The Academics of Univ. of Cambridge

An overview and reflection of what I’ve learned after 8 weeks of classes with the Pembroke-King’s Programme.

Less than 4 more days left :( I don’t want to leave!! With classes coming to a close, I thought now would be a good time to reflect on what I’ve learned. While I was here I took three classes: (1) Art, Emotion and Morality, (2) Medicine and Disease in European History, and (3) Psychology of Language. The first two were for breadth requirements (Philosophy and History respectively) and the last was for one of my required electives for my UC Berkeley Psychology major. The classes Psychology of Language and Medicine and Disease in European History are two of the top 3 classes I have taken in my college career (with the third being MCB 50 with Dr. Beatty).

A quick guideline on how classes worked at PKP — you have to take 3 classes. For scheduling there are three types of classes: Module 1 occurs during the first 4 weeks, Module 2 classes occur during the last 4 weeks, and Module 3 occurs over the course of the whole 8 weeks. You can take any combination of the classes as long as you are taking at least one class at any given time. Each class consists of 15 lectures and 8 seminars (discussions with students from lecture sub-groups).

So…going through the classes one by one:

Module 1: Psychology of Language

In this class, I learned the basics of psycholinguistics, from “the father of linguistics” Noam Chomsky to the different types of Dyslexia. Although I’m a Psychology major and have learned about infant language development, I never have taken a linguistics class and I definitely learned a lot!

Dr. Bert Vaux led the class by using PowerPoint slides during lectures, and showing documentaries during seminars. In the beginning I was stressing out a bit because there was loads of reading I hadn’t been doing and Dr. Vaux used super technical linguistic terms in class that I did not know. However everything worked out, from the midterm to the term paper to the final. I thought my term paper was especially interesting to write because I chose to do a research project rather than article reviews. For my research project I investigated the difference in creativity between monolinguals and bilinguals. Here’s an excerpt from my paper to give a feel on what I wrote about:

“As over half the world’s population is bilingual or multilingual, studies on the effects of multilingualism have become a strong topic of interest (Marian & Spivey 2003). Researchers have found both disadvantages and advantages to learning more than one language; utilizing picture naming, Ivanova and Costa (2008) found that bilinguals are slower at accessing their lexicon compared to monolinguals. This slower lexical accessing occurs when these bilinguals use both their dominant, first languages and second languages. In contrast, Lambert, Tucker, and d’Anglejan (1973) studied English-French bilingual speakers and English monolingual speakers in Canada to compare differences in creativity. The bilinguals consisted of 5th-grade students who first learned English as a dominant language and then learned French as a second language. While this study revealed approximate measures of mathematical and scientific ability between the two groups, the bilinguals exhibited better performance on creativity and intelligence tests.

Ultimately expanding on the Lambert, Tucker, and d’Anglejan study to see if their findings apply for other languages, the objective of my investigation is to observe, explore, and analyse the effects of learning a second language. Based on the article, I hypothesise that the higher creativity found in English-French bilingual speakers compared to English monolingual speakers in Lambert, Tucker, and d’Anglejan’s study can also be found between English-Chinese bilingual speakers and English monolingual speakers. This difference in creativity derives from the difference of time it takes monolinguals and bilingual subjects to finish a creative task (The Candle Problem) created by Gestalt psychologist Karl Duncker in 1945.”

The paper counted for 45% of my grade and participation was another 10%. That meant my final was the last 45%. The final was 100 multiple choice, based on the readings, documentaries and lectures. I didn’t finish doing all the reading and this was reflected while I took the test LOL. There were definitely a few questions I didn’t know, but I’m confident on how I did on the other 99% (ok exaggerated lol) of the test! I finished my final super early and was able to leave my final to catch my flight to Rome!

Overall I learned a lot about this course and I’ll definitely try to take another linguistics class at Berkeley! Dr. Vaux was definitely knowledgable in his field and a great lecturer. He was super friendly and easy to talk to as well, giving advice on what else to do in Cambridge. I told my professor that I’m a germaphobe and he told me to watch this TV show called ‘Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners Country House Rescue’, where they take ocd germaphobes to hoarders houses to clean LOL. He said that at night the hoarders try to go out to the trash and take back in the stuff the ocds had thrown out. Naturally I looked it up.

I can low-key relate to this girl.

Anyway, I evidently loved this class! I’ll write more about the most interesting facts I’ve learned when I have the time.

Module 2: Medicine and Disease in European History

I loved this class too!! Well, still love…still have the final to take! This module 2 went by super quickly :(

I thought this class was going to be just a dry history class — however, just after the first class did I realise it was so much more: philosophy, current events, etc. Having always had a whiggish mindset, I had never thought about how science and medicine are social constructs.

My lecturer is Dr. Richard Barnett — every time he stops lecturing I feel like I should clap (I blame Berkeley habits). We’ve covered the Plague as a moral and religious construction, the accidental treatment of cholera, and the idea of homosexuality as a disease.

I also had a paper for this class — I wrote about the religious construction of leprosy and how useful Charles Rosenberg’s concept of ‘framing disease’ is. Here’s an excerpt of the introduction:

“Lost eyebrow hair, sunken noses, rows of nodules around the orbital ridge and drooping, ‘rotting’ faces paint the grotesque picture of a leper, an individual with leprosy. The contagious disease leprosy creates lesions in the skin and damages the nerves of the body; the physical deformations and the deceiving connotations that have long surrounded the disease has marked it significant since before the establishment of the bible. Leprosy has since then caused a drastic number of social repercussions for those infected, most notably during the Medieval Period in Europe. While there are a number of ways to ‘frame’ the disease, when examining leprosy in the context of the Middle Ages, the lens of religion reveals the most about the beliefs and lifestyle of both the victims and non-infected community as it demonstrates the strength of the Roman Catholic Church’s influence. In this framing, Charles Rosenberg’s concept of ‘framing disease’ proves useful in understanding the history of disease.”

Lectures are Dr. Barnett just lecturing (but more like him telling a story) and seminars are discussions between students based on two readings we have to read per lecture. My discussion started with 16 students, except soon 10 students switched to the other seminar. Thus, my class was a lot more intimate and I found it easier to meet/talk with other students and the professor.

I’ll be sad when this class ends in two days….

Module 3: Art, Emotion and Morality

Philosophy class was interesting too — we explored relationship between Art and Emotion, and Art and Morality!

My professor is from Australia, but he’s totally what I would imagine a typical Cambridge Philosophy Professor to be. This essay was very essay-based — an essay midterm, huge term essay, and two essay final questions.

I never thought about an existence of an aesthetic experience and whether art can be a source of knowledge or even moral knowledge. I’m glad I took this class, even though I found it a bit challenging at times (because of the reading, type of teaching, etc.).

Overall, I’m glad I took the classes I chose.

Well…that’s it for now! Coming up soon: Food of Cambridge, Trips to Brighton and Grantchester, and Formal Hall descriptions!