Keeping it current
The Oxbridge interview is a great chance to show not only your critical incision and argumentative flair, but also that you are up to date with the latest news and cutting edge research in your field, in addition to seminal works and quirky specialisations as provided on our suggested reading lists. We like to call this Keeping it Current. Our new feature series addresses all the latest in the various Oxbridge subject areas. The list below will grow larger everyday as we keep pace with the rolling news and recent developments. Click on one of the links below to find out what is current in your subject.
If you want to practise talking about some of the exciting things you’ve read whilst preparing for interview, don’t forget that we provide bespoke support.
‘Keeping Classics current? Surely that’s a contradiction?’ These are not uncommon objections to the study of this discipline. So, what is the point of studying a dead language, dead civilisation? Well the point is that Classics is not dead at all. The inventions, ideas and social movements founded in classical times live on into modernity, and what Classics and classicists have to say about the world today is as relevant now as it has ever been.
Mary Beard, a well-known classicist who also teaches at Cambridge, is no stranger to misogyny. An opinionated and forceful political commentator, and a widely respected academic, Beard has been outspoken in the debate about online trolling, after receiving a barrage of abusive messages about her appearance via Twitter. In its brief history, social media has often been used as a forum for hate speech and prejudice, and women in particular have often had to endure aggressive and offensive remarks. Beard has suggested that modern misogyny may to some extent be rooted in the views of the ancients. How might modern day gender stereotypes derive from the social conventions of classical civilisations? Are the sentiments expressed ultimately similar to the views of ancient times, just through a new forum? Is Twitter a utopian expression of Athenian democracy, or a twisted mutation of that ideal? You can find a recording and full transcript of the talk she gave to the London Review of Books here.
If you have been to the British Museum, you will doubtless have sought out the Elgin Marbles, the magnificent sculptures which adorned the Parthenon in Classical Athens. If you haven’t, we recommend doing so. The treasures were controversially removed and brought back from Athens to England by the Earl of Elgin in the early 19th Century, and in recent years, Greece has been calling for their return, even completing a state of the art museum in which to house the pieces, situated under the acropolis in Athens. Journalist and art critic Jonathan Jones, who has previously argued for the monuments to remain at the British Museum, has been convinced by a recent visit to the acropolis that Greece is their rightful home. The issue has been given more mainstream coverage following the release of Hollywood blockbuster The Monuments Men. Is it correct to claim that the marbles ‘belong to’ Greece? Some argue that the Parthenon sculptures are an item of global rather than solely Greek significance, and as such they should stay in a museum which is both free to visit, and located in one of Europe’s most visited cities. What is the basis for this assertion? And what does it say about our attitudes to classical art and artefacts, and classics more broadly? Find out more here.
The exhibitions are also really good to visit – the major classical exhibition of the year has been and gone, but it would never hurt to add more context to your knowledge of the classical world by visiting the exhibitions about Celts or Ancient Egypt.
Two poems, believed to have been written by enigmatic Ancient Greek poet Sappho, have been discovered by an Oxford University papryologist. A famously elusive and mysterious poet, Sappho is believed to have hailed from the Greek island of Lesbos, and her work is characterised by her emotional outpourings of love and desire, often for other women. The two new poems came to light when an anonymous art collector in London showed the fragments to papyrologist Dirk Obbink, who has said that the poems are “indubitably Saphho’s”. This assertion is based on the fact that not only does the subject matter of the new fragments link to poems already known to be by her, but the metre and dialect are of a style that points to Sappho. Have you read Sappho’s poems? What do they tell us about ancient attitudes toward homosexuality? What factors lead to the loss or destruction of ancient writing? What role might the subsequent homophobia of Christian Europe have played? Find out more here.
Below are some other useful websites and resources for those considering applying to study Classics or other related subjects.
Suda Online – around a thousand years ago, an encyclopedia of knowledge of the ancient Mediterranean world was assembled. With 31,000 entries, the Suda is in part a dictionary of grammar, and in part a collection of articles on classical literature that includes descriptions of, and quotes from, works that have long since disappeared. This great lexicon has recently been made available online.
Numen: The Latin Lexicon – this is a great site for supplementing your school language classes, or for taking your first steps in the language. With an online dictionary, video tutorials and various other interactive resources, the website is engaging as well as informative.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt – not strictly an online resource, but we couldn’t resist the opportunity to encourage you to read one of our favourite novels. A dark tale of evil and intrigue, the story follows Richard, who, taken in by the strange and charismatic classmates of his Ancient Greek class, is dragged further and further into their insular and fantastical world, where the boundaries of reality and mythology are sullied, and a terrible secret awaits. This novel alludes to some of the great mysteries of the ancient world, and is a brilliant read.
The National Theatre has some videos discussing various aspects of Greek drama.
Also keep an eye out for plays and performances which are classical or contain classical themes – if you’re in London have a look at the Almeida Theatre Greeks’ Season, the Odyssey is on at the Pleasance in late September (right next to the Oxbridge Interviews office!) , and the Gate Theatre has a production of Medea.
For a slightly more childish but fun experience take a look at Horrible Histories’ Groovy Greeks which is touring all over the country this autumn.
In the wake of the financial crash in 2008, it seems as though every other news item has been a story of economic doom and gloom. The state of the global financial system has been an inescapable spectre, and government, banks, and several prominent businesses have struggled to emerge from the mist. However, every cloud has a silver, gold or bronze lining, and for us it is that there has seldom been a more interesting time to study Economics.
The Eurozone seems to have grown -slightly – by 0.4% in the last quarter, but the summer was certainly tumultuous and the Greek economy remains in crisis. What impact do you think the faltering recovery in the Eurozone will have on the UK? Analysts in Germany have attributed the stagnation to their sizeable construction industry – how might this have effected the recovery? Find out more here.
At the moment the news is full of the Syrian refugee crisis. What effects do migration and upheaval in the Middle East have on economic policy, in the UK and the other Eurozone member states?
Following the deepening unrest in Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea, and the shooting down of flight MH17, killing 298 passengers and crew, Western Europe and the United States have responded by placing economic sanctions on Russia, and particularly Russian president Vladimir Putin and his inner circle of Oligarchs. The hope, certainly among some Western leaders, is that the sanctions will further damage Russia’s already fragile economy, leading to a drop in living standards that, if not a significant deterrent to Putin’s imperialist ambitions, then the catalyst for civil discontent and a change of leadership. Europe’s sanctions have been far reaching, and have targeted in particular Russian banks, energy and arms. Embargos have been placed on the export of arms, sensitive technology and equipment for use in Russia’s oil industry. Russia have responded with their own tit-for-tat sanctions, which appear to have had a negative impact on the economies of Germany and France. In Western Europe, is the threat of economic sanctions now a more powerful and useful deterrent than the threat of military force? In what way could Europe be said to have ‘shot itself in the foot?’ Is the economy of Russia really as weak as it is presented to be? What implications might this have for the UK, and particularly London, home to hundreds of Russian businessmen. Find out more here.
The parent company of Costa and Premier In, Whitbread, has just announced that prices will rise to offset the cost of the National Living Wage. What do you think of the Minimum Wage/Living Wage debate, and do you think it is good in the long run for businesses, employees, or neither? Given that it only applies to workers over 25, will it have an effect on the age of people that companies recruit?
Below are some other useful websites and resources for those considering applying to study Economics or other related subjects.
More or Less on Radio 4 – a wonderful introduction to the use of figures and statistics. Each week examining prominent numbers used in the week’s news events, Tim Harford and guests pick apart the way they are presented, what they really tell us, and whether or not they are misleading.
The Wall Street Journal – along with the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal is simply a must-read for any young economist looking to keep it current.
FiveThirtyEight – founded by prominent political and economic forecaster Nate Silver, Fivethirtyeight is a website that is all about prediction. Having correctly predicted the outcome of 49 out of 50 states in the U.S. presidential campaign, and all 35 senatorial seats, Silver has rapidly risen to become one of America’s foremost political and economic analysts. If you get a chance it is also worth reading his book The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction. There is a great section on subprime mortgages and the collapse of Lehmann Brothers.
The New Economics Foundation – the NEF is focussed primarily on a more progressive economics, one that takes account not only of money and financial systems, but of the economy of wellbeing, and what can be done to promote human happiness. With many governments taking note of the global happiness index, this is well worth looking into if you want to stand out at interview.
We live in a time of legal upheaval. With new technologies now advancing at an ever more rapid rate, the legal system faces a daunting task to keep pace with the scope of social change, a battle in which it has so far looked unconvincing at best. Further, following the Snowden revelations of unprecedented surveillance of the public by governments, domestic and international Law is under increased scrutiny to uphold and protect the civil liberties of its citizens. Far from being a static and verbose discipline, modern Law is dynamic and fluid like never before.
The likelihood of a referendum on the UK’s presence in the EU continues to increase. Recently, the government was defeated in its attempt to relax ‘purdah’ regulations which affect the way in which the government can campaign close to the referendum date. What do you think the legal ramifications are of potentially leaving the EU? How will it affect the EU’s status and powers, and what will happen to all the legislation which was created by Brussels? What about the plans for a British Bill of Rights – do you have an opinion on it? On the subject of referenda, what do you think about Catalonia’s attempt to become independent via an ‘illegal’ referendum? Can a group of people demand the right to have a referendum, or should they wait for – potentially never given – approval from the government?
In the U.S., protests and demonstrations continue to bubble up in the South and elsewhere after last summer’s turbulance in Ferguson, Missouri, when teenager Michael Brown was shot dead following an altercation with police in a St. Louis suburb. Witnesses claim to have seen Brown, who was “clearly unarmed”, run away from police, stop after being hit by one bullet to put his hands in the air, before being shot multiple times. The incident has sparked fury and outrage among St. Louis’ predominantly African-American neighbourhood, and has stirred up a debate about the profiling of young black men. The issue is a highly charged one in America, where African-Americans are still reeling from the verdict in the case of Trayvon Martin, and the issue is also salient this side of the Atlantic, where only 3 years ago the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan set the fuse for a summer of rioting and civil unrest in the UK, and raised wider questions about the scope of police power in the line of duty. Do you think that police powers have gone too far, or are cases like this simply anomalies, where rogue individuals have acted outside of the remit set out for them? Should police protocol go further than common law, in the name of public protection? Based on the law on the permissible use of deadly force, did police act unlawfully in shooting Michael Brown? Find out more here.
Across the middle-east and parts of Africa, Islamic fundamentalism continues to present difficult legal and moral questions. Advocates of an extremist interpretation of the Qur’an push for full Sharia Law, and in some states this has been adopted, often leading to a negative impact on human rights. Most prominent has been the treatment of women under Sharia Law, with particular concerns surrounding child marriage, education and female genital mutilation, amongst a range of ultra-conservative attitudes. Whilst historically religion has often played a key role in the formation of law, with many legal principles owing to the teachings of religious texts like the Bible, it has been argued that this relationship is only functional when it promotes human rights, protects personal freedoms and leaves ultimate authority in the rule of law, rather than religious zealots. There are several hotspots in the world currently where religion and law are engaged in a deadly power struggle. Nigeria, Syria and Iraq are all notable examples. How far should the rule of law respect religious doctrine, particularly when this doctrine impacts upon personal freedom? Do the international community have a legal obligation, under international law, to intervene to stop cultural practices such as female genital mutilation? Is there no place for religion in law? Also in the Middle East, the British government has just carried out the execution of two British citizens who were fighting for ISIS, citing the international law that every state is entitled to self-defence. Do you agree with the application of this law? How much evidence is needed before a pre-emptive strike? Find out more here and here.
Below are some other useful websites and resources for those considering applying to study Law or any related subjects.
The Law Commission – a useful site for the latest developments in legal reform. The Law Commission is government run, an off-shoot of the Ministry of Justice, so this is particularly useful if you want to really get the news from the horse’s mouth.
The Law Gazette – another useful website for current legal happenings, with news and features on all aspects of law, from medical ethics to corporate law.
Learn More, Law Bore – a nice little interactive site, which will be particularly useful for anyone who did not study law at A-level. The site is focussed more on the process of law, honing skills such as mooting and helping you get to grips with the wide array of legal careers out there.
The Guardian – Law – the Guardian’s Law section is by far the best of any national newspaper. Filled with loads of features and comment pieces, this is really useful for supplementary reading, and for keeping up to date with the hot topics in the field.
It is an exciting time to be a science student. New innovations and discoveries in medicine and technology are in a frantic arms race with the environmental and biological threats that continue to put humans and animals at risk.
South of the Equator, Africa is dealing with the deadliest Ebola outbreak ever recorded, with the World Health Organisation declaring the situation an international emergency. Ebola is spread initially through human contact with animals carrying the viral illness, but has quickly begun to spread between humans. Even contact with dead Ebola victims at a funeral can prove a significant risk. The current outbreak is killing between 50% and 60% of infected people. Given the illness is concentrated around rural areas of western Africa, what factors do you think have given rise to the crisis? Can particular cultural practices spread the virus? When working in third-world countries, what kinds of challenges face doctors in both the prevention and treatment of deadly illnesses? What are the ethical implications of using experimental drugs to treat the outbreak? Find out more here.
Closer to home, what is going to be the impact of the proposed reform to move the NHS to a seven-day week? What are the risks and advantages of the plan? Have a look here.
Elsewhere, physicists in Australia have created the first ever tractor beam, successfully controlling the movement of a ping-pong ball in a water tank. Dr Horst Punzmann and his colleagues used wave technology to create pulses that forced a floating object to move against the direction of the wave, effectively allowing you to pull the object closer, much like the famous tractor beam seen in science fiction films such as Star Wars. The premise is very simple, and can be tried by anyone in a bathtub but, using new technology, the speed of the wave pulses can be sped up to between 10 and 100 per second, allowing for more complex manipulation of movement. In what way does this represent a breakthrough in wave technology? What uses do you think this can be applied to? Find out more here.
The European Space Commission have recently launched their Rosetta spacecraft to orbit around Churyumov-Gerasimenko, an icy comet located at the edge of our Solar System. The aim of the mission is to probe the comet in unprecedented detail in an attempt to garner further information about the composition of comets, and what role, if any, they may have played in the origins of life on Earth. In November, mission controllers will attempt to put a Philae lander on the surface of the comet itself. What new information do you think Rosetta will uncover? How strong is the case that life on Earth arrived from out of space? What challenges face the scientists controlling the mission? Find out more here.
Below are some other useful websites and resources for those considering applying to study Medicine, Sciences, or any related subjects.
The Society for Science – really useful website that has the latest news, features and interactive content for budding scientists out there.
How Stuff Works – one of the best science websites out there, this is really one for your inner nerd. Ever wondered just what goes into making the images on your TV appear as they do, how a shark tracks its prey, or how painkillers target where you hurt, then this is the site for you. Brimming with lovely little explanations of both the mundane and the grandiose, this won’t really feel like work.
The British Medical Journal – The BMJ is a great starting point for keeping up to date with the latest developments in the world of medicine.
Medline Plus Online Games – a fun site with links to medical-themed online games. Useful both as an educational resource, and if you just want a break from all that reading!
BBC Future – has many features, largely focusing on science and tech.
It is a tumultuous time in politics right now, and for those interested in studying courses such as PPE, Politics and International Relations, or HSPS, it would be wise to keep up to date.
Following a violent coup by ISIS militants in Iraq, President Obama has issued air strikes on IS militants in a bid to stifle the Islamist group and get crucial aid to the Yasidi minority trapped in the North-West of the country. The UK have thus far been reluctant to commit to any military action, particularly following the government’s defeat in the commons over military action in Syria last year. In what way is the crisis in Iraq similar or different to that in Syria? Is the government compelled by ideology or by pragmatism? What effect do you think next year’s election might have on the possibility of intervention in Iraq? Find out more here.
Elsewhere in the world, civilian casualties continue to mount in Gaza. Israel has been widely condemned for its repeated shelling of Gaza, where several air strikes have targeted schools, community centres, and other public areas, many sheltering Palestinian civilians, including women and children. However, the Israeli government maintain that it is Hamas who are to blame, as they deliberately use civilians as human shields, and hide in vulnerable public areas. This conflict has deep-seated social, religious and political roots. What do you think are the key difficulties in finding a diplomatic solution? Is there any merit in the idea of a two-state solution, or is this unrealistic? What do you think are the driving factors behind the rise in anti-Semitic attacks across Europe in the wake of the crisis? Have the media been balanced in their coverage of the conflict? Find out more here.
Closer to home, in September the people of Scotland voted to remain as part of the United Kingdom, in an historic referendum. However, a new referendum may well be on the cards, relating to the UK’s presence in the EU. What will the implications be of a yes or no vote? How will the political alliances – within the EU and further afield with the USA etc – change, and what will be the result for the countries resentful of austerity measures imposed by the EU? For the UK alone, how will either outcome affect the government’s popularity and authority with the people of Great Britain?
Below are some other useful websites and resources for those interested in applying for PPE, HSPS, Politics and International Relations or any related subjects.
Order Order – an interesting right-wing anti-establishment blog, often the first on the scene with breaking news stories, most famously its leaking of the smear campaign orchestrated by Gordon Brown’s spin doctor, Damian McBride.
Left Foot Forward – a great blog promoting the progressive politics of the centre left. Written by Will Straw, son of former cabinet member Jack.
The Economist – The Economist is a brilliant magazine to get to grips with a wide range of global issues. With contributors and columnists from all over the world and across the political spectrum, this is a great starting point to keep you current.
Radio 4 – an absolute treasure trove of fascinating documentaries, incisive political exposes, and robust interrogation of the country’s leading politicians and public figures. Highlights include Today, (on every morning) a brilliantly rounded news program, More or Less, which examines the statistics that have made headlines each week and whether they stand up to critical analysis, and The News Quiz, which offers a more light-hearted but no less incisive satirical spin on the weeks events.
Look almost anywhere in the news and there will be an example of Psychology in action. The field is currently in rude health, with more students studying Psychology at university than any other subject. Still, if you want to study it at Oxford or Cambridge, you’ll need to show you are up-to-date with the cutting edge.
Researchers at the University of California have found that babies’ brains grow the most rapidly in the period immediately after birth, reaching half their adult size within just three months. The cerebellum, an area involved in motor skills and movement, was the fastest area to develop, whilst the Hippocampus, which plays a role in the creation of memories, was the slowest. The brains of male infants were found to develop faster than that of females. The researchers involved in the project hope collating this data will help them to be better placed to identify the early markers of developmental disorders such as Autism. What does this research tell us about human development? Is there a critical period, or is there a case that all periods are critical? What environmental factors could have an impact on the early development of the infant brain? Find out more here.
Of more immediate concern, crisis of mental health continues in the UK and elsewhere. Despite accounting for 23% of the UK’s total burden of ill-health, the provision of funding for mental health treatment is only 6% of total medical research funding. The publication of the DSM-V last year, featuring several diagnostic categories that were heavily criticised by clinical psychologists, has further driven a wedge between psychiatrists and psychologists. The debate has been raging for several decades now, but there is still no clear consensus on what mental health actually is, or indeed how we define it. However, with depression one of the most prevalent conditions in the world, suicide rates increasing among young men, and provision of support being hit by spending cuts, it is clear that this issue is as important now as it has ever been. How would you define mental health? What basis, if any, is there for the argument that mental illnesses are diseases? Which therapeutic approaches most interest you? Is there any merit to the the idea that mental illnesses are cultural creations? Find out more here and have a look here.
In the world of sport, a joint record of 4 matches in the 2014 Football World Cup were decided on a penalty shootout. Most notably, in the quarter final between Costa Rica and the Netherlands, Dutch manager Louis Van Gaal made the unorthodox decision to substitute his goalkeeper seconds before the shootout. Substitute keeper Tim Krul appeared to approach each Costa Rican penalty taker and tell them he knew which way they would shoot. Krul saved 2 penalties and dived the right way every time, winning the shootout for Holland, and sparing the blushes for Van Gaal. Researchers have suggested that penalty shootouts are ultimately psychological mind games. Whilst they found no pattern in the behaviour of penalty takers, it was found that, if penalty takers from one team shot in the same direction three times in a row, goalkeepers were significantly more likely to dive in the opposite direction when facing the fourth penalty taker. What inferences can be drawn from research into the psychology of sport and athletes? What other psychological factors are involved in penalty shootouts and other sudden death tie-breakers in sport? What kinds of techniques do you think are employed by elite sports psychologists? Find out more here.
Below are some other useful websites and resources for those considering applying to study Psychology or any related subjects.
Psychology Tools – for those with a particular interest in therapy and mental health, this is a useful site. Lots of information on causes, documents outlining models of understanding and therapeutic approaches, including person-centred, CBT and holistic.
Genes to Cognition Online – if you find interactive learning more accessible, then this is the site for you. This initially confusing mind-map guides you through the basics of neuroscience and psychological understandings of the brain, complete with videos, animations and games.
In Search of Ourselves: A History of Psychology and the Mind – broadcast earlier this year but unfortunately no longer available on iplayer, a brilliant series presented by Martin Sixsmith on the History of Psychology. With the help of guest speakers, Martin traces the development of Psychology as a discipline, its many sub-divisions, and the key issues it has sought to address, including the problem of consciousness, the psychology of evil, and the question of insanity. He also assesses the legacies of some of the most influential psychologists of all time, including Pavlov, Piaget, Freud and James. If you can find a podcast or recording of this, I thoroughly recommend it!
TED Talks – TED talks are useful for more or less any subject, but it is in Psychology where they are most dynamic and fascinating. Delivered by a range of speakers, from a variety of fields, including Neuroscience, Business, Therapy and of course Psychology itself, TED talks are not only a great resource to keep you current, they are also thoroughly enjoyable to watch in your free time too.
The Electric Typewriter – has many links to interesting articles all over the Web. Watch out for the validity and scientific worthiness of some of them, but they provide good talking points at the very least.