for organising your references. The library has information on these –

Research data management

Tutorials for bibliographic managers:

Endnote (web version) video tutorial for getting started (by IS skills team)

Mendeley video tutorials for getting started

Zotero video tutorials for getting started