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Studying from the bottom of the earth

We caught up with Killian Russell at the University of London’s 2019 Graduation Ceremony to find out more about his experience completing his BSc in Business Studies while he was working in Antarctica.

Written by Lindsay Alexander |

Killian Russell
"If you still want to work and travel and also have a life outside of university, then the flexibility is amazing."

Killian spent the last year working at Scott Base, Antarctica New Zealand’s research station, all while completing his BSc in Business Studies via distance learning. While working in Christchurch as a carpenter rebuilding the city after the 2011 earthquake, he saw a large cargo C-17 plane flying overhead. The unusual sight sparked his curiosity and after finding out that the plane was heading towards Antarctica, he was inspired by the place and people to apply to work at Scott Base and eventually head there for a new adventure.

Killian had been working on his BSc for four years, and was concerned about being unable to finish his degree, but didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to work in Antarctica. The flexibility of the programme and online method of study allowed him to continue his studies without any disruption. The neighbouring base in McMurdo Sound (3km from Scott Base) was transformed into an examination centre, enabling Killian to sit his exams for the completion of his degree.

The University’s motto ‘studied anywhere, valued everywhere’ really rings true, because I was actually studying at the bottom of the earth.

Although the maintenance work that Killian was carrying out at Scott Base was very different to what he was studying on his degree course, he was able to apply skills he had gained from his studies to his day-to-day interactions.

“Learning psychology, sociology and management skills helped in understanding people’s behaviour. This was key, especially when being in an environment where people feel more run-down or irritable due to either 24-hours of sunlight or darkness. Having those skills made it easier to learn how to read people and the situation better.  

“In pre-deployment training a lot of information needed to be internalised fast, from fire training to knowing the difference between sea ice and ice shelves, so being really efficient and disciplined in learning from studying independently through the University of London was really beneficial.”

The most rewarding part about studying through distance and flexible learning is that you own your success.

Killian found that Scott Base was almost an ideal place to study, “It was probably one of the best places in the world to study because you don’t need to cook or commute - there’s a full-time chef - which saves you a lot of time. It is a very serene place, but it was hard to study when the Auroras were kicking off. The University’s motto ‘studied anywhere, valued everywhere’ really rings true, because I was actually studying at the bottom of the earth.”

Course materials and study resources were accessible through the online Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), which also provides students with access to forums and tutor support. Hardcopies of exam papers were flown back to London for assessment on one of the only winter flights to arrive and depart in McMurdo Sound.

"It's a quick turnaround for the C-17, as if it stays on the icy runway for more than an hour the plane freezes."

Two penguins at Scott Base, Antarctica.

Killian’s experience of being able to study in Antarctica while working full-time confirmed his appreciation for the value of distance learning.

“The most rewarding part about studying through distance and flexible learning is that you own your success. The biggest thing is that I got out of this course was that you actually learn how to learn in a way that is best for you. That opens the door to being able to learn a lot more in all areas of life. You become very disciplined and very efficient at studying independently.

“If you still want to work and travel and also have a life outside of university, then the flexibility is amazing. I’ve been lucky to travel on trips to Africa and Europe over long summer periods and have completed exams in Vancouver, Christchurch, London and now Antarctica, so it was really convenient to be able to study anywhere.

"Being at the graduation today it’s amazing to meet other students from all around the world. It doesn’t actually sink in until graduation. It is a really, really diverse group of people and a very egalitarian institution. The world seems a lot smaller after seeing everyone here today.”