When Cambridge gets too much
Opening a window in Cambridge’s stuffy rooms
As one of the oldest universities in the world, Cambridge is a place filled with various different traditions and customs which make studying here a completely unique experience. Although there are many things that make Cambridge interesting and exciting, sometimes the centuries of tradition can really weigh down on your shoulders.
A university’s prestige is very often measured by the people who went there, and Cambridge really has some of the world’s best alumni. When you realise that people such as Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and William Wordsworth all walked through the same corridors and ate in the same halls, imposter syndrome can really hit hard.
Although it is definitely a self-esteem boost to know that you’re studying at one of the biggest bastions of academic prestige in the world, the expectations to match the achievements of previous students can be extremely daunting. When your biggest Cambridge achievement is making it through Week 5 blues without crying, or finishing and surviving a 10-shot stick from Revs, you know that matching Darwin’s Theory of Evolution or Milton’s Paradise Lost is a long way off.
Trying to get through a couple bottles of wine at formal is definitely made harder when you have the portraits of your college’s most prestigious alumni judging you silently.
When you feel completely lost in lectures and have a reading list which doesn’t seem to make any sense, the worst thing you need is an intense supervision to bring all your shame and incompetence into the light of day.
Although quite ironically the only light you’ll see is that of an old flickering lamp between you and your supervisor, making it seem a lot more like an uncomfortable police interrogation. “I don’t know what you’re talking about… of course that work isn’t mine.” Nice try.
But the problem with supervisions is not just having your self-esteem ripped from under you, but you are yet again surrounded by centuries of tradition and the same teaching methods which were used since the university’s foundation. Although you may say “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, the supervision system constantly reminds you that you are living a purely ‘Oxbridge’ experience, which is anything other than the realities of everyday life.
Those little peculiarities are definitely something which make your university experience individual and enjoyable, but when you have a hard time explaining to your friends back home the concepts of ‘pidges’ and ‘plodges’, you know that you have been well and truly engulfed by the Cambridge bubble.
The weird weeks
Cambridge undeniably has a big effect on the world, whether it be through groundbreaking research or controversial news stories. But Cambridge’s influence also extends to being able to bend the conformities of time and space. For some strange reason Cambridge likes to think that the typical week starts on a Thursday, and that eight weeks is plenty of time to teach the entire term’s syllabus without inducing more than just a few mental breakdowns.
Although short terms at Cambridge are sometimes very useful, a couple of extra weeks wouldn’t hurt in taking the pressure off a bit. Sometimes it seems that Cambridge’s creaking institutions are so stubborn and stuck in the past that learning from other universities is completely out of the question – even when it would benefit the sanity and mental health of its own students.
As we have all seen in the past few weeks, creating a sense of privilege and ‘other’ at Cambridge doesn’t always have the best effects on the society around us. Although not always obviously damaging on the surface, sometimes the small things add up and have serious consequences.
Time for an upgrade?
Living and studying in Cambridge is one of the best experiences anyone could ever wish to have. A typical walk to lectures or supervisions is really anything but typical, and taking a minute on King’s Bridge or by Trinity really makes you put your time here into perspective. One of the biggest charms about Cambridge is exactly the fact that it really hasn’t changed much at all since its foundation.
But desperately trying to preserve the past can render any progress in Cambridge unattainable. Whether it be refusing to fly the LGBT+ flag, clutching desperately onto class lists or being evasive over the abolition of separate room ballots for scholars, Cambridge’s aim to prevent the dilution of its traditions can hurt rather than help its identity as a driving force for world change.
As students at Cambridge, we all have a right to have our voice heard and, as an increasingly progressive generation (#millennialandproud), we all have the power to change our university for the better.