Honesty is the best policy

Being real and kind about work

Cambridge column exam term Exams pressure stress work

Studying in Cambridge is undeniably one of the most challenging things which we face every day. While studying is of course the reason we are here and can even be enjoyable (did I really just say that?), it can often consume our lives and make us forget the ‘real world’ outside – often at the expense of our sanity. Balancing work, leisure, extracurricular (which DOES NOT count as a break), and general daily things like cooking and cleaning can be overwhelming and it is not uncommon to feel as though you’re only doing things by half.

While I am sure that there are people out there who balance this all perfectly and sail through their degree at Cambridge (3rd years is it even possible?), I have yet to meet them. From where I stand, we are all crazy people constantly running around, not knowing when to stop and constantly thinking about an upcoming deadline.

This term is one which comes with more added pressure due to looming exams and the stresses and pressures which always come hand in hand with them. Everyone is at a different points with their work. Some of us have already had exams, others have them still to come and some people are juggling half a term of new learning as well as upcoming exams (I’m looking at you Compscis and Natscis – bet you’re regretting going down the science route now).

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But, for what it’s worth, the real important thing this term is not about who has it the hardest, and definitely not about killing yourself to get a first. What we should all be focusing on is looking after each other, checking up on people, putting ourselves first when we need to and just generally being kind and realistic about work.

In a university like Cambridge, it can be difficult to admit when you’ve had a bad day and struggled to study. You’re surrounded by amazing and talented people who can make you feel inferior (hello again impostor syndrome) and like you’re the only one who hasn’t had a productive day. This is in fact hardly ever the case.

We all have unproductive days and, while your unproductive day may not always coincide with your best friend’s, this does not mean that they also don’t experience the same feelings as you.

Where the real danger begins is when people start lying about how productive they’ve been. In the same way that the popular gang at school refused to admit that they studied for their exams when in fact some of them were working the hardest, in Cambridge this is completely flipped and people often seem to be in competition with one another regarding what they’ve achieved in one day.

This is not to say that, if you have a good day you should not recognise it and reward yourself. It’s more a warning to us all to be aware of the fact that, sometimes, the person we’re speaking to may have had an awful day and feel very disheartened.

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With exams fast approaching and ever-looming deadlines, I advise you all to take good care of yourselves and to be realistic about how much you can do. But, most importantly, look out for the people you live with and always be honest when you’ve not had the best day work-wise. That way, we may all keep a little shred of our self-confidence and survive exams without going completely mad.