The Tab sits down with Ali Abdaal

‘My supervisor thought I was hungover but I was completely wrecked from just chatting and trying to win Articulate’


The Cambridge Tab sat down with Ali Abdaal – YouTuber, podcaster, ex-doctor and soon to be author, and, of course, Cambridge alumnus of Emmanuel College. We chatted about being a member of the union, exam tips and his favourite quote.

After getting some footage for his vlog, we sat down before his talk at the Cambridge Union, which Ali revealed felt like “quite a big deal”.

After getting his lifelong membership card to the Cambridge Union “way back in 2012”, Ali said that the people he remembers being on the term card were names like “Robert Downey Jr., David Blaine and Lisa Kudrow type people”. So when he got the email asking him to speak he said it “felt a bit weird” and was scared that “no one would turn up” although there was a queue already forming outside the Union.

Ali shared how university was the “best times of [his] life” and would encourage people to “enjoy each day on its own merits because it’s very easy when you’re a high achiever at Cambridge to be very focused on climbing the ladder.

“Thinking, I’ll do this thing if it’s good for my CV, I’ll do this thing and then once my exams are over, then I’ll be happy and then I’ll have the job and then and you know…” But, he added: “News flash – the world of work is nowhere near as fun as the world of being a student”.

So, add this to your long to-do list – “remember to enjoy the journey along the way”.

Ali also imparted his words of wisdom about approaching exams suggesting that “more people should learn how to learn,” something that he discovered during his second year in a “psychology of learning lecture”.

Ali suggested the importance of “evidence-based techniques” and how there are a fair few “mainstream books written about it” but he mainly emphasised “testing and spacing”. He suggested that this form of learning transformed his life as it improved his efficiency which left more time available to be spent with friends.

He also said that “memorising a bunch of crap for medicine is objectively not fun” so his best method is to try and make it fun, learning techniques that worked for him to allow him to “enjoy medical school rather than just get through it”.

When asked about his opinion on students being allowed to opt-out of public ranking, Ali suggested that “he’s been reading a lot about child psychology and rewards and punishment” which suggests that “when kids are given grades and rankings in school it completely destroys instinct motivation” unless you are someone who can “Just treat it as a personal challenge.

“As long as you can view it with a lens of ‘no one actually gives a s**t about this’ then it can be a fun thing to do but when people start putting too much weight on it” that’s when Ali finds it becomes unhealthy. He said he made that mistake at school and found at “university he had a way more chill attitude”.

He also added that it was one thing he did well looking back at his time at university – making time to actually enjoy it. He said that he always had in his mind that “university is supposed to be fun and therefore if I’m not having fun there is something I can do about it”.

He said this usually enjoyed taking exams less seriously and contextualising that “this is not important in the grand scheme of things. When I think back to university, the memories I have are not of the essays, it’s about the board game nights with friends”

In the light of the recent C-Sunday, we asked Ali if he had any standout memories or social events from his time here to which he replied “I was a massive nerd so I wasn’t really much of a one for going out but I would play board games until like 6 in the morning with friends while having takeaway from Zis Peri Peri on Mill Road or from City kebab or Van of Life”.

He recalled one night in which board game night had gone into the early hours of the morning and he had a lab at 8:30 am the next day and “my supervisor thought I was hungover, but I was completely wrecked from just chatting and trying to win Articulate”.

It seems fitting to leave you with Ali’s favourite quote, which he said he believes is from Buddhism – “total commitment to the process, total equity about the outcome”. Which he explained meant to him “it’s all about the journey, who actually cares about the outcome as long as I’ve done my best in the journey and enjoyed it.”

All images including the feature image credit: Tobia Nava 

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