Tuesday, March 15, 2016

INTERVIEW: All About Studying In England

Hi there! My previous post was all about exploring new places and well, studying. And at the end of that post, I mentioned something that is still connected to what I talked about recently. Today, I'll be sharing with you guys my interview with Jamie Mills, a graduate of Philosophy, Politics, and Economics from Magdalen College, Oxford! I contacted him for a school newspaper article, but it got cut because of space and publication. Nevertheless, I still want to share this with all of you because it seems extremely interesting to me!

So for a little "background-check" about the education system in England...

1) I've heard that there are 13 years of schooling in England after Kindergarten... How does the division go? (For example, four years in primary school, two in middle school, etc) 

        Broadly speaking, we have a three-tiered schooling system, with nursery, what we call kindergarten, being the zeroth tier that you enter when you around 3 or 4 years old. You spend six years in primary school and then move onto secondary school, which takes up a further five years. The final tier of our compulsory education system is known as sixth form, which is where you go to study your A-levels. This adds a further two years.

        In sum, you start your journey at 3 and you finish when you’re 18. Then you have the choice of applying to university or pursuing work.

2) How many lecture hours do high school students usually get?

        We do not have lectures, per se, at secondary school. We have classes. The majority of secondary schools have schedules that repeat every fortnight, with a minimum of five hours worth of classes everyday. Each subject has a prescribed number of hours, for instance, the fortnightly schedule must include at least 3 hours worth of physical education. On top of this schedule, exceptional student or those with certain interests, such as music, can enrol in enrichment classes. These are additional classes that take place before or after school.

3) Are there English high schools that are Research-based? 

        There are roughly three different types of secondary school in England: comprehensive, grammar, and private. Comprehensive schools take students regardless of their aptitude, while grammar school have an entrance exam. Unlike the other two, private school charge tuition fees, and can have entrance exams. As private schools are privately funded, they have far more control over their curriculum. Should it be of interest, I attended a comprehensive school.

With the above in mind, some secondary schools certainly exist whereby students would conduct research; however, it would only really be the private schools, and a few of the top grammar schools, that would do this. This is down to a larger amount of funding and having greater control over the curriculum.

For university...

4) How does the college/department system work? Is this unique to Cambridge and Oxford?

        The collegiate system is not unique to Oxford and Cambridge, but it is certainly best known because of these universities. Another notable university with this structure is Durham. Your college is similar to your house in Harry Potter. The difference being there are around 30 colleges in both Oxford and Cambridge instead of just four houses.

        Your sleep, eat, and socialise at your college with the other roughly 300 students. Every college has tutors who will take you for your classes and tutorials, but as you progress through your degree you’ll find yourself venturing out to other colleges to learn from the specialists in your field.

        The university mainly features in your life for departmental activities and exams. If you are a physicist, you will go to the physics department for your lectures and experiments, but return to your college for your tutorials, that is, your one-to-one sessions with your tutor.

5) Can students apply for two courses simultaneously?

        No, you can only apply for one course or a course with multiple honours. For instance, I read Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at Oxford.

6) Can post-graduates directly do a PhD without completing a Masters degree?

Unfortunately, this question is not clear. If you are a post-graduate you, by definition, must have at least a Masters, which makes the question unnecessary. The other interpretation is ‘Can you do a PhD at Oxford or Cambridge without having done a Masters at either university?’. Should this be the question, the answer is yes.

7) How many contact hours/lecture hours do students get?

        Undergraduate degrees are said to take up 40 hours of time per week. The number of lectures you attend depends on your subject. For the sciences, there are around 10 hours of lectures per week, while arts subjects are technically not required to attend any lectures. As a member of the university, you can attend as many lectures for as many subjects as you like, which is a big challenge when you want to learn everything!

8) How much workload does an Oxford student normally get (essays, projects, etc)

        An arts student, such as History, must complete two essays per week. You have around three days to read and write the essay, which must be around 2000 words. When you finish writing the essay, you then have a one-hour tutorial to talk through your essay with your tutor.

        There are also opportunities to complete research projects, write a thesis, or take additional papers if you are incredibly keen. To my knowledge, the workload is the most intense of any university; however, being in such an academic pressure cooker also makes it incredibly rewarding.

9) What do you do with your free time?

        For me university was just as much about nurturing my spirit to become a better version of myself as it was developing myself as an academic. My free time consisted of sports, such as martial arts and ice hockey, socialising, over board games or at birthday parties, and working on projects I thought were meaningful, such as my YouTube channel.

        Not to let some traditional Oxford experiences pass, I also acted as the Vice-President of Magdalen College’s student body, and visited CERN with the Oxford Physics society.

On a deeper note...

10) What is the most precious thing that you've learned in Oxford?

        I learned how to juggle my life. The clearest example of this is my first year, which I spent doing a huge range of activites on top of my degree, which was to the detriment of my sleep. In my second year, I set the challenge of still having a broad range of rich experiences and getting a healthy amount of sleep. It turns out it is possible, but you need to ensure you are present at every moment to appreciate the experiences you are living. As Annie Dillard said, ‘How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives’.

        The fruits of my efforts were clear: my friendships became deeper, my work more managable, and I learned to make time for spontaneous events that would crop up. After doing all of that, the working world has become incredibly easy, so I’ve decided to work on my own things on the side, otherwise, I’d become extremely bored.

        The final point to add is that you should not worry about dropping any of the balls you are juggling. Instead, you should focus on dropping the right balls that improve your well-being. If you do this, things will work out smoothly.

11) What is your message to Filipinos who aspire to apply for Oxbridge or other top-notch Universities globally?

        Persistence beats raw talent in the vast majority of cases. The top universities are incredibly competitive, and you may think your background means you cannot get in; however, be the outlier. Applying to university is a tickbox exercise. Learn the boxes that you need to tick, and you can achieve brilliant things without killing yourself in the process.

           This is counter-intuitive. If you are at all like I was at your age, you believe that if you put in more hours you will have a larger reward at the end. From experience, this is wrong. The better way to approach a goal is to spend your time on the areas that will have the greatest impact. This is far more efficient, and take more skill as you need to discern what those areas are.

That's it for the interview! Jamie actually has his own website dedicated in helping students study efficiently, with podcasts about managing time, studying, exams, and everything else. Sign up HERE

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