Three and a half tips to get more out of your time at Oxford

Cláudia Coleoni

Cláudia in graduation robes | Photograph by Ashley Tsai (MSc by Research in Chemical Biology)

‘Oxford life offers you unlimited academic, professional and personal opportunities.

In any given day, you may be presented with the opportunity of attending a Nobel Prize winner lecture and joining an academic seminar in a topic you are very passionate about. But it may be quite overwhelming as well, especially when you are enrolled in a one-year master’s programme.

Your life starts to be divided into eight-week terms (Michaelmas, Hilary and Trinity), which go by much faster than you think.

There are breaks in between, but I like to interpret them this way — when Oxford says, “you’re on your break”, what they really mean is that you’re “on a break” from your lectures. It might seem it is not a “real break”. You should still go ahead and book that flight and travel, rest and celebrate — I did all of that, and would do that all over again. But at Oxford you can never lose sight of the tasks at hand and it is definitely not a good idea to leave things last-minute.

The key concept here is planning ahead, and making sure you allow yourself enough time for each activity. Here are three tips I could give to help you prior (and during) your Oxford life:

1. Before coming to Oxford, try to create a “road map” (to situate where you are and where you envision yourself to be after Oxford)

You might think that coming to Oxford is already an end-goal in itself — but it is not. It is rather the starting point for a continuous learning journey and interactions with people from all over the world, which will change your life enormously.

Having a “road map” will help you not to lose sight of what your priorities are. For instance, prior to coming to Oxford, I created a document called “My Transition Routine to Oxford”, which included activities ranging from meditation to academic skills I wanted to gain to reach my personal and career goals.

Roads into Oxford | Photograph by Rahil Sachak-Patwa (Industrially Focused Mathematical Modelling EPSRC CDT)

Get yourself on Oxford time

As a very practical tip, I recommend syncing your agenda with the Oxford Term Dates calendar developed by Wolfson College. It has been helping me before coming to Oxford and it is a great way to plan ahead.

2. Take advantage of Oxford opportunities — but also learn how to say “no” to some of them

In my case, I decided to get involved as a student representative for my master’s course as well as the Graduate Teaching and Examinations Committee at the School of Geography and the Environment.

I am also involved in many activities in the Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Trust (WHT) Scholarship, such as the WHT debate and the WHT business challenge. In addition, I am studying French at the Oxford Language Centre. From time to time, I also try to join college and Oxford events as well as the debates and talks at the Oxford Union (ranging from names like Sir Ian McKellen to Professor Jeffrey Sachs).

I know, this is already a lot. That is why I keep reminding myself to say “no” sometimes.

Stephen Hawking speaking at the Oxford Union | Photograph by Meraj Chhaya (MBA)

3. Enjoy Oxford life with the wonderful friends you will make (you will soon realise how important peer-support is!)

There are indeed endless reading lists, individual assignments (from writing policy memos to preparing speeches), group projects, seminars, academic trainings, meetings after meetings, extracurricular activities (perhaps way too many), but Oxford life is so much more than that too!

I love interacting on a daily basis with my friends, who come from all over the world and whose research interests range from machine learning to climate change.

Together we not only help each other by giving real peer-support in our studying routine, but also attend formal (and informal) dinners across different colleges and drinks receptions, college balls (or BOPs, as they are usually referred to at Oxford) and we even got the chance to play in the snow at Oxford (yes, I must say we had an unusually cold winter for UK standards!).

In the beginning you might experience the so-called “Impostor Syndrome”, which is basically the feeling that your accomplishments do not seem to be good enough to grant you access to Oxford life.

But believe me — your friends at Oxford are also sharing the same feelings, and everyone is equally deserving to be here!’

Say ‘Yes’ to Oxford

Read more about Cláudia’s Oxford experience in her companion article about her master’s year, right here on Medium:

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Oxford is one of the oldest universities in the world. We aim to lead the world in research and education. Contact: digicomms@admin.ox.ac.uk