February 20, 2008

Student Lifestyles

Alex Singleton posts rather interestingly about student lifestyles. Its interesting- Alex sees contemporary studenthood as being too puritanical and too priggish. Too many people are focussed on careers in the City, too few on getting drunk and having a good time. I agree in part with him: the students I knew at Oxford were almost all unbeleivably stressed. One of my friends had grey hairs fall out as she did her finals (finals at Oxford are all done in a week and the results from them determine your entire degree). Partly I agree with Alex, though I think its worth having hard degrees which make people stressed. They signify more.

Where I completely agree is the focus on careers. Almost all students I knew worried about what they would do afterwards. The point that neither universities nor schools make to people is that you can make a mistake at the age of 16, 18 or 21 and change your mind still. Its perfectly sensible for people to try things and find out what they like. Career choices at university are presented as life and death moments upon which everything hinges: but they are not. Many people have not fully made up their minds at 21 and its perfectly fine to change and switch careers say until a little later in life: those who aren't lawyers by the age of 23 are not failures.

I disagree with Alex partially though. When I was a student- the one thing that really suffered was not people's social lives, but people's intellectual lives. I went to Oxford, expecting to find an intellectual nirvana, what I found were a number who were kindred spirits. But so many were doubtful and disdainful of intellectual things. Some were open say to some things (art history) and not to others (physics) which is more excusable (vice versa happened to). But the real tragedy was seeing intelligent people whose minds were shut to anything that would not earn them money in the future. That's a slight caricature, but there is a grain of truth in it, it was anti-intellectualism in universities and not the lack of party spirit that I thought was the real tragedy.

I don't know how to solve that, there may not be a solution, and I think its part of a society which occasionally prioritises wealth over other things. Partly its also about the insecurity of student life, when you get to 21 you don't realise that you can get a job and security- and part of the issue is that I wonder whether students do degrees too early in their lives, before they lose their anxiety. Its an interesting problem- but I don't agree with Alex ultimately- my issues with university were far more about how few seemed to love their subjects and some seemed to love their subjects less after doing an undergraduate course.


The Tin Drummer said...

Good post, reminds me of my own Oxford days (especially the ones when I could see characters from Shakespeare walking around my room as I tried to get to sleep - ie finals week).

On the other hand, I wish my mind had been _more_ open to money, and then I might have been comfortable by now, and not living in various spare rooms scratching a living teaching. I always felt I was too busy to get involved with the milkround and I was appalled at the thought of management consultancy.

I do remember a physicist student once asking me, sarcastically, what I would do with English: it did not occur to her that I might actually enjoy studying it, regardless of its employment possibilities. She then suggested that librarian was the only likely career. It seemed as good as any.