Math at Oxford II: Reflections After the First Term
Congratulations on finishing up finals. I hope everyone has an amazing break. In this post, I’ll focus on what I have learned about the math(s) curriculum at Oxford since the beginning of term. Then, I will discuss sports at Oxford in comparison to sports at Williams and conclude by sharing a few more pieces UK slang.
I still believe that the individual attention and independent learning opportunities afforded to WEPO and Oxford students are among the programme’s greatest advantages. However, over the course of this term, I’ve found that the liberty WEPO students have in scheduling their tutorials is a tremendous asset as well. At Oxford, one can take any maths tutorial during any term, which has a couple of important advantages. First, during junior year, students aiming to go to graduate school in maths should take a few upper-level electives. These electives are often difficult. Achieving mastery of the material may require spending more time on those courses than you would for most others. The option to space out tutorials for difficult subjects, independent of the arranged lecture schedule is a sure advantage for anyone interested in studying challenging upper-level mathematics. Second, this liberty allows Williams students to increase their chances of having a 1-on-1 tutorial if they so choose. This is becase full-time Oxford students do not typically have the option to take tutorials in terms other than those in which the university offers lectures. So, unless another Williams students wants to take the same tutorial at the same atypical time, one is practically guaranteed a one person class. Of course, all lectures are open to Oxford students. One is welcome to attend lectures for tutorials in a subsequent term. If one wants to take a tutorial before its lecture series, textbook information, problem sets, and detailed, TeXed, well-illustrated lecture notes for any course are avaiable to all university students online.
Sports at Oxford
Nearly all of the differences between sports at Oxford and sports at Williams stem from Oxford’s policy of not recruiting athletes for any sport. Williams athletes almost never have difficulty competing at the highest level during their time at Oxford. Non-athletes have the opportunity to try out new sports or retake an old hobby as part of Oxford’s active and extensive intramural system. Each one of Oxford’s 25+ colleges creates a “cuppers” team typically composed of any and all willing participants. Exeter (the college to which Williams sends students through WEPO) regularly creates 2nd and 3rd cuppers teams to accomodate students of all experience levels who want to play in casual but organized leagues. These squads match up against teams from other colleges once a week for 6-8 weeks. The winner gets bragging rights until at least the end of next year’s competition. A good percentage of Exeter’s 230 or so students are present at cuppers for popular sports, such as (English) football and rugby. This makes IM sports an excellent social experience for both competitors and observers.
Oxford is also a great place to pursue passions outside of sports. The borderline-intimidating Fresher’s fair that Williams students get to attend, boasts signup sheets for an extremely broad spectrum of activities that will do more damage to your inbox than 4 years of Purple Key Fairs. The Williams programme even subidizes entry into the Oxford Union, which regularly hosts amazing speakers such as Hamid Karzai and Buzz Aldrin.
a/b – “a upon b”. This is the only math lingo it took a while to get used to.
Sconce – to jokingly shame.
Jumper – sweater
Jacket – potato
Jesse Freeman ’15
First Post, October 20, 2013
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