The sun always seems to hover near eye level. It gets a bit depressing if you always think of it as the sun is setting. Last week was Week 5 of Michaelmas term at Cambridge. Week 5 at MIT means Fifth week flags for Freshmen, Add date deadline, and the end of the first wave of tests. Week 5 at Cambridge, however, means the term is more than halfway over, you’ve gotten more work than you know what to do with, and a general feeling of panic. I, myself, only got about 5-6 hours of sleep each day last week. This is non-trivial because I like to, and usually do, get about 8-9 hours of sleep every night, even at MIT.
But you’re probably wondering why I have so much work when there are no tests until April/May and none of what I’m doing right now counts? Well, for engineering students (and most science students, I think), we have labs and practicals where we have to 1) participate and 2) write up a lab report. Each lab usually takes around 4 hours and a couple of hours to write up. Depending on your subject and which year you’re in, you can have anywhere from no labs to 1-2 labs every week. I believe humanities majors have readings and essays that are equally time consuming.
Besides labs, you also get 3-4 example papers per class that are like problem sets. You’re expected to work through them and then discuss them with your supervisor. At Cambridge, you get a supervisor for every class. You usually share this person with 1-2 other students and he/she is usually a grad student or professor who is your point of contact for anything that you don’t understand in that class. For 3rd year engineering students, there are only 3-4 supervisions for each class. So during the 5th week, you would’ve already tried to do Example Paper #1 and went over questions with your supervisor and scheduled supervision #2 for some day in week 5. However you realize, the day before your supervision, that not only have you not started on Example Paper #2, you still have questions on Example Paper #1. This is very sad so you end up staying up really late to struggle through the problems because the last thing you want to do is to waste a supervision.
The good thing about weekly psets at MIT is that there’s an end to the madness. Okay, you finish one and then have to pick up another one. But at least once you finish, you don’t have to look at it again until you study for finals. At Cambridge, your example paper sheet just floats around the whole time and you get sick just looking at it. It really is an entirely different education system. I never know what to answer when people ask, “How does this compare to MIT?” Apples and oranges…