YEATES DEBATES: Why is stress such a competition in Cambridge?
Tell me more about how much coffee you drink.
Last week, a fellow Tab writer called students out for pretending to be stupid. Rightfully so. But this isn’t the only aspect of Cambridge’s obsessive work culture which sees students constantly valuing their academic worth by comparing themselves to others.
Though there are many cases of the “I legit did no work” guy scoring high Firsts, many Cambridge students are equally proud of the opposite: being stressed. Stress is to a Cambridge student what incompetence is to a CUSU budget, or turgidness to a Varsity think-piece: exhausting and inevitable.
To live up to the stereotype of Cambridge’s academic rigour, students often compete to prove that they’re the most stressed that it’s pathetically self-destructive. Tell me more about how you haven’t slept properly since Michaelmas, or how you need three coffees to function before midday, or how inescapably screwed you are for your supervision, or how your work is just so intense that study drugs are anything other than cringeworthy calls for attention.
“I have two hours left for this essay.” “Well I have one hour left with no reading.” “Well I have two essays due tonight.” “Well I have to chaperone all the von Trapp kids, write three novels, set up a charity in Africa and buy milk at Sainsbury’s before my 12 seminars tomorrow morning.” Yes, it’s late, and my mind may or may not be wandering around the hills like Julie Andrews. And yes, I forgot to get milk. But you get the gist.
A personal favourite of mine is social media proof of your stress! If there’s not a black and white picture of your late night library shift did it even happen? Or how about gloomy posts of the UL? That’s a guaranteed crowd pleaser. Especially when people are so genuinely stressed and busy they have time to compose the perfect shot of which cafe they’re pretending to work in, or which shelf of pretentious books they’ve picked out at random to stress that they really are doing a #CambridgeDegree.
Whoever these students think they’re impressing is beyond me. I’m sure as hell happy to bask in the abyss of tears and despair with you, but if you’re looking for consolation, then, well, erm, I’m too stressed and busy…
As is the constant academic dick-measuring of Cambridge, where one-up-manship combined with a cynical social media presence is a self-seeking source of validation, students thrive off self-destructive stress, working to last minute deadlines, and making it clear that “no, but actually, I’m *so* busy”.
It does alarm (and amuse) me when other students use their “woe-is-me” monologues as if I’ve been swanning around at Bristol or Exeter this whole time. I think it’s fair to say that the sheer majority of students at Cambridge know what it’s like to feel stress, but, even so, we’re still not all equally busy.
As an English student I’m well-versed in self-awareness, so I’m more than willing to accept that a NatSci or Engineering student’s average day will be more demanding than mine. That’s not to say they can string a coherent sentence together, but perhaps that’s a debate for another time. And what of the people who play sports, edit papers, run committees, organise balls, or produce shows? To the formidable super-students living among us (hi Leyla Gumusdis) I’m convinced some colleges are giving out time-turners to a chosen few.
If these students can keep quiet about stress, then the rest of you have no excuse. That said, the busier you are, the better you manage your time, so if all you do is cycle tirelessly between your college library, buttery and back again, then it’s no surprise that all you have left to talk about is your work.