Why I would love more contact hours

Do not love paying nine grand a year for iDiscover access


I recently decided to implement a new morning routine for during the week: wake up at 7:30, followed by fifteen minutes of meditation, a 40-minute sesh at the gym or a run, a quick shower, breakfast, then straight to Sidgwick or a café to work. That’s the plan anyway. It’s a few days in and so far, so good.

The decision was prompted by the realisation that my days are often quite aimless and unstructured – I might have a single lecture scheduled if I’m lucky – and this has undoubtedly been making me less motivated. I have tended to roll out of bed at half nine or ten, leading to quite slow, lazy and unproductive mornings. So I’m now taking matters into my own hands, by creating some routines.

The prospect of a day filled with some contact hours and some time in between to get some independent work done, is far more appealing and incentivising than the open, vague stretch of time that I am confronted with every morning at the moment. And it means that you’re less likely to put off doing work until the evening, when you want to be relaxing.

The undergraduate History course at Cambridge is very much an independent endeavour, and can at times be quite a lonely degree. You choose your own papers; your own periods; your own essay titles; your own working hours; how much to read per essay; whether to go to lectures. The only compulsory fixture each week is our single supervision.

It also makes me feel like I’m basically paying £27,000 for a library card and access to Jstor and iDiscover. I go to more lectures than most History students (and even then only about sixty percent of them), partly because I want to feel like I’m at least getting some value for my money, but they are by no means necessary to do well.

There is a ridiculous disparity between the workload of the science-based subjects and the humanities at Cambridge, the worst offenders being History and English. While I have an average of four or five contact hours a week, NatSci students or Medics will sometimes have full 9-5 days of lectures, seminars, labs and supervisions.

I appreciate that different subjects have different demands, and humanities subjects are certainly based more around independent thinking, whereas a degree such as NatSci is inevitably more content-based. But I don’t think this warrants such a huge disparity.

Moreover, I don’t think prospective Cambridge students are made aware enough of the fact that they will have quite a different university experience depending on what subject they pick. For example, someone torn between History and Law should probably be informed that the workload for lawyers is probably at least three times that of historians.

I realise that a Cambridge student asking for more work does sound slightly absurd. But paradoxically, I really do think that increasing the number of contact hours for English and History students will serve to improve students’ mental health. A little more structure and routine makes you more productive and happier.