A Mathmo tries being an arts student

An insight into how the other half live

For nearly two terms, I had been broadly happy as a mathmo.

But recently this was beginning to wear off. I had solved all the Rubik’s cubes I could find; I had been wearing the same hoodie to lectures for fifty-two days in a row; I had successfully avoided making eye contact with a woman since matriculation. Even Tom Wang climbing up the desks in the lecture theatre, or that guy heckling the lecturer from the back row were starting to pall.

It was time for a change. So why not try the arts?

Not exactly the CMS, is it?


Being an arts student seems wonderful so far. I don’t need to go to lectures any more, and as such I don’t even need to set my alarm. I roll out of bed a few minutes later, have a nice leisurely shower with no-one to queue behind, put on my very waviest garms (I believe that’s how the kids on the street refer to them) and wander down to hall.


I greeted my now fellow arts students with an edgy nod of recognition, and try to engage them in our culturally far superior conversation (using some names and ideas I stole off Wikipedia the night before, naturally. So presumably how arts students do supervisions, then).

“That Derrida guy, though. Absolute madman, am I right?”

“Who, sorry?”

“Was there anything he couldn’t deconstruct? I mean, why not construct something for once?”

I slowly laughed to myself, sure that I would soon be accepted as one of their own. In fact, they just stared back blankly. Clearly, I was settling in so well that I was just too arty for them all. But now it was time to do ‘work’ that arts students claim to do.


I sat down in the library. As a mathmo, I hadn’t really noticed that my college had a library before, but now I was here it seemed like a pretty cool place. There were all these books around, which is apparently like Wikipedia but written down. I picked up a few that looked nice and artsy and sat down to look at them.

The odyssey begins. Perhaps literally.

So what’s this first one: “Political Writings”, by some guy called Max Weber. Wasn’t he a racing driver a few years ago? But I digress.

Ew. Words. I’m not used to this. Let’s try ‘Politics as a Vocation’ – I recognise a good three of those words. This could go well.

Most of it is dull. But then out of nowhere comes the phrase ‘charisma authority’. That sounds Trumpy, and therefore relevant. Then he defines the word ‘state’! Is there no end to the excitement this essay poses? But then eventually it gets really deep: when is it good to go into politics? All these deep questions – and no right answers. I can’t deal with this.

But I press on – and suddenly things make a bit of sense. The politician, he says, needs to use their brain internally while exciting emotions in others. And then Farage and Trump and May and Hitler – actually, maybe not May – fall into place. Is this what arts students do all day – sit there while the world slowly makes more and more sense? I could get used to this.


Time to change tack a bit – HSPS may have its charms, but it is hardly the only art. Let’s read some classics. Sophocles – he’s someone I’ve vaguely heard of. I decide to try reading something by him.

In a way, aren’t we all the great-grandchildren of Hermes?

And woah – turns out it’s not actually too bad. The one I pick, Medea, turns out to be a pretty short and snappy play. For something like two millennia old, it’s really quite relatable. It is literally just the ur-story of the crazy ex, though admittedly she’s an insane witch woman who ends up killing her two kids just to piss the bloke off, and then herself just pisses off somewhere else. So yeah, actually, quite like most relationships I hear about round here.


Three hours? Seems like a lot for an arts student. I give up and play pool in the bar for an hour, then go back to hall, a wiser and intellectually richer man.

“So what have you learnt today?” a friend asks.

“Bitches be crazy.”


But then I remember. Arts students always go on about these things called ‘essays’. I ought to try one of those.

But I can’t be arsed, so I just write the article you are now reading (meta, eh?). That’ll do.

Better than essays any day

But yeah. I’ll stick to maths. At least I can sort of do that.

Sort of.

University of Cambridge