How to be more Oxford
Work less, achieve more, be happier.
So here’s the thing. Whatever the rankings tables say, there’s one way in which Oxford are always better than Cambridge.
I should know, because I’m a postgrad here, and I did my undergrad in Oxford, which means that I get asked on a biweekly basis what the differences are between the two. Normally I give one of my 6 pre-prepared glib responses to the question. But today I’m going to talk about a difference that literally exists: Cambridge students have a terrible, self-defeating, mind-sapping attitude towards work, especially in Easter term, and Oxford students generally don’t.
On the surface Oxford students have a much crappier time of it. Did you know that Oxford students sit exams at the start of every term, covering their previous term’s work? Goodbye vacations. There isn’t even a May Week. Goodbye any kind of payoff after the long dark summer of exams.
Despite this, and despite being from basically the same high-achieving backgrounds and having the same personality flaws and superiority complexes, we were all far happier and better-adjusted people. I think it’s precisely because of the extra pressures we had. Exams every term meant we stopped taking exams so seriously, even the ones that actually counted.
Our May Balls all happened in Weeks 1-3 (in actual May), and we stayed out all night without worrying about our next month’s exams. Those weren’t conscious decisions we made, of course, but they were part of the Oxford culture. If everyone else was heading to a May Ball a month before their exams, then why not you, too?
The same logic applies here, with horrible consequences. If everyone else is spending 27 hours a day in the library, why not you, too? I’m used to it by now. I’m used to inviting a friend over for a quick game of Mah Jongg in the evening, only to be told that they couldn’t possibly spare an hour (and let’s be real, no game of Mah Jongg is ever going to spill over the 60 minute mark), presumably because they’re using that hour to learn some key fact that they’ve so far failed to absorb over the past 2 months of doing nothing but absorbing such facts.
Often I get told this because “Oh, I have so much work to do and I’m so behind and I’ve been procrastinating all day!” This is probably true, because studies show that the mind is just not cut out to work intensively for more than 6 hours a day. The best way to defeat the work pile is to put less time in and watch as your actual output rockets. I’m not going to cite any actual studies that show this, but I’m literally fairly sure I read that somewhere once.
And that’s why you should just play one fucking round of Mah Jongg every now and then (or the equivalent thing that is fun for you in your life). I’ll come out and admit that I don’t know what Mah Jongg is or if I’m spelling it right, but I’m not letting that hold me back and neither should you.
To make my point more broadly: not only are Oxford having the best time during Exam term and possibly all terms, their achievement levels aren’t suffering as a result. In fact, I’d wager that they do better, because allowing themselves time off makes their work more effective. And I do psychiatry so that’s basically a scientific fact now.
Not only are they doing better, but they are happier and hate their work and themselves less. This could be true of YOU. You have more power to change Cambridge’s neurotoxic working climate than your tutors. It’s your attitude that contributes to the Cambridge work culture. How did we all get ourselves into this sorry mess? By following our friends’ shitty examples. How can we dig ourselves out of it? By setting a new example for ourselves and everyone around us.
The good news is, some friends and I are running a rave this Saturday (14th May) from 9am-11am. And the Saturdays after that, if people want. We even got CUSU to let us use their students’ lounge (17 Mill Lane) because they deemed a morning rave an important welfare event for the student body. THAT’S RIGHT, CUSU WANTS YOU TO RAVE. FOR YOUR OWN GOOD. Also, it’s free. The best part is, you can tell your dysfunctional productivity urges that it’s actually an investment of time that’ll pay off all day in the form of increased energy and work output.
Bring facepaint and costume and breakfast, if any of those things appeal, and chill the fuck out.