My first year as a Geography student

Applying to study Geography at Oxford is, without a doubt, one of the best decisions I’ve made. The course, my fellow students and my tutors inspire and stretch my brain every day in term and make me excited to return every vacation. To give you a flavour of what it’s like to study Geography as a first-year student at St Hilda’s College, I’ve broken this page down into 3 key sections: the course, a week in the life, and studying Geography at St Hilda’s.

The course

The first year Geography ‘Prelims’ course at Oxford is a wide-ranging, accessible and engaging curriculum that opens your mind to the breadth of Geography as a discipline, gets you excited about Geography as a way to understand the complexities of our modern world, and builds strong foundations that set you in good stead for the ‘Final Honours School’ portion of the degree in Second and Third Year.

The course in the first year has no optional modules, which I think is one of its best features. Because of this, I often found myself being entranced by topics that I wouldn’t have taken at first glance! This is also why the lectures and tutorials are so wide ranging. One day you could have a lecture on drone warfare, and the next a whistle-stop tour of fluvial landforms! So, coming from A Level, the Prelims course provided a very exciting, critical perspective on familiar topics, like fluvial systems and urban geographies, and topics I hadn’t heard of before, like cultural landscapes and quaternary geomorphology, driven by lecturers’ cutting-edge research at the department.

A week in the life

Usually we have about 7-8 lectures and a practical class (like Statistics) a week, alongside a tutorial session. Each lecture acts as a gateway to a topic, introducing us to the key ideas and debates in the academic literature. I’ve found pretty much all of the lectures so far incredibly interesting and inspiring, maintaining my enjoyment of Geography as a discipline.

Tutorials, on the other hand, tend to be in-depth discussions of a single topic, with 1-2 tutorial partners. This small-group teaching, which Oxford is so renowned for, is one of my favourite things about studying here. I find these discussions very academically stimulating, as they challenge my understanding of a topic, introduce me to different ways of understanding it, and reinforce ideas that I came across in my reading.

Preparation for tutorials tend to make up most of my working week at Oxford, as I usually spend about 4 days working through the suggested reading list, and a further day writing the tutorial essay, which we receive extensive feedback on following the tutorial session. Writing an essay every week, although this might seem scary from the outset, is actually one of my favourite things about the tutorial system at Oxford. This is because every time I write an essay, and receive detailed feedback on what went well, and less well, from my tutors, I learn new things about how to construct good academic arguments, improve my writing style and about gaps in my understanding of the topic. The feedback loop that results from this process improves your writing skills at an exceptional rate!

This all sounds like a lot of work, but it really doesn’t feel like it. In fact, spending all day reading about geographical topics to prepare for tutorials feels more like exploring a world of exciting ideas than tedious work. The beautiful surroundings of St Hilda’s Library, and the refreshing modern environment of the Social Science Library, where most of the Geography texts are held, makes this even better. And because large amounts of our reading lists are available digitally, you are quite free to move around Oxford’s beautiful libraries throughout the day. For instance, I often find myself starting the day in the high-tech Vere Harmsworth Library (at the Rothermere American Institute), heading over to the Social Science Library after a morning lecture, and taking in the beauty of the Radcliffe Camera in the afternoon.

And, there is even more to studying at Oxford than reading in libraries and having fantastic discussions about geographical topics! Firstly, the societies available at St Hilda’s and the wider university are a fantastic way to pursue your interests and recharge after a long day reading! From walking to Lego, and from tea appreciation to photography, if you can imagine it, there’s probably a society for it. And, secondly, every day there are more interesting talks going on in Oxford than you could ever go to! I’ve been captivated by talks ranging from Russian housing redevelopment to engineering protein-rich food sources, just to name a couple!

Studying Geography at St Hilda’s

The Geography community at St Hilda’s College, usually made up of about 12 undergraduate students across 3 year groups, is incredibly supportive, inspiring and inclusive, and has made my time studying Geography at Oxford even better! This strong sense of community is one of my favourite things about studying at St Hilda’s, and the collegiate system at Oxford more generally. It makes you feel that you are ‘in it together’: from having each other’s back in tutorial to sending supportive messages when working through a challenging reading list.

So, to sum it up, studying Geography at St Hilda’s is a fantastically inspiring, enjoyable and engaging learning experience. And if this sounds good to you, I couldn’t recommend applying to study Geography here more highly!

 

Article written by Zachary Elliot, Geography first year student, July 2020

ELLIOT, Zachary 1ELLIOT, ZacharyELLIOT, Zachary 2