Imogen wrote this account at the end of her first year of Philosophy here at Christ's College, Cambridge. She's from Burton-on-Trent in the west midlands, and did A-levels in Maths, Philosophy and Ethics, and Geography at school.
What attracted you to Philosophy at Cambridge?
At school, Philosophy and Ethics was my favourite subject. It was the only one I felt really intrigued by and wanted to continue with further. Even though the subject is quite different at university since it is less religion-based here, there is still some overlap, such as the Ethics paper, so I am still able to study parts that I enjoyed at school as well as lots of new areas.
Philosophy at Cambridge is a bit different to the other Philosophy courses I looked at when I was applying. It involves compulsory logic, which I think may be unique to this university, and there is also the general paper, which I've not seen elsewhere. There are more compulsory parts in first year here, which I wasn’t sure about at first, but having finished the year, I now think that it has been good to actually understand the key areas of Philosophy and have some context rather than going into more obscure branches of it straight away.
Was there anything that you were nervous about before you started?
Yes - the logic aspect did worry me because I had never even heard of it. However, throughout the year we went through logic in small stages with a class to go over the worksheets that we’d been given every two weeks. This made logic a lot less daunting. It was actually easier to pick up than I thought it would be, considering that it was almost like learning another kind of symbols language. Also, the classes were a great opportunity to ask any questions about parts we were stuck on.
How did you choose your College?
I had visited Cambridge before, when I was younger and just as a tourist. I'd looked around Christ's then and found it really pretty, then I saw it again on an open day and I just liked the look of the place. Also, I liked that Christ's is so central and you can walk to everywhere. Now I'm here, the College has definitely lived up to my expectations; it’s been a lovely place to live and everyone has been really friendly.
In general, I think that the collegiate system is a good system because you can become really close with the people you live around, but can also make friends in other Colleges which is great as you can see more of Cambridge visiting them! I have found a great atmosphere in College and the people are really easy to get on with. Also, although I haven’t had to go to my tutor for any specific problems so far, it is really comforting to know that there is someone who I can always ask for support, and I get along really well with my tutor. Also there are people here to help with a whole range of things that you may struggle with - like at the start of first year, I had a lot of help from the College IT technician since I was useless with setting up emails, my calendar timetable and pretty much all the technical stuff like internet too, so that was a massive help.
How did you find the application process?
I found the process quite straightforward as we had a teacher at school who read over our personal statements when we were finished to help fine-tune things. There were quite a few extra admin-type things for Cambridge but it wasn’t too much to deal with so overall the process wasn’t too stressful.
Was the interview what you expected it to be?
In a way it was what I expected because I knew they’d ask questions that might be awkward at times to answer. All the interviewers were quite friendly, though, and they really helped me to explore my initial ideas by challenging them but not rejecting them. I actually had two interviews to go to, but they weren’t majorly long. Another good thing was that if you’re unsure what the question was, or confused on a part of it, they really took the time to explain it before you had to answer - so don’t be afraid to ask them things as well.
I didn’t really do anything to prepare for interview itself, since I had no clue what they could ask me, so I just read through my personal statement in case they wanted to discuss anything that I’d written, and hoped for the best really! The only thing I’d maybe suggest to prepare could be sitting down with someone like a teacher and trying to answer some random philosophical style questions that just get you to think.
Was there an admissions assessment?
Yes - I did have a Philosophy admissions test, so I just made sure I knew what the format of it would be so that I wasn’t taken by surprise. The first part was a multiple choice logic-based test but they were more like mind puzzles, not complicated symbol stuff so don’t worry! For the second part, you had to write one essay from a choice of two questions and they could be anything so again, I didn’t really prepare for the admissions test, but you can include any ideas you might have picked up from school or extra reading to help you answer.
What advice would you give prospective applicants?
For the personal statement I would just suggest doing some extra reading outside of school stuff in any areas you’re particularly interested in just to make it stand out more and to show you have a genuine interest in the subject. Also, when talking about other subjects you’ve done at school maybe think how they relate to philosophy and what they have helped you with. With regards to the interview/admissions test stage (they both happen on the same day), there isn’t really any specific advice I'd give since you can’t really prepare much for it so just try not to stress about getting ready for it!
What was Freshers' Week like?
Before coming to Cambridge, I was looking forward to the independence of being away from home and dropping the subjects I was less interested in to focus just on Philosophy. I was also excited to meet new people, although worried about making friends, as it is such a new environment to come into not knowing anyone. Obviously everyone is in the same position, though, which makes it a lot easier.
We have College families here: a couple of students in the year above will be assigned to you as your 'parents', and you may also have a 'sibling'. The 'family dinner' in Freshers' Week was a funny experience, as it was the first time I'd heard about some of the traditions here, and basically I just heard a lot of gossip from other years! I also enjoyed our first 'bop' (basically a disco!) and the nights out that we went on that week, as well as the subject drinks; it was great to meet all the people in College who do the same subject.
Did you find it easy to settle in?
When I first got to Cambridge, I found it hard at times to juggle doing the work along with meeting people and the other bits and bobs that needed doing. However, settling in was made easier by the different events to get to know everyone. My 'subject sibling' was so helpful in getting to grips with everything and dealing with all my questions and problems! It’s really good having your sibling and parents to make friends across other years, making you feel more settled into College life.
How did you find starting lectures and supervisions?
I found the lectures interesting when they started, and it was really nice to meet more people who were doing the same course. The supervisions seemed a bit more daunting, however, since they were one-on-one! They don’t expect your supervision essays to be perfect straight away, though, so don’t worry if the feedback might seem harsh at first. Also, we were thrown in the deep end with logic and metaphysics essays, but they did get easier through the term, as we began to know what sort of structure the essays should have and how to tackle the reading for them.
The supervisions at the start of the year felt trickier than I expected because I wasn’t used to being supervised yet and I found the topics quite hard, but different supervisors have different styles so there’s a good mixture of teaching. For example, some supervisions are more focused on the particular essay you’ve written that week, whereas others will go into the week's topic more generally and be more like a mini lecture and discussion.
There’s a greater amount of work compared to what I had at school, but I think that’s partly because the subjects I chose at school didn’t give much homework. Also, it’s different in the fact that it’s a lot more independent and the way feedback is given is different.
What are the best and the hardest things about Philosophy?
The best things are getting to work on topics I enjoy in more depth and being taught by supervisors who are experts in these areas - this is a unique experience. My favourite material in first year was probably our set texts, as I really enjoyed the Mill, which included aspects of feminist philosophy, and I liked the way the Meno was a dialogue, as it made it really enjoyable to read in that format.
The hardest part is comprehending the primary reading texts to pick out their arguments, as this is a skill and something I wasn’t used to doing at school. I’ve been able to really improve my essay-writing skills here, though, for example the skill of formulating an argument to convince others. Overall, I think the best thing I’ve got out of the course so far is increased confidence from the discussion groups, as they force you to make your own points in front of a smaller group which makes contributing become easier.
How does your teaching work?
I have one supervision a week and one supervision essay to write for it alongside the lectures. There’s around seven to eight lectures a week, although it varies term by term and they were fewer later in the year, with none in the third term, which is just for revision. Sometimes lecture materials are put online, but it's better to just go to the lectures because you get more out of them that way: I found it much easier to understand when someone explained rather than reading through things myself.
How do you manage your workload?
With the increased independent work that we do at university level, it can be hard at times not to procrastinate, but I found it easier to manage as time went on and I did get the essays done in enough time. Some supervisors set more reading to do, but these tend to be for topics where it's less difficult to work out what the articles were saying, so it doesn't impact too much on the workload. It's definitely still possible to do a good amount of other things during the week as well as work.
I vary where I work, but mainly the College library, or my room if I don’t feel like going to the library. I’d say its nicer to keep your room as a separate place so that you can come back to it like a home and not have to do any work once you get there. Sometimes I also go to cafes and in exam term, the extra study rooms that College provides were really helpful to work in when the library got fuller.
What have you enjoyed most about life at Christ’s this year?
The May Ball at the end of the year was an unforgettable experience that really topped the year off and made our hard work all worth it. Also, as a smaller College, Christ's has a welcoming atmosphere which just feels generally nicer to live in. My favourite thing about Christ's is being close to everything that I need to get to in Cambridge, as well as living in a pretty setting and close to my friends. I also enjoy the swimming pool in the Fellows' Garden, even if it’s extremely cold!
What do you do when you’re not working?
Mainly I spend my spare time with friends, chilling and little bit of retail therapy, but I’m planning on being more active by joining the College netball team next year!
Where have you lived this year?
My room was in the Z building and I thought it was a great room. I didn’t have an ensuite, but I was on a corridor where there were only three of us, so it was fine sharing a bathroom. Plus, our rooms were a good size. There were quite a few other first years in the Z building so it was good to be living near others in the year. The kitchen was quite small but it’s not a problem with Upper Hall canteen to eat in anyway.
Do you know which papers you’ll be taking next year?
Yes - I’m hoping to do take the Ancient Philosophy and Political Philosophy papers. I really enjoyed the political aspects of various topics in first year since they are closely related to current events, so I’d like to study this in more depth next year. Also, the ancient set text this year ‘Meno’ was really interesting, and nothing like anything I’d worked on before, so I’ve chosen to do Ancient Philosophy to learn more of that type of philosophy. The supervisors I’ve had also influenced my decision somewhat since the ones I have had for these topics were really helpful.
What are you most looking forward to next year?
In terms of non-course things, I’m really looking forward to living in a College house on Jesus Lane with friends, and I might even attempt some cooking for myself! In Philosophy, I’m excited that I will have more choice in the papers and that I'll also be able to do some coursework during the year so that there’s less to focus on in exam term.
Please be aware if you're considering an application that our student writers describe their experiences. Although the majority of the information stays the same, some details may change from year to year. Do read the student profiles in combination with our undergraduate admissions pages for full information.
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