When you think of Oxbridge, you may conjure up images of fairytale-like castles, traditions steeped in history, and of course, an insane workload. Well after completing my first year, let me tell you about my average week...
The course structure
As a Biologist, like any STEM student, my week is very structured and organised, with 8 lectures a week (half of them at 9am unfortunately). Although this sounds brutal, if you struggle with time management like I do, having a rigid schedule actually makes your life a little bit easier. Other than lectures, most of my days are filled with computing lessons, group discussions and lab sessions. We’re often given resources to look over before the session so we know what to do, and sometimes a quiz or some post-lab write-up to submit. Either way, it’s an opportunity to put on our lab coats and pretend that we’re actual scientist and know what we’re doing.
If you struggle with time management like I do, having a rigid schedule actually makes your life a little bit easier.
Navigating my Tutes
On top of my contact hours, I also get set a weekly essay by my college tutors. Our tutors send us the essay title, a list of suggested reading and a deadline. Of course, nothing like the dreaded feeling of an imminent deadline makes you work to your full capacity! Tutorial (often known as a ‘tute’) essays are quite independent, with everyone exploring different aspects of the topic..
Tutes tend to go one of two ways:
A. Very well, because I’ve understood the topic and the reading,
B. Not as well, because I did not understand anything, and I’ve just about managed to blag my way through an essay.
This is a standard experience for most Oxford students, and a lot of what you learn in tutorials is the art of wangling your way out of something that you don’t actually understand.
A lot of what you learn in tutorials is the art of wangling your way out of something that you don’t actually understand.
Most tutes often involve group discussions with our tutor in his office about the essay topic and expanding on what we already know. And if your tutor is nice, they may offer you a cuppa during a tute. Occasionally as a biologist, I get some fun/outdoorsy tutes such as going on a bat walk around college, measuring trees around college or counting the deer in the deer park which is a nice change from essay writing.
Hall is like eating a canteen-style meal but in a dining hall that could come straight out of one of the Harry Potter films.
Time for Dinner
After a long day of work, dinner is definitely something to look forward to! At my college, I have the option to cook for myself in one of the shared kitchens or go to the dining hall (just known as ‘Hall’ at Oxford) and eat there. Hall is like eating a canteen style meal but in a dining hall that could come straight out of one of the Harry Potter films, with dark wood panelling, decorated windows and large oil paintings. Throughout the week there are also several ‘formals’ where you get a candlelit three course meal served to you. These are often quite well attended and even as a vegetarian I always feel well catered for. Formals often involve dressing up and popping on a gown on top (for that extra Oxbridge-ness!). Formals also have some weird traditions, such as the college president banging a gavel on the high table to signify the end of the meal at which point everyone in Hall stands up and those at high table leave the Hall, before we sit back down. Sunday formals at my college are especially popular because the college choir will sing to us in Latin before dinner begins and people often attend in black tie too.
I love just sitting on a blanket in the sun, watching the world go by, and seeing people going up and down the river.
Making time to socialise
Although a lot of hours are spent in the library or at the lecture hall, and sometimes it really feels like it, thankfully there are always lots of other events to get involved with too, to have a work life balance.
On rare sunny days, a little gem is the Botanical Garden. I love just sitting on a blanket in the sun,watching the world go by, and seeing people going up and down the river. Or if the weather is really nice, I’ll get out into river myself by going punting! Punts are long narrow boats which you hire out and use to slowly float up and down the river. It’s a lovely way to relax with friends in the summer, just make sure that at least one of you on your boat knows how to punt at least!
Another regular college event is Sunday brunch, organised by the JCR (think student council but with actual money) which is always a nice treat and gives you time to have free food and catch up with friends for that final push to finish the week.
But the main highlight for me is when it is time for a Bop (which stands for Big Organised Party). These fortnightly in-college weekend parties involve wacky and creative costumes and absolute good vibes – a lovely way to have fun with friends after a gruelling week of work. Quite often more time is spent planning out bop costumes with friends than essay reading!
The main highlight for me is when it is time for a Bop (which stands for Big Organised Party).
Unfortunately, I also have to actually wake up the day after a bop and get work done and be a responsible adult. Often my weekend involves chores like laundry, food shopping, and like any student: going to the library to start the reading for an essay. My personal favourite in terms of libraries definitely has to be the Radcliffe Camera (‘Rad Cam’ - the blue, circular building on like every image related to Oxford). It’s absolutely stunning on the inside, and a good place if I want to either actually get work done or pretend to be productive by having my laptop open whilst staring at the beautiful architecture. However, when the deadlines begin to pile on, the college library definitely becomes my best friend, being open 24/7 and being so close, it’s just a convenient place to get through an essay.
When the deadlines begin to pile on, the college library definitely becomes my best friend.
All in all, Oxford is definitely a very busy place, and they definitely know how to keep you busy with the workload. However, in all the hustle and bustle of the eight week terms, there’s always the opportunity to squish in a bit of fun. After all, it’s not just the infamous workload - there’s a lot of life to be lived in between the deadlines.