Sunday, 16 December 2012

Michaelmas Managed

Suddenly I am approximately one ninth of the way through my university education. That's a rather confusing realisation. I guess uni is supposed to make you feel older because you're an adult, doing adult things like actually studying - you have a loan to pay for your education! - and I guess I do feel older and more mature now.

However, I'm incapable of dealing with the fact that it's all gone so fast. It's been a really intense, really difficult and really amazing first term. I've made so many brilliant friends, met so many scarily intelligent people, and my abiding emotions are probably a cocktail of exhaustion and exhilaration.

My last post was a couple of weeks in, where I'd just got through my first few essays and was starting to settle into the routine of things. It was really busy with so many new experiences - meeting new tutors, going to new lectures - and I guess I expected things to relax a little bit once we got into the middle of term and there weren't so many freshers-related activities to engage in. Well, it didn't - it only got more intense, which explains why it has taken me so ridiculously long to update! The first couple of pieces of work you do might be relatively simple, leading off your A Level studies, but here's an example - in 6th Week for Microeconomics we were set, to do all together within 7 days - whine alert - an essay, 3 discussion questions, 5 problem sets, 3 Maths exercises, and one article analysis. On top of that I had work for an extracurricular French class, an essay and an insane amount of reading for our Moral Philosophy tutorial, and questions for our Logic class.

I don't know whether you will judge that to be a lot or not - it certainly felt like an annoyingly large amount at the time. Ironically PPE students at my college have the reputation of not doing much work anyway (which is definitely true in comparison to some subjects - you should hear how much the Med students have to do, shudder). The fact that we'd been used to being spoon fed at school just made it worse, because of the amount of self teaching you'd have to do - being set an essay is fine, but what if that essay title is totally incomprehensible until you've read about 3 books? It's not like at school, where you'd have the concepts explained in advance, you might run over an essay plan in class, you'd have written helpful notes already - you're totally on your own and it's a bit of a difficult adjustment.

This all escalated to the point where by the middle of term I was having a vague crisis and doubting whether I was good enough to study my subject. I think everyone goes through those moments - there's a phenomenon known as 'Fifth Week Blues' where, essentially, everyone is suddenly overcome by mid-term depression and so lots of colleges try to put on activities to cheer everyone up. I personally think Fifth Week Blues is a bit exaggerated - by that point we'd mostly all settled in and so had a support network of equally stressed friends for whenever we were finding things a bit tough. It is a little sad, though, when you're studying a subject in the middle of the night, and you've worked so hard over the last 2 years just to give yourself the opportunity to study it, and every week of Sixth Form you've been struggling on through various tedious pieces of homework just to get to this point - and you realise you're not really enjoying it in the moment.

I think I realised afterwards, however, that my own work patterns were working against me. My deadlines in Michaelmas (the name for the first term in the Oxford calendar) were all bunched up from between Tuesday evening, to Wednesday morning, to Wednesday evening, and so this short timeframe was conducive to... pretty poor work habits! There were a couple of weeks where I didn't start anything for that week until rather late on Monday night, and so I would barely emerge from my room as a result for the next two days. When you're stuck with a work schedule as stupid as that, it's not surprising I wouldn't be enjoying it, and so for next term I've promised to reorganise myself and basically be much more committed to having a good schedule. I've been given such an amazing opportunity to learn from such world experts and I definitely don't want to waste it.

Thankfully, there were an insane number of fun parts to the term too. I've mentioned already that I've loved being able to meet so many interesting and fun people, and the social aspect of uni is definitely amazing. For one, it's relatively hard to imagine yourself staying up until 5 in the morning completing Sporcle quizzes with a group of friends in the common room at school, but at university it's a perfectly reasonable way to spend your time! Things got especially fun in the last few weeks of term - because we finish term on the 1st of December, everyone celebrates the substitute-Christmas 'Oxmas', which is topped off by a massive dinner in halls which was amazing. Even the prospect of end of term reports and 'Warden's Collections' (basically a solo discussion with the headmaster-like figure in each college and one of your tutors about your academic progress... daunting) couldn't dampen the happy atmosphere.

During the first term I never actually went home, although some of my friends did, and you'd think after 9 weeks away I'd be eager to have a break and get back, but the opposite was actually the case. I can't say this enough - you develop such strong bonds with your friends at university so incredibly quickly, and it was really sad saying goodbye to everyone at the end of term. Lots of these people are going to be your friends for life, and it's easy to see why once you get here. To all the people currently applying through UCAS - you have so much to look forward to. I never expected to enjoy my first term as much as I did, and I'm really excited to come back next term, despite the prospect of exams in the first week (gulp).

After the end of term, I had an equally intense next couple of weeks. I spent the first week on the Oxbridge Varsity ski trip with some of my friends from college, which was a lovely experience; but the second week saw me back at my college helping at interviews! It was, to be honest, incredibly surreal. My memories of interviews last year were so clear, and it was really interesting to talk to all the applicants this time around. I remember being so scared before my first interview that I essentially didn't sleep; I obsessed and worried about not knowing enough about the books on my personal statement; but it all worked out in the end, I guess! I do definitely think that a large amount of success with the Oxbridge interview process comes down to luck - all the interviewees I talked to were so committed and interesting, having to sort through them all is a certainly unenviable task. Masses of luck to anyone waiting for responses.

That's it from me! As always if you have any questions or comments just leave them below and I'll get back to you as soon as possible. Happy holidays everyone!