What do Cambridge students (really) do in a day?
9am: cure cancer. 11am: brunch…
There are 168 hours in a week.
We all talk about supervisions, but they only take up 1-4 of those hours. So, what do we get up to during the rest of them? We asked 3 Cambridge students what they do in a typical day during term.
A (Classics, 3rd year):
I wake up around 8am, because I’m that rare bird in undergraduate circles – a Morning Person. Lectures take up 1-2 hours most mornings and are nearby, which means that I’ll have some free time between the end of lectures and lunchtime. After lectures, I head to the faculty library so I can grab whichever books are on my reading list for the weekly essay.
Then I’ll either head back to my room to work before lunch, or stay in the library. I’ll usually have lunch in the college café, where I’ll find some friends to hang out with / enter dubious speculations about the UK election with, over a panini which should last 10 minutes but mysteriously takes 45.
Most Classicists start off with 4 afternoon supervisions a week (more than most other arts subjects, due to compulsory language work), but this shrinks to 1/week in third year. If I don’t have a supervision, I’ll probably work until roughly 4pm, then go hunting for friends to make hot chocolate with. Then I do some mechanical work until dinner-time, like typing up notes – nothing that requires serious thought.
6pm is buttery dinner-time – sacrosanct. Invariably, I’ll meet up with friends and head down to dinner together, so we can relax and unwind after the day.
Unless I’m in serious essay-crisis mode, I don’t work in the evenings. Instead, I’ll probably head down to the college bar with friends; if nobody’s around, I’ll relax, listen to music, go running or go to my orchestra rehearsal. Bedtime’s around midnight (I’m not really a Cindies person).
B (English, 2nd year):
Wake up (ideally) around 8am. Cook breakfast – probably microwave porridge – before deciding whether to walk 20 minutes to lectures. English lectures are non-compulsory and often pretty niche, but can be useful. If they look relevant or the lecturer’s good I’ll go. If not, I’ll crank up Bombay Bicycle Club and read through the morning.
Grab a sandwich, then my work changes depending on the day: I divide the week into Reading Days (read primary text, read recommended criticism), Idea Days (think about my essay ideas, do more targeted reading) and Essay Day (spent in room writing essay). Supervisions are once a week in first/second year, as well as a weekly seminar. I take the rest of the day off after supervisions to rest and clear my head, though I might grab the useful books from the Faculty Library before some other forward-thinking bastard nicks them.
I’ll work anything from 2-10 hours a day, depending on what else is on; free time is spent going on long walks, reading random Internet stuff, writing, cooking, society activities, nights out and time with my friends. I’m also in a long-distance relationship, so sometimes I’ll leave town for 3 days, which I organise around my classes/societies.
This timeline works well for me, though if I slack off earlier in the week it will usually mean an agonisingly long essay day, staring at a stubbornly blank page, contemplating whether to refuse to do the essay for political reasons.
C (Maths, 1st year):
7:30-8am: Wake up, spend a bit of time relaxing and watching iPlayer, eat cereal
8:00-8:30am: Shower, dress, undergo standard beauty regime, have a good lengthy chat with my bedder when going to/ from bathroom
8:30-10:00am: Organisation time – If I have important emails to send or things to pick up, I’ll do that now. If work is due, I’ll put the finishing touches on now and bike to wherever it needs dropping off. If nothing needs doing, I use this time to look over lecture notes, work on some example sheet problems, or occasionally practise piano.
10:00am-12:00pm: There are two lectures between 10 and 12 each day, every day except Sunday, all in the Cockcroft building (New Museums site). There are four courses taught per term: two for Monday/Wednesday/Friday, and two for Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday. All lectures are essential, so if you miss one, you’ll need to borrow a friend’s notes and catch up on your own time.
Lectures are usually too fast to digest properly in the theatre itself, so it’s important to be continuously writing down what’s written on the blackboard throughout lectures, so you can figure the more complicated stuff out later.
12:30pm-13:30pm: Have lunch in college, since it’s only 2 minutes’ walk from lectures.
13:30pm-18:00pm: The afternoon is when I do the bulk of my work, usually in the college library, since it’s quiet. The first hour or two is spent reading notes and making sure I understand things correctly. After that, I’ll spend the rest of my time attempting example sheet questions.
Example sheets are the most time-consuming part of Cambridge maths. At first it doesn’t seem like much: in a typical week you’ll need to complete two sheets, each with 10-15 questions. However, the questions are significantly more difficult than any exam question.
Afternoons sometimes mean supervisions, where we’ll discuss my last example sheet.
18:00pm-19:00pm: I have dinner in hall most days – it’s a nice way of catching up with friends after a long day.
19:00pm-midnight: Free time. Unless work has really gotten on top of me, this is the opportunity to do something fun at the end of the day. I like to go to chorus rehearsals, talks, plays, film screenings, concerts, etc. once or twice a week, and if nothing else is going on, it’s a good time to kick back and hang out with friends for the evening.