Student Perspective: Ceylon
Ceylon is from Greenfield, a small village near Flitwick in Bedfordshire. She is in her second year here at King's College, Cambridge, studying Human, Social and Political Sciences. This year she is taking papers in Politics and International Relations, and Sociology.
What drew you to the Human, Social and Political Sciences course?
HSPS combined all of my favourite parts of my A-Level subjects into one degree. At Sixth Form, I studied Geography, English Literature and Religious Studies. In Geography, I loved the human side of the subject, studying globalisation and its effects, as well as modules like the development gap. My favourite part of English Literature was studying the context behind the novels/plays/poetry I was reading: being able to focus on a particular historical period like 1980s Britain under Margaret Thatcher really made me look forward to my English lessons. In Religious Studies, I loved the ethics side of the course and the lessons where we could debate the Just War theory and whether the 2003 Anglo-American invasion of Iraq was legitimate or not.
Studying Politics, International Relations, Sociology and Social Anthropology in first year drew all of these bits together under one degree, and I was able to take the concepts I loved further than I did in Year 13, and be taught by people who had devoted their academic lives to the same areas. HSPS is such a unique course and that’s where its beauty lies. Nowhere else can you go from one lecture about the symbolic value of food, to a lecture on Hobbesian political thought, and onto a supervision discussing whether Britain is truly meritocratic.
How do the options work?
First year is brilliant because you never have to narrow your study, and can encounter things you’ve never even thought about before. By the end of first year, you’ll have completely different views and opinions on things from when you started, and that’s because you’ve thought about concepts in new ways and been endlessly pushed intellectually.
Second year brings the benefit of specialisation, where you can choose what you’ve enjoyed the most in first year and take it further. I decided to take predominantly Politics, which still involves International Relations, and I also take a Sociology paper on globalisation. There’s still so much potential for further specialisation, but I’m enjoying keeping it broad and exploring a fraction of what HSPS has to offer.
What do you do week-to-week in HSPS?
I go to lectures in the week, usually about 6-8 hours of lectures per week. Then my supervisors set me essay titles and I go away and do the reading from the reading lists.
We have a Paper Guide in each subject that lists all of the useful things to read and where to find them, and has practice questions on it too. I’m very lucky in that King’s Library usually has everything I need, meaning I rarely have to go the my department library or the University Library, which has probably contributed to making me very lazy and considering a 10 minute walk for a book way too long!
What is being supervised like?
My supervisions are usually with one or two other students, and we’ve all submitted an essay the day before. We talk through the key issues in the reading, as well as the arguments we made in our essays, and get to tackle each other on the points we all made.
My supervisions do differ dependent on the supervisor though. Some supervisors like to mainly talk at me for an hour, and I make notes on what they’re saying. I usually find these really helpful because it’s a one-on-one lecture from a world expert in their field, and I can ask questions at the points when I don’t understand.
I often leave supervision rooms feeling exhausted because I’ve been overloaded with information and I’ve had to think deeply about really difficult concepts. However, as soon as I’ve looked back over my notes, I can put things together and really understand the topic.
Do you have a favourite supervision you can tell us about?
What is your workload like?
My workload is big but manageable. The most essays I’ve written in a term has been fourteen, but when things get on top of me and I can’t get round to doing a particular essay, I find that supervisors are usually okay with this and will ask me to do a little bit of reading instead and come to the supervision to learn.
Is there time to relax and do other things?
I definitely have enough time to do other things and have taken on so many extra curricular activities whilst at Cambridge. In my first year, I successfully trialled for the University Football 1st team, and in my second year got elected Vice Captain. I also assistant directed a play, got involved with the Uni Ski Trip which happens annually with Oxford, ran for the position of Access Officer on King’s College Student Union and got involved with student politics.
This year, I’m playing football five times a week as well as joining in with loads of other sports in college, and I am also on the organising committee for the King’s Affair, a massive party held in college grounds after exams are finished which I’m booking all of the music for! There’s almost definitely time to do all of things you want to try whilst in Cambridge, as long as you can manage your time!
What is the social life like in College?
The College system is great for ensuring a good social life as well as being a brilliant way to make friends. King’s has a really close community vibe where students from all year groups hang out together, whether that’s eating in Hall together or playing a variety of different sports, or just working together in the library.
College sport is such a great way to try new things but also get to know people from all over King’s. I really got into touch rugby in the summer, as well as dabbling in things like netball and basketball. King’s has really good facilities for sport, because we share our courts and pitches with the King’s School, directly behind Garden Hostel where I’ve lived this year. Everything is always free and there’s always someone who will be up for a game of something!
Aside from sport, we always have a really strong line-up of entertainment, or “Ents”, throughout term, ranging from Open Mic nights, to Pub Quizzes, and of course Formal Halls. Formals are posh three-course meals in Hall that everyone dresses up beautifully for. You sit with your friends and eat really lovely food, but the best part about King’s Formals is our Post-Formal Bar. Our Ents team always ensure an excellent night in College by putting on a live band, DJ, or karaoke for us all to enjoy. Post-Formal Bar is a bit of an institution at King’s, as the entire college gets together and packs out the bar for a boogie. Even if you haven’t been to formal, you’ll definitely be in the bar afterwards to dance, chat and hang out with the rest of King’s.
Where do you do most of your work?
Where I like to work changes regularly, but I always find it difficult to work alone. If I work in my room, I like to prop my door open and have my best friend across the hall in her room working too, and then we’ll do tea breaks together as an incentive to get through concentrated periods of work.
My favourite place to work at the minute is definitely King’s library, on a big table with three other friends around me. If I’m doing something that requires maximum concentration, like writing an essay, I usually have to be surrounded by people who are also working hard, all with our headphones in. That way, I’m already with people who I can convince to take a quick break after an hour or so of work, but I’ll probably end up playing pool or table tennis for a good hour.
King’s Coffee Shop also has a nice vibe if I’m doing more casual work like starting reading for my next essay, and there’s always someone to chat to.
After some time though, college can become a bit repetitive and I often get to a point where I realise that I’ve gone four days without leaving college grounds. In that case, I usually head to a faculty library, probably the Law Fac on Sidgwick Site, or go into town to find a public coffee shop to set up in.
What have you found difficult in your work?
Initially, like most people, I struggled with writing an academic essay. I had no clue how to go about it. From writing an introduction to referencing, I’d never really been taught how to do it.
Thankfully, the College family system meant I already had friends in the year above who had already been through exactly the same process, and were able to send me their essays and sit down with me to talk me through how to go about writing my first essay. The first one is definitely the hardest, and once you’ve got through that barrier, writing essays will be second nature.
Plus, your supervisors and Director of Studies are there to help. You can send them an email with a question and always ask plenty in supervisions, and they’ll always have relevant advice to help you write better essays. After the first term of first year, my supervisor realised I wasn’t really getting any better at writing essays and seemed to be struggling quite a bit. He wrote to me and asked if supervising me on my own, one-to-one, would be more beneficial, as then we could devote the whole hour to looking at what I’d written and making it come out better. From then on, he took me on my own and I improved dramatically. Supervisors are definitely there to help you!
Can you tell us a bit more about the College family system?
The College family system is definitely unique and is my favourite tradition at Cambridge. We get allocated parents when we are freshers. Usually one of them is studying your subject, and the other tends to be their best friend. The point is to marry someone you’d never divorce, so romantic engagements are most definitely advised against!
I’m a College parent, as well as daughter, granddaughter, and soon to be grandma! My own parents are two 3rd years, Micha and Priya. Micha studies the same subject as me, and as a result is always on hand to give me advice and send me notes. Priya is his best friend and the best College Mum in King’s! One week, in first year, I wasn’t feeling too well and was a bit stressed with my workload, so Micha sent me his lecture notes from the previous year, and Priya had left me sweets in my pigeon hole and a little note to make sure I was okay! The College family system is definitely not as weird as it initially sounds, it’s just a lovely mentoring system to ensure you know two friendly faces on your first day at King’s, and now the two of them have become two of my closest friends at University.
I’m now “married”, with 4 kids, and am loving being a College Mum myself. My husband, Scott, is my best friend at Cambridge, and we met on our first day in King’s bar. He had everyone around laughing and I distinctly remember listening to his stories from Leeds festival, and from that moment I knew we’d be friends! College marriages, by nature, involve proposals, and Scott’s was definitely one to beat. I’d been at football training and had just got back to my room to a text from Scott saying “have a watch of this”, followed by a YouTube link. I opened the link and spent the next two minutes watching a music video starring Scott, in loads of venues around King’s and Cambridge, miming the words to Bruno Mars, Marry You. Obviously I said yes, but unfortunately he’s now deleted the YouTube link and erased his brief history in the music industry forever, so I can no longer embarrass him to anyone and everyone.
What was your interview like?
My interview was thankfully not the terrifying experience I thought it was going to be. I had to do some pre-interview reading before I went into the interview room, so I sat in Keynes Hall in King’s with a book review I had never seen before and had half an hour to read it before heading straight over to Gibbs to be interviewed. I made some scrappy, rushed notes on the pieces of paper I was given and was extremely nervous when I walked into the room in Gibbs. The boy who had just been interviewed before me came out and wished me luck, and then I was invited in.
My interviewers said hello and had nice big smiles, and I was invited to sit down on a sofa opposite them. From that point on the whole occasion is a bit of a blur, but I know I had around thirty minutes of fantastic conversation, ranging from things I was really interested in and comfortable talking about, to things I had never even thought about or encountered before. The way I dealt with the nerves was by imagining that the conversation was just a conversation with some family friends over dinner, and that way I relaxed into the environment and was able to think about things genuinely without feeling like I had to perform or impress. The interview is definitely just a conversation about a subject you are interested in studying, so as hard as it sounds, try to enjoy it!
How did you prepare for the interview?
I prepared for my interview by reading, and this doesn’t just mean books. I read newspapers, blogs, magazines, and in fact only really read one “book” which was just a political pamphlet on the Occupy movement. I also watched documentaries on things I was interested in. One that sticks out in my memory was on the history of Syria by Dan Snow. I stuck to reading around topics I enjoyed, and didn’t even look at any of the suggested reading lists that are out there on the internet.
As for interview “technique”, or just getting into the habit of talking about ideas with people, I would stay after my Religious Studies lessons and get my teacher to argue for five minutes with me, and come up with loads of counter-points to things I said or argued for. That helped with just getting into the rhythm of talking aloud and thinking through things in a conversational setting. I definitely owe a lot to Mr Jones after all of those arguments!
What is your favourite memory from last year?
My favorite memory from last year is hard to narrow down. Between the formal halls and sunny days by the river, it’s difficult to pick a favourite, but the one that jumps out is punt racing on King’s Fun day.
After our exams finish, the whole of Cambridge switches into fun-mode. On the first Sunday after everyone’s exams are over, King’s gets together to celebrate in the form of Fun day. Our Ents team puts on an entire day of bouncy castles, ice cream, sport and music on the back lawn (yes, we get to actually walk and play on the hallowed grass) and it’s FREE!
In the afternoon, we got into teams of six and jumped into the King’s punts. One person had to punt from King’s Bridge down to Clare Bridge (that was me) whilst five people frantically paddled with every limb in the water, and then we switched punters as another teammate punted back. Other boats were grabbing my legs and splashing us as we all tried to sabotage one another, and I’ve never concentrated so hard on not falling in! Despite the other boat’s attempts though, we were victorious, and punted to glory through the finish line as the rest of King’s cheered us on from the bank.
Can you tell us more about punting (when you're not racing)?
A punt is basically a long flat wooden boat. Someone stands on the back of it with a big pole and pushes you along the river. Punting is one of my favourite activities in Cambridge, and being a student means you get it way cheaper than the public! It’s one of the biggest activities for tourists to participate in and the punt companies charge £20 or so, but we’re lucky enough to have our own punts at King’s that cost £4 an hour.
Falling in is avoidable and everyone should try their hand at punting if they get the chance, but it is definitely a risk, as my friend Jonny can vouch for, after he ended up absolutely soaked swimming about in the river Cam! However, Jonny is actually a fantastic punter, and him and I punted for our team on King’s Fun Day and won the race!