Happy belated Mountain Day! Welcome to the first edition of my blog about social life and academics at the Williams-Exeter Programme at Oxford (WEPO). In this post, I’ll discuss academics at Exeter, the Oxford social scene, and impart a few pieces of British slang.
My favorite aspect of Oxford academics is that every class at Oxford is a tutorial. With the WEPO program, one has substantially more freedom to choose tutors and tutorial topics than one would have applying through an independent program. Within the tutorial, you have the freedom to decide which topics within your subject you want to focus on. Tutors typically spend the first six tutorials going over standard material and the last two exploring applications or related topics that their students request. Grading in math is mostly based on problem sets. Students with WEPO almost always manage to avoid taking a final unless they want to. People have written expository papers on famous proofs, worked through a particularly difficult proof with their tutor, or even written papers on the history of mathematics in lieu of a final exam.
The most salient difference between Exeter academics and Williams academics is that Exeter demands significantly more independent learning. Most lecturers do not have office hours and your tutor may not know exactly what material your lectures have covered. It is also not the norm to interrupt a professor in lecture to ask a question. So, I have ended up answering most of my questions on my own or with the help of a textbook. While frustrating at times, this process is rewarding, and at the very least is probably a better proxy for grad school than math at Williams.
The Oxford social scene is fantastic. It has both the intimacy of Williams and the liveliness of a semi-urban environment. Exeter college hosts around 250 students. That means the WEPO group is roughly 10% of the college. We are a presence on campus, but not a clique. The Williams program does a great job integrating us into the Exeter community. We participate in the Exeter college Fresher’s week (think urban college orientation), get to attend the overwhelming Fresher’s fair, a display of the hundreds of clubs Oxford has to offer, and get to invite Exeter students to a catered dinner, held every Thursday at the Williams house.
Adjusting to the Oxford night life was probably the single biggest culture shock for me. Oxford is host to dozens of hilariously named clubs, such as Camera, Lava Ignite, and Baby Love. To make up for slower business from townies, these clubs subsidize student attendance on weeknights. Oxford/Exeter students, who receive no real grades until their finals, oblige. WEPO students receive grades on a regular basis, but only have class 1-2 days a week. For students planning to study subjects outside the hard sciences, lectures are not only optional, but potentially non-existent or irrelevant to your focus in tutorial. So, almost everyone finds plenty of time to go out and socialize, if only to have a drink and a good conversation at one of Oxford’s 80+ pubs.
Nackered – tired
Chuffed (to bits) – (really) happy
Goon – Nerd
Feel free to email me any specific questions.
Jesse Freeman ’15