An off-the-record guide to Science at Oxford

A Day in the Life… /Phillip Martin

Coming up to Oxford is filled with ideals of lounging in old building, reading romantic novels, soaking up the intellect that permeates the very fabric of life, spending all day exchanging political opinions with the future leaders of the country and writing essays minutes before deadlines. If you’re a humanities student.

The life of a scientist is slightly different – but following a few simple guidelines can help you lead a life closer to that of your non-white labcoat-ed friends. 

DO: Go to lectures. For God’s sake, do. It might sound very obvious, but empty chairs fill more of the hall than filled ones by a few weeks into term – give them a chance, you’d be amazed how intelligent and knowledgeable some of those professors are. That said, sometimes a mere five minutes into the first lecture of a course can be enough to happily discover that the all-amazing hand-out covers everything and you never need to go again, in which case nurse those Park End hangovers in bed as much as possible before labs.

DON’T: Try doing the tute sheet before at least looking at the books suggested. My cohort only realised at the start of Trinity that actually reading the books our tutors had recommended contained relevant information… surprising, that.

DO: Use Wikipedia. All this school nonsense of it being ‘made up’ and ‘wrong’ – it’s not. Most of it is written by the very people who teach you. Repeat the mantra “Google and  Wikipedia are my friends” every night before bed in the weeks leading up to coming to Oxford.

DON’T: Buy the textbooks. Seriously, the core ones are helpful (but also available in the library) and all the others are useful for a week’s tutorial and then never again.  Add to your mantra ‘The library books are my friends’ – that too will set you in good stead. But, should you want your own copy, at least wait to buy them at a knock-off price from the third years who – demonstrating their superfluity – no longer need them

DON’T: Buy a lab coat, or safety specs before coming up. Some kind, rich company will pay for you all to have ones with their logo stamped firmly upon them – my year happen to be branded by BP. Save the money for textbooks or ATS* for lunch in labs.

DO: Write ups for labs ASAP. You need to pass first year – put in enough time to pass (get 40%) and not a second more (genuine words of wisdom straight from my tutors. And second years. And third years). Not doing them is just a pain; and involves more meetings and remedial action than you can imagine. Plus, if you get it wrong, they just explain it, and send you on your merry way (probably none the wiser), so it’s all fine.

*ATS: Alternative Tuck Shop – a legendary sandwich shop close to labs, to which students from all years pay homage during the free time which punctuates labs (normally when the experiments are merrily stirring away) for sandwich-y goodness to keep them going for the rest of the day.