Of upcoming jobs and tests

2006-04-16

in Daily updates, Oxford

Das Roommates

Happy birthday Jennifer Ellan

Anyone who has been walking in the central part of Oxford lately will understand why my fallback idea of a summer job in the tourist industry is probably a sound one. The digital camera wielding masses increase in numbers and density with every passing weekend. Quite probably, the spectacle presented by my classmates and I walking around in the whole outrageous sub fusc outfit will provide them with the kind of experience they came here in search of. Working as a tour guide is a position that appeals to me. It would involve being outside, as well as really getting to know Oxford. Once the QT is over, I will investigate what is involved in getting such a job, and when one would have to begin. Naturally, my preference would be for something more academic, if it were available.

QT preparation carries on respectably. Based on my conversations with a great many people, it has become plain that your argumentative style is of absolutely critical importance on an Oxford examination. Questions at UBC were generally just a vessel, into which you were expected to pour factual information, within an argumentative context that was not always terribly important. Check marks would appear beside things like references to particular treaties, authors, or battles. Here, such references are still required, but will only get you anywhere within an argument that is quite tightly directed, as well as in keeping with certain rhetorical guidelines.

The first strategy suggested by that kind of test is to ‘can’ responses – in the way that people prepare cases to use at debate tournaments before they leave. Most people with whom I have spoken are doing something along these lines. They are choosing theoretical positions or historical topics and preparing specifically for them, in anticipation of the fact that some combination of questions they have prepared will be on the test.

This strategy does not appeal to me very much. Perhaps I flatter myself in thinking that I can come up with a more interesting answer on the spot, but I don’t think my hopes with regards to the value of spontaneity are entirely misplaced. They do tend to ask questions about standard issues (such as appeasement or the causes of the first world war), but they tend to include a bit of a twist in the question that requires your response to be written along a somewhat unfamiliar grain. Perhaps those who have extensively prepared on specific topics will be less capable of paying appropriate attention to the adaptation that questioning style requires. Given how much my supervisor and others have stressed the importance of both answering and interrogating the particular question, that would be problematic.

In the three days of revision I have left, I will finish reading the papers that I have traded with classmates. I will also give my boiled down notes another going-over or two, try to memorize a few specific ideas from particular theorists and historians, and possibly re-read things I have written here about readings that particularly caught my interest. It is those things – the ones that I felt some passion for at the time I learned about them – that I have by far the best hope of remembering and of writing something convincing about.


  • Alex, Kai, and I are throwing a housewarming party on Thursday night, after the QT. It is unofficially Flying Spaghetti Monster themed. Those who have not yet been touched by his noodly appendage can read the Wikipedia article or the open letter that began the movement.
  • A valuable discovery made today: a quadruple Starbucks espresso on ice only costs 10% more here than in Vancouver. Surprisingly, it only has about 360mg of caffeine in it, compared to more than 400 for a Venti-sized drip coffee. (Based on figures provided by Starbucks spokesperson Lara Wyss.) For my part, I enjoy eating the ice at the end.
  • With a wrench and all the torque I could muster, I tightened every possible bolt on my bike. Hopefully, this will put a stop to the spontaneous mid-ride disassembly that was making my trips more anxious than they might otherwise have been.
  • The latest additions to my (ever longer) discretionary reading list are Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago. I saw them side by side in Blackwell’s and could hardly resist buying one or the other. Perhaps a job there would be a good idea.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Kerrie April 16, 2006 at 8:54 pm

I read his “Day in the life of Ivan Denisovich” or something like that…I’ve been meaning to read Gulag ever since.

BTW, I read One Hundred Years of Solitude…I’ll have to review your comments sometime. It was fascinating and a really unique style, that’s for sure, but I kind of left the book feeling “I don’t get it”.

Milan April 16, 2006 at 8:59 pm

Kerrie,

All the characters having the same names really bugged me.

Ben April 16, 2006 at 9:26 pm

Having lines of argument prepared in advance isn’t a bad thing, but it is absolutely crucial you answer the exact question set – and not a vaguely similar one you wrote recently. Personally I think if you know the material well, and know your general position on each topic, some spontaneity is probably a good thing. Spend some time planning the argument carefully before you begin writing though.

Milan April 16, 2006 at 9:31 pm

Ben,

Thanks for the advice. My biggest problem may be my preference for laying out the question, exploring it through argument, then reaching a conclusion.

The need to have my conclusion at the outset means I need to go through that process before I write anything at all.

Oxonion April 16, 2006 at 9:40 pm

Sub fusc might be a bit silly, but it is a tradition and does no harm while affirming Oxford as a special place. To call it ‘outrageous’ goes too far.

Kerrie April 16, 2006 at 9:41 pm

Re: characters having same names.
Yeah, it was weird. That said, Russian characters having like 3 names also bugs me (I’m reading The Idiot right now).

I also felt some sort of vague feminist problem with the book, something I can’t quite put my finger on. I think I stopped being fascinated when Remedios the beauty…evaporated? That said, god it was imaginative.

Oh, and I read The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. I thought that was fascinating. I would add it to the One Thousand Stars list.

Milan April 16, 2006 at 9:45 pm

Kerrie,

My review of “1000 Years of Solitude” has passed into the cryptoblog, due to old age. I said, in part:

The overall sweep of the book is badly confused by the identical names of so many characters. Clearly, Marquez is trying to demonstrate the cyclical nature of the family history – though underscored by a long-term decline. Marquez explains that:

“[T]he history of the family was a machine with unavoidable repetitions, a turning wheel that would have gone on spilling into eternity were it not for the progressive and irremediable wearing of the axle…”

In the end, “One Hundred Years of Solitude” is a swarm of brilliant fragments that do not assemble into a particularly sensical whole. The story is almost maniacally anti-epic, with everything promising ending in failure and everything beautiful ending in ruin. Disaster piles on disaster and makes the reader wary to enjoy anything read, due to the knowledge that it will be unravelled by Marquez in the space of one hundred pages.

Anonymous April 17, 2006 at 1:31 pm

Much like HST, you really need to read Marquez when in the right mood.

FSM Fan April 17, 2006 at 3:12 pm

Flying Spaghetti Monster themed? Superb!

Obey your noodly master.

Anonymous April 18, 2006 at 5:08 pm

RE: The QT

Note that none of the examiners is a historian…which means that in Dr. Caplan
and Henry’s case, they will very much be marking on argument in the history,
simply because we know much more of the history than they do. Therefore,
definitely be precise and specific, laying out the structure of your argument
clearly.

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