Read More »
television programmes such as Inspector Morse are to be believed, as they always should be, then the majority of the real world thinks that Oxford dons spend most of their time bumping each other off over a glass of port, learning Elvish and mooning over little girls with white rabbits. But to you, they’re the people you squint at through your hangover, trying desperately to simultaneously remember what Wikipedia told you happened in the 5th book of the Faerie Queene and footnote your essay to hide the fact.Usually dressed in tweed and a mild expression which politely hides the fact that they would much rather be back on sabbatical than having to listen to your half-baked ramblings, you will no doubt come across your fair share of them in your Oxford career. This isn’t the cloistered dream that most of you brought here, imagining cosy intellectual tête-a-têtes in front of a well-stoked fire, wowing tutors with your fabulous insight. In fact, most academics have seen and heard it all before and are most likely still trying to distinguish you from your tute partner. This is not a reflection on them as people; it’s merely that, to academics, those of us who haven’t got a few books to our names are strange ghostly apparitions. Next week, whilst your tutor is sounding off about the intricacies of medieval manuscripts, instead of nodding vigorously as you switch off, try interrupting a particularly intense part of their lecture with a question and watch them suddenly recoil with confusion and then wonder at the realisation that they are, in fact, not alone in the room. Can you blame them? When the collective brain power of the entire room is smaller than your own, why stop for questions? Yes, much like the many circles within the student world, dons have an innate arrogance. They have all the sense of insight and sage moralising of the journalistic crowd, egos to rival the Unionites or Thesps (and its becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate between the two) and all the social bravado of the Fantasy Gaming Society. However if you fancy your name on the dust jacket of a worthy tome, or the sharp tap of your feet on a lecture room floor here is Cherwell’s four-step plan to the high table and beyond: Firstly, have nothing better to do with your life: if your internships aren’t going well or that experimental drama’s floundering at act one, then never leaving Oxford may seem an attractive prospect. However, this is easier said than done. Presuming you manage to maintain your funding, which requires churning out countless articles to bulk up the annual review your college subjects you to, there are also inter-department bickering, inter-college rivalry, national and even international gauntlets thrown down with startling frequency and a purveying hierarchy to rival any found in Frewin Court. Next, affect an eccentricity. Whether it’s a ridiculous name, hairstyle or a set of deviant sexual practices, startling the undergraduates with shock and awe is key, and very forgiving in terms of teaching quality if you lost the plot back in 1977. Thirdly, translate things unnecessarily/write pointless books on ridiculously specialist topics. No academic worth their salt has less than three of these to their name. If you’re lucky, you may even have misquoted said tomes to your tutor’s faces during a tutorial. Never fear, they probably had their minds on higher things anyway.And finally, develop an intolerance to the outside world. You’ve been at Oxford for a month and already you’re talking in a gay falsetto about pressie drinks, have rediscovered your teddy bear and become slightly afraid of the checkout assistants in Sainsbury’s Local. However unless you’re a member of OUCA you presumably intend to re-enter the world in three to five years, only slightly pasty and jaded. Dons on the other-hand only ever leave the city limits to go on bitchy conferences or dig manuscripts up and therefore have the permanent air of Prince Charles about them. You have to love them really. They are much like the professors at Hogwarts, with strange names and costumes, sometimes sexually and ethically ambiguous yet redeemed by their quirkiness and the sneaking suspicion that they may just be figments of the imagination after all. Yet whilst they go off to the arctic wastes in search of the northern lights just think yourself lucky that, unlike them, you will one day escape this mad-house.