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February 05, 2009

Intellectually Rigorous

Being in the middle of the 3rd week of the term, I can say that I was both right and wrong about the academic challenges of Oxford. Before I arrived, I was excited about the chance to do something difficult--something that would cause me to grow. I expected the work to be difficult and I expected to not have much free time.

Having been here for three weeks I've been surprised at how challenging the papers are and also at how flexible my schedule is. My tutorials are in Philosophy, and not having a philosophy background, it's been challenging and I've been learning a lot. When I say that the papers are difficult, I mean that I find them challenging on a conceptual level. Writing the essays each week is the tip of the iceberg. The real work is the research and all the necessary pre-writing (comprehending, organizing, and formulating arguments). But at the same time, I was surprised at how doable it all is. All it requires is time. And in England, efficiency is not a virtue.

This is why I really like the flexibility of my schedule. Because its a tutorial system, I only have (on the busiest weeks) two hours of my week taken up my tutorial sessions and 1 hour per week taken up by a lecture on Aristotle. This means that I only spend 3 hours in class during my busiest weeks. While efficiency may not be an English virtue in general, Oxford is certainly very virtuous in its use of classroom time. Back home, I felt like huge blocks of time were wasted in class. Here, all that is eliminated. You can't come with an expectation to be taught. You have to come with a desire to learn. So, I'm essentially teaching myself with guidance from my tutors.

Perhaps I shouldn't rave about the glories of my schedule just yet. I haven't actually had a session with my second tutorial--that's later this week. You see, not only is my schedule very flexible, but my tutors also have a good bit of flexibility in how they want to arrange the tutorials. My primary tutorial (Ancient Philosophy) meets once every week. My secondary tutorial (Tributaries to Postmodernism) was supposed to meet once every two weeks, but instead my tutor decided to have a weekly meetings starting in the 3rd week. This week, then, the crunch begins.

Daniel Maycock
Fellow, Hilary Term '09

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