It’s a fucking holiday, treat it like one

CHILL OUT

There's an old phrase bandied about by DoSes, tutors, and supervisors at Cambridge. They often declare that the upcoming break is called 'a vacation' simply because you 'vacate' Cambridge. That means, they continue with the air of Father Christmas giving an extra large present, you are expected to work very hard during this time. Don’t slack off just because you’re not in college anymore.

I just need a moment after writing that paragraph before continuing.

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Breathe

There is quite a lot to unpack here, and I want to start by dealing with this idea that the primary responsibility of fellows and professors is to push students so they achieve their ‘best’ results. Firstly, this is a massively inflexible approach to student performance and achievement. For some people, consistent pressure and constant scrutiny does not yield the best results, academically.

Every student is different, of course. I couldn’t do a humanities degree. I know this. One term of little contact time (10 hours a week is little for me!) destroyed my productivity. Even so, I did best when, owing to my own mental health issues, I was much less concerned or pressured to be constantly working. Ultimately, you need some time to fail, to find out what works best and what simply doesn’t.

Ignore your supervisor's suggestion of taking one week off, and instead take three. Relax and enjoy seeing friends from far-flung universities as the descend back home.

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Bath, Bristol, Durham, Exeter, Oxford, Nottingham and London. Still come back as one.

Secondly, and a point I keep on returning to in these columns, is the refusal of Cambridge to treat its students like adults who have autonomy over their actions and decisions. Instead, the continual 'advice' twists our expectations and, consequently, our actions during our lives here. Fundamentally, it is in the anatomy of most Cambridge students to work hard. It’s why we applied here and if the university allowed that to flourish, many of us would be happier for it.

That rant has been coming for some time, but it’s very important as we approach the holidays.

Michaelmas is hard and exhausting. It starts with a long summer break, boredom and, at times, loneliness settle in. Even the strongest friendships and romances can be strained by the factos of distance, time, or simply returning to a parental home. Returning to Freshers' Week, where there are months of time to catch up on, less work to eat into your time and peak FOMO, can lead to a burn-out before week one has even begun.

It’s also the term furthest away from exams, and so when most people feel able to take on most extra activity. Unfortunately, being the furthest away from exams, it also becomes the term when a huge amount of teaching is done.

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We all go a bit wild

By the end, being ill is expected. At the end of my first term, I slept over 11 hours a night when I finally got back home.

More than any other time, taking a meaningful and guilt-free break is imperative if you are to properly recover. Freshers – it does get easier than this, the first Michaelmas is insane for how tiring it can be.

Having just spent a couple of hundred words telling everyone to ignore their DoS, this next bit might be a little strange. However, while I fully advocate for finding your own path, I still recognise that these holidays, like any other useful to catch up on work and often that is needed to starve off boredom. Take heart that, despite the terms only being 8 weeks, the extra-long holidays do give you time to look over lecture notes from week one that haven’t left your floor since you attempted to drunkenly understand them in a blind post-Cindies panic.

Over the past 8 weeks, writing this column has solidified a number of my pervious convictions. Yes, I love so many different parts of Cambridge and I will defend them. I am still glad I picked it as my first choice and worked very hard for years to stand a shot of getting in. That doesn’t mean it is at all perfect, and with a monopoly on ranking tables and student selection, it’s very important that we continue to consider and when necessary criticise its failings.

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I'm normally very happy, I promise (credit: Alex Power)

Enough from me for now – Merry Bridgemas!

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