Katie Zinser: Week 4

Can you balance having a life and taking your subject seriously? KATIE thinks you can, but she hasn’t worked it out yet.

| UPDATED bodycon Cindies Daily Mail fellows history Life Liz Jones media work

There’s a devil sat on one shoulder, and an angel on the other. Or, to be more accurate, there’s a historian on one shoulder and a student on the other.

The problem with being a perfectionist, as so many people here are, is you feel you have to live up to both: there is the pressure to be a proper academic who lies awake at night fraught with concern about exactly why Louis XVI was such a cock-up; and there’s the pressure to hit the club-scene absolutely trollied on a bi-weekly basis because, let’s face it, the sticky carpets won’t be around forever and there’s only so many years of skanking left in your weak knees.

Increasingly, I have found the two hard to reconcile.

This is not about the work-play balance. ‘Work hard, play hard’ is an obvious mantra and if I spent less time browsing the Vagenda I would probably come a lot closer to achieving the golden balance. This is more than time-management problems or work resentment: this is Cambridge schizophrenia.

This had never really bothered me until recently. It is not particularly ground-breaking that you don’t discuss Gladstonian policies at the Curry King, nor do you Frisbee a naan bread at your lecturer’s head for bants.

But I fear that I have taken it too far.  I’m not so sure anymore that it’s normal to wear my least attractive clothes to supervisions so that my supervisor thinks I’m too academically absorbed to care that I look like a bag lady. Nor am I sure why I feel the need to tell all my friends how lame history is, when at home I regularly run downstairs to shout interesting bits of historical trivia at my family.

And sometimes my double-life is in danger of being discovered. For example, the panic as I see a professor glance at the huge, shower-proof Ballare stamps on my hand (thank god my snood hides the one on my chest) as I tell him “it’s such a shame I was too unwell to read the article because I find the economic fluctuations of the nineteenth century so intriguing”.  Or when I gallop past my DoS in the street at night, bodycon rucked up far above the crotch-line because I’m pretending to be a horse en-route to Cindies.  And on the flip side, welling up in the queue for Life whilst telling strangers how sad it makes me that I never have time to read a history book cover to cover didn’t make me any friends.

Part of this stems from my own insecurity. Deep down perhaps I think that if they find out I’m a swap-going-bodycon-wearing- naan-throwing-horse-pretending phoney of a historian then I’ll get chucked out of Cambridge for academic inadequacy.

I also think it’s partly down to the attitudes of the media, and, I hate to say it, certain senior fellows. The fact that the Daily Mail stops in its tracks whenever we are found doing anything crazier than a game of Articulash is a sad reflection on the expectations piled onto the students here.

Likewise, overhearing the disgusted comments of certain fellows upon seeing a group of us leaving college in fancy dress, holding wine, does suggest that people are still short-sighted enough to believe that taking your subject seriously and blowing off some steam are irreconcilable.

Luckily things are changing, and most professors realise that we are normal young people with a normal work-life balance.  Unfortunately, the day the Daily Mail realises this is the day that Liz Jones eats a square meal.

Nevertheless, I should stop being so ridiculous and start being myself. At the end of the day, there’s probably more chance that I’d get kicked out for having a schizophrenic breakdown than for putting on a nice dress and some lippy for my supervision.