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Academic culture

Academic culture

Different cultures have different approaches to learning and teaching, so you may find that studying in Australia is, at first, a very unfamiliar experience. Here are a few tips to help you to adjust to studying in this new culture.

Interactions between students and teachers

Interactions between teachers and students are possibly more casual than you are used to. Most of your lecturers and tutors will expect you to address them by their given (first) name without using any kind of title.

In Australian universities you will find that your teachers have several different job titles:

  • A subject co-ordinator is the person who has overall responsibility for the subjects you study.
  • A lecturer is someone who prepares and delivers your subject, often by teaching to large groups of students.
  • A tutor is someone who conducts smaller classes where lecture material is discussed.
  • A laboratory (lab) technician assists in subjects that involve scientific experiments.

If you have questions about your subjects, you should speak to, or email, your tutor or lecturer first. Scroll to the bottom of the page for tips for emailing your tutor and lecturer (PDF and Word files).

Approaches to learning

In Australian universities students are expected to be very independent in the ways they manage their studies. No one will monitor your progress for you, so it is important right at the beginning of your studies to ensure you have everything you need

  • Check that you have access to the LMS (Learning Management System – the digital space for each subject)
  • Look at the Subject Guides for all your subjects
  • Ensure you know the weekly schedule for each subject and plan accordingly.

Types of classes

The types of classes you have will depend on which subjects you are studying, but most subjects have some kind of lecture, where you listen and take notes, and some kind of tutorial or practical class, where you discuss or practice what you have learned. Most subjects have a blend of online learning and face-to-face activities.

  • A lecture is a formal presentation by an academic staff member (a lecturer), usually to a large number of students.
  • A tutorial ‘tute’ or ‘workshop’ is a small class where students ask questions and discuss key topics of the subject with their tutors.
  • A practical class (or ‘prac’) is a small class where students get hands-on practice of what they have been learning in other classes.
  • A laboratory class (or ‘lab’) is a small class conducted in a science laboratory where students practice scientific activities.

Active learning

You will need to keep up with the readings for your subject, plan your assessments and do independent research. You should approach learning materials with an open mind, asking questions and taking lots of notes about your ideas. Your lecturers and tutors will often expect you to speak up in class, so don’t be shy about this.

  • Be aware that if you need help, your teachers will expect you to ask.

Critical thinking

One of the key challenges that international students often have when studying in Australia is the expectation that students think critically about what they are studying and discuss and challenge the ideas they encounter. Students are encouraged to debate ideas and challenge each other (it also is acceptable for students to challenge teachers). This often involves disagreeing with others and can therefore sometimes feel uncomfortable. However, as you progress through your university studies you will become more familiar with this approach.

  • To develop your critical thinking skills, try to ask as many questions as you can about when reading the materials in your subjects.

Academic integrity

Academic integrity is essential in university study. It is important to ensure that you understand clearly what is and is not appropriate in the Australian context.

All students are required to do an Academic Integrity Module in the first semester of their study.

  • Do this very early in your first semester to avoid making mistakes in your early assessments


Plagiarism occurs when you copy or use the words and ideas of other people without proper acknowledgement. Plagiarism is taken very seriously by the university and can lead to severe penalties and even expulsion from the university.

You can avoid plagiarism by:

Academic English

When writing at university you need to use English that is more formal than when you are speaking. Different disciplines will have slightly different expectations about what is appropriate, but in most cases you should aim to be formal and precise.

Getting help

There is a lot of help available to help you transition to Australian university study.

  • For help with enrolment or payments go to ASK La Trobe
  • For help with time management, understanding assignments, English language, referencing make an appointment with the Learning Hub
  • For help with LMS or computer accounts or IT issues contact Student IT Support

Further resources

See tips for emailing lecturers and tutors documents in Word and PDF below.

Pathfinder link

Still have questions? Do you want to talk to an expert? Peer Learning Advisors or Academic Skills and Language Advisors are available.