The Working Life of a Geography Student

Life as a First Year Student (Geography)

What was your experience of adjusting to life as a geography student at Oxford?

When I first came to Oxford my initial challenge was adjusting to the more academic, argued style of essay, and it took the first term for me to really get the essay style right. The work and style of learning is very different to A levels, with more emphasis put upon your judgement. Initially this took some getting used to, but it then became a much more enjoyable way to learn which made the transition easier.

Coming from a school where I was used to being top of my Geography class, I was slightly worried about adjusting to studying alongside people who would probably be more intelligent than me. However, this became what I love about studying Geography at Oxford; it gives you the opportunity to discuss and debate your ideas and arguments, and this fuelled my passion for the subject.

Whilst the transition to Oxford seemed daunting at first, it was easier than I expected because I enjoyed the more independent way of reading and learning. For me, the most important thing was to realise that there is no way that I was ever going to be able to read or know everything!

What was the workload like in the first year?

Generally we had one tutorial a week, and some weeks a class as well as this (for example in statistics). For each tutorial we were set an essay title, and for physical geography sometimes some short style questions as well. Therefore, our reading had to enable us to answer the questions/essay. One mistake I made in my first year was to focus my reading too specifically on the essay title, so when I came to revise my notes weren't broad enough. Therefore, preparation for tutorials is not only the reading and writing of the essay set, but ensuring an understanding of the topic as a whole so that it can be discussed in the tutorial.

The amount of work that I did varied slightly throughout the year, but on
average this was about 5 hours a day, which increased dramatically during the period before Prelims. I worked either in my room or the Radcliffe Science Library as it is conveniently close to the department, although many people prefer their college libraries.

What were first year lectures like?

In the first year we had about 10 hour long lectures a week, which took place in the OUCE (Oxford University Centre for the Environment) building in the science area. The lecture style varied depending on topic, but generally the lecturer would provide a handout with brief notes, and talk about these in more detail. Each lecture series then provided a suggested reading list for that topic.

I found the lectures interesting and useful in giving the outline and general understanding of a topic, and especially useful to learn from for physical geography. When it came to revision, lectures were useful alongside my more detailed tutorial and reading notes. Lecture notes often highlight important aspects to follow up in reading, which helped in preparing for tutorials.

What did you enjoy most about the first year course?

The first year of the course is very broad and so covers a diverse range of topics in human and physical geography, as well as the additional critical thinking and techniques papers. Whilst there is no choice of topics in the first year, this means you study - and enjoy - topics which you might not otherwise have chosen.

I particularly enjoyed the human elements of the course, especially the
economic and urban planning aspects as these are particular interests of mine. To my surprise, I also particularly enjoyed a lot of the reading for the Critical Thinking paper, as this unit encouraged me to read things I would not otherwise have considered. Therefore, the breadth of the first year meant the course was very varied, and this definitely expanded my interests.