A Day In The Life Of An Oxford Science Student

20th August 2019

Studying a science at university brings a different host of challenges and rewards compared to humanities subjects. Sciences sometimes have a reputation for hard work, but a more structured day appeals to a lot of students.

So what actually happens during the day of a typical science student?

8:30am - Wake up for your 9am lecture (and regret not waking up earlier)

Oxford College

In first year at Oxford, many scientists have 9am lectures every day. These are held in your department, or in the case of biology, at the Museum of Natural History. Lectures are within walking distance of every college, which takes a maximum of 20 minutes - but many colleges are much closer. Those at Keble College are lucky enough to be able to leave just a couple of minutes before lectures start! Others choose to cycle, to allow for extra time in bed after hitting the snooze button.

9:05am - Arrive for your 9am lecture.

Learning via lectures is one of the key differences between school and university. Lectures take place in a large lecture hall, and are generally attended by a lot more students than a typical A-level class. First year lectures usually cover core content, and a lot of sciences overlap - for example, biologists, biochemists, biomedics and medics all share genetics lectures in first term. They’ll last an hour and involve a lecturer talking through a topic accompanied by a powerpoint. You can usually ask questions as they go along, although sometimes the lecturer will prefer you to wait until the end.

Top tip: timetable half an hour for yourself to go over a lecture and write it up as soon as possible after it’s finished. This way the content will still be fresh in your mind, and you can ask questions to clear up any misunderstandings. This will help with the jump in difficulty from A-level to university, and your future self will thank you when it comes to exams!

Oxford lecture theatre

10am till 1pm - Labs (once or twice per week)

Oxford lab work

Labs are an important part of your first year, and are a great way of learning practical skills, and applying the knowledge you’ve picked up from lectures. They let you try out a variety of techniques, such as pipetting and DNA sequencing, and are a good tool for working out whether you’re more interested in lab or field work. They’re also a lot more sociable than lectures and tutorials, as you can chat to and work with students from other colleges - there’s no better bonding experience than a failed experiment...

1pm till 2pm - Lunch

You can eat in your department cafeteria, which will usually have a selection of hot and cold food. On days without labs most students will go back to college for lunch, and either cook in their own accommodation or eat in halls.

2pm - Lecture

It is standard to have between 1 and 3 lectures per weekday - this is one of the biggest differences between sciences and humanities students, who might have the same number of lectures in a whole week. A higher number of contact hours means you do get more teaching time and opportunity to ask questions, so less of the material is left for you to learn yourself. However, managing your free time around these hours is a challenge in itself. It is doable though, and it’s rare to find a science student who doesn’t also balance sport, drama or other hobbies around their studies!

3pm - Return to college or go to a library to prepare for a tutorial

Before having a tutorial it’s always useful to read back through (or finish off!) your written work to refresh the topic in your mind. Depending on your subject this will either be an essay or a problem sheet.

Oxford tutorial room

4pm - Tutorial (once per week)

Oxford teaching

Tutorials (or in Cambridge, supervisions) are weekly meetings with a tutor, who is an academic expert in your subject, usually along with one or two other students. You will be set written work beforehand, which is used as a springboard for discussion throughout the hour. This may sound intimidating, but you’ll quickly realise that tutors are just normal people who are interested in your subject, just like you. Tutorials provide an invaluable learning opportunity for developing ideas and arguments, clearing up misunderstandings, and can lead to interesting and imaginative conversations.

5pm - Head back to college

The window of time between the last lecture and dinner is a good chance to fit in some sport, work on an essay, or just relax if it’s been a long day.

6:30pm - Dinner

If your college accommodation has its own kitchen you can cook dinner, but most students eat in hall, especially in first year. This is because it saves time, and is a great opportunity to catch up with friends, especially ones who don’t do your subject. This is even more important for a scientist, who might be in their department all day! Dinner usually costs £2-£3 for a hot meal, but there’s often a salad bar or soup as well.

Oxford dining hall

7:30pm - Free time

Most people spend the evenings doing extracurricular activities, or working on tutorial essays or problems. If there’s no looming deadlines then students will often start to socialise at around 9, heading to the college bar, a “bop” (a party in college) or out into town. Having this to look forward to is a great motivator to finish the week’s work in time.

Getting used to managing your work more independently than you would at school is a challenge, but once you learn to do this, studying at Oxford is incredibly enriching and rewarding. The clubs and societies you can take part in range from film clubs, to martial arts, to orchestra, and everyone finds their own balance. Studying a science means that you have set hours to fit these opportunities around, which can make forming a routine much easier. It also provides more chances to form friendships on your course, due to the amount of time you spend with them. However, the most important thing to bear in mind is making sure you enjoy your subject - everything else will fall into place from there.