Cambridge is making me hate my subject
A strictly arts student experience
Believe it or not, medieval literature happens to be really fucking boring. People get temporarily excited by it because they talk about sex (they were utterly filthy) and because it takes people to read Chaucer to realise that, despite being shorter, the medieval Englishmen were just like us, but with a little more Jesus.
The triviality of this realisation wears off all too quickly and you are left in a bit of a rut. We really ought to discuss how Cambridge is very good at making you hate what you love. Before I came here, I used to love reading; an activity I now think of as a task. Chaucer, Shakespeare, anything containing words, becomes a chore instead of being pleasurable. I used to love learning. I feel like Cambridge has kind of torn that love away from me.
It starts in your first term. You feel a temporary buzz, knowing you’re starting to study for a Cambridge degree. How could it go wrong? You can read a book. Your teachers told you you’re smart. Then your supervisor sets you your work. The entire works of some obscure, batshit writer from Norwich in a week, with an essay? How is it feasible? Well, it is feasible – but you will be in my room for a week straight, maybe with the occasional water and cracker break, if lucky.
Yet you open the book you’ve probably borrowed from the library. You are hit by the smell of the tears of thousands of other poor old students, who have had to endure the same pain. You are undeniably and chronically bored. Eventually, you begin to skim read as the days go on. You do not really understand what it going on, and you are beginning to forget why you are reading it in the first place.
You think, “I should have taken a gap year”, then realise you have no money and your gap year would have been spent working at Tesco in Stockport then coming home and watching Pointless and eating stew every night. I’d pass on that one. So you carry on. You write an essay having not read everything, and it is diabolical – it reads like a year nine SATs paper about religious experience in 14th century medieval literature. “Jesus Christ”, you think – “I’ve learnt absolutely nothing from that”.
You think that things will change, but as the weeks go on, this vicious cycle becomes all the more prevalent and noticeable. You keep trying to do everything, and there just isn’t enough time.
This pressure to achieve and complete, together with the pressure to make or keep friends and not sit and play Sims 2 in bed, do at least one thing outside of college, do enough to write a CV so you actually get a job and to make the most of the opportunities offered to you can lead to feeling rather disillusioned with the work you’re set. Sometimes, what we learn can seem utterly pointless, which leads to a sense of, “why am I here?”
Sometimes, it’s the bad end of the spectrum lectures. However, here, it’s mainly down to the quantity of work, and how often it becomes difficult to finish it, which leads to a fractured learning experience. If we were given longer to do the same work, even a couple more days, we could end up gaining a great deal more in the long run. I constantly find myself rushing to complete things for deadlines, staying up till the early hours reading to ensure I’m not behind, but that I am left having learnt very little, as you are not given the time to truly think about the things you are learning.
It is this thinking and reflecting upon what we learn which got us here in the first place.
If we are not encouraged to maintain our passion for our subjects and learning, then what is the aim of this university? Yes, we’ll probably get a good job, but our graduates may be left with an apathetic idea of what it is to learn. The straight path we are led on leads to a lack of exploration; we need to be able to delve to the depths of what we enjoy.
In the workplace, learning will become a chore. Cambridge should not be a certification factory, it should be a place that harvests and fosters interest and thought. It is known worldwide for being a hub of academic excellence, but in order to maintain that, maybe we need a little bit more time to be able to process the complex.
Academia has to allow us to find what we love, and explore it, without the deadlines.