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Welcome to the Varsity Education Student Journal!

Find out what students experience each day on a Varsity programme.

Final seminars and the Cambridge Challenge!

Time for our Session One students to attend their final Varsity seminars! This morning, the Business and Management groups were analysing business case studies for Toyota and Starbucks, discussing their business models and evaluating specific strengths and weaknesses. English Literature students, meanwhile, were considering poetry through the lens of social context, with a particular focus on wedding poetry from the Early Modern period. Over in Maths & Engineering, the students were learning about the fundamentals of electricity from an engineer’s perspective.

After lunch, students had the chance to sit down with each of their tutors in turn, and gain some constructive feedback and advice on their further studies. A full written report will also be sent to students and their families once the student has returned home.

The rest of the afternoon was then dedicated to one of the most popular Varsity Education activities – the Cambridge Challenge! The game works as a kind of scavenger hunt across the historic city centre of Cambridge – an area that the students had come to know and love over the last couple of weeks. Tutors were stationed in hidden places across the city, and the task for each team was to race around a one-hour route to find them all – following a series of cryptic clues and riddles. Team 5 (Matteo, Oscar, Georgia, Meera, Paula and Jaimini) were the first team to arrive at the final location and were declared victorious! Each will receive a special prize to remember the city of Cambridge by.

By the time evening came, students wanted to just kick back and relax for their final evening in College – many chose to play rounders or croquet in the gardens. It was then time to pack suitcases and get an early night, before Departure Day tomorrow!

College Visits and Graduation Dinner

English Literature students had their second guest lecture from Dr David Tolley this morning – his lecture today focused on Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’, making comparisons between the text itself and how it works in performance (using clips from the 2004 film adaptation starring Al Pacino and Jeremy Ions). Meanwhile, in the Computer Science seminar, students were completing the topic on programming, adding finishing touches to the code for their very own computer game. Our historians, on the other hand, spent their seminar time discussing the role of history and its impact on the present day.

After lunch, most of the afternoon was dedicated to college visits around Cambridge – students were able to sign up for an official visit to Queen’s College, Emmanuel College, Trinity Hall etcetera, and enjoyed comparing and contrasting the architecture and facilities with their home-from-home, Clare College.

On return to Clare, it was time for some students to have their final 1-on-1 tutorial sessions with their subject tutors.

The day came to a close with a formal three-course ‘graduation dinner’ – students got dressed up for the occasion and spent some time taking group photos and selfies in Memorial Court, before taking their places at the long table. Each student was personally congratulated by the Programme Dean, and received their certificate and other programme awards in front of all students and tutors.

The second night of debates – a winning team is announced

Students were back to their normal routine of morning classes and afternoon workshops today, after yesterday’s day off at Warwick Castle. In first period, English Literature students were treated to a guest lecture on Shakespeare with Dr David Tolley, a Lecturer from the Faculty of English at the University of Oxford. Meanwhile, Dr Sam Vinko, a Lecturer and Research Fellow from the Department of Physics at Oxford came to speak to the Maths & Engineering students about the latest research into Machine Learning and its implications for artificial intelligence.

In the afternoon, mock Oxbridge-style interviews were held for students who wanted to experience a realistic interview situation for their preferred course at Cambridge (or in some cases, Oxford). Subject tutors held interviews for students wishing to apply for Medicine, Law, History, Mathematics, Computer Science and Asian & Middle Eastern Studies at Oxbridge. Students will get individual feedback in a dedicated 1-on-1 feedback session later this week. Other students who did not want to undertake a mock interview had time for private study, to work on their Week 2 assignments.

House parents also offered all students the chance to sign up for a college visit tomorrow afternoon – students chose which of Cambridge’s historic college they’d prefer to look around on a pre-booked visit, from a list including Downing College, Emmanuel College, Queens College and Trinity Hall.

It was then time for Part II of Debate Night this evening, with six further teams arguing their case in front of the whole summer school – tonight’s motions were:

  • This House believes that Cambridge University should have quotas for disadvantaged students
  • This House believes that nobody has the right not to be offended
  • This House believes that video games are a valuable use of time

The winning team was the proposition for the first motion, who all won vouchers for Jack’s Gelato in central Cambridge.

1000 years of history at Warwick Castle

After a few consecutive days of focused academic study in College, today our students enjoyed a well-deserved break. The whole group piled on to the bus outside College in the early morning and headed to one of England’s most famous medieval buildings – Warwick Castle. The site dates back to 1068, when William the Conqueror – the first Norman King of England – built the first fortifications.

On arrival, students enjoyed some free time to explore the castle and its grounds at their leisure. Attractions include an outdoor adventure maze, a gallery of historic weaponry and armour, a giant (functioning!) trebuchet and of course, the towers and ramparts of the castle itself. For many of our students, however, the highlight was the immersive “Dungeons” attraction, in which gruesome stories about the castle’s former inhabitants were told with the help of live actors and thrilling special effects. Abdul and Shane both became part of the story when they were tried in a mock trial for a heinous crime, but both thankfully managed to escape the dungeons at the end of the 50 minute tour!

Next on the schedule was the ever-popular Flight of the Eagles live show, in which students were treated to a display of beautiful birds of prey flying from the castle ramparts – including a Bald Eagle, an Andean Condor and a sextet of Black Kites circling and snatching food from the air.

Most students also took the opportunity to explore the nearby Warwick town centre, before boarding the bus back to Cambridge. Dinner this evening was at an Italian restaurant in central Cambridge, after which there was a little bit of free time to prepare for the next day of classes.

The first of our live debates

The usual morning seminars today – one for each of the students’ chosen subjects. Philosophy students discussed the question of knowledge, and learned how traditional approaches following Plato were completely overturned in the 1960s. The Medics, on the other hand, were introduced to negative and positive feedback systems – illustrated with the example of glucose homeostasis and its dysregulation in diabetes mellitus. Many of our Medics also take the Biological Sciences course, which today covered cell signalling and how recreational or ‘lifestyle’ drugs affect this, particularly focusing on how steroids make their users more muscular.

In the afternoon, students had some time set aside for private study, either to work on their weekly seminar assignment or redraft their Personal Statement. Throughout the week, a number of students have been asking their subject tutor to read through the first or second draft of their Personal Statement and have received both written and verbal constructive feedback.

The whole group also took part in a collaborative workshop on Public Speaking, led by Joanna Laugharne, an expert in helping young people improve their communication skills and build confidence when speaking to an audience. Every single student got involved with the games and activities, and the energy in the room was fantastic to see.

Armed with their newly-improved public speaking skills, students then gathered in the Latimer Room after dinner for the first of the Varsity Education Debate Nights. Tonight, three motions were debated in three fast-paced rounds of arguments and rebuttals, culminating in an audience vote. The judges’ overall prize for the most convincing and skilful debating went to the Proposition team for “This House believes that security is more valuable than privacy”. Each member of this team was awarded a voucher for Cambridge’s most popular ice-cream parlour, Jack’s Gelato.

Week two is well underway!

The start of another busy week for Cambridge Summer College students! International Relations students, for example, were recapping three of the major theories they learned last week – Liberalism, Realism and Constructionism – and applying them to a real-world context (in this case, the Russian annexation of Crimea). Psychology students, meanwhile, began a topic on the cognitive processes involved in memory.

After lunch, the afternoon began with group tutorials for each subject – another chance for students to discuss topics of interest in more depth with the tutors, in groups of up to three. It was then time for the first of the Debating workshops, with an introduction from the Senior Tutor. Students were divided into groups of four or five, and assigned a motion such as “Slytherin is the best Hogwarts house” or “Security is more important that privacy”. The groups scattered to different parts of the college to conduct research, discuss a strategy in terms of who would speak, and plan their arguments and rebuttals. The live debates will take place on Tuesday and Thursday evening, with prizes for the team with the most convincing argumentation.

Students then had the choice in the evening to take a formal, timed mock examination in preparation for Oxbridge admissions tests, such as the BMAT (Medicine), LNAT (Law) or TSA (Social Sciences). These will be marked by the Varsity academic faculty and students will be provided with full feedback at the end of the week.

Critical Thinking and more vital skills

Students were glad to have a lie-in this morning, with morning sign-in pushed back to 10am to allow students a couple of extra hours in bed. The time before lunch was officially designated as a “morning off”, in which students were advised not to study, and instead make use of the time to get an ice-cream with friends, relax in the college grounds or even just catch up on laundry!

The first of the afternoon sessions today was Part II of the Personal Statement workshop. Since the last session on Personal Statements, any student who wished to draft a full Personal Statement (or an outline plan) would get comprehensive feedback from the expert tutors in this session. Some of the students who will be applying to Oxbridge in October 2018 had already brought a first draft of a Statement with them to the programme, and so the session functioned as a kind of ‘surgery’ in which students received honest feedback from experts in their field.

The next scheduled session was on Critical Thinking, led by the Senior Tutor – a chance for all students to work on a skill which all Oxbridge students are expected to possess. Students from the Philosophy class acted as assistants in teaching the rest of the group about utilising inductive, deductive and abductive reasoning to formulate an argument.

On the schedule for the evening was a Film Night – but due to the beautiful warm weather, the students voted to instead stay outside after dinner and play sports – football, Frisbee and croquet.

1-on-1 tutorials and college selection guidance

Today saw students really delve deeper into their chosen subjects, by firstly attending the group seminars, then 1-on-1 tutorials in the afternoon. In the morning seminars, for example, our Economics tutor taught an introduction to Macroeconomics, which included a discussion of how we should measure the development of a country. The class discussed the disadvantages of using GDP to measure development and the use of alternatives such as the happiness index.

Then, after lunch in the sunny and busy centre of Cambridge, students met with their tutors again for the 1-on-1 sessions. In Biology tutorials, for example, our Biology tutor gave verbal feedback on the students’ essays about keystone species. He discussed with each student how science essays are written in Oxbridge, in order to improve their essay technique. In fact, we saw some excellent essays on a range of topics, including analysis of a primary source in History and a close study of specific human rights cases in Law.

After tutorials, the whole group gathered for a workshop on Interview Skills, to help students prepare for mock Oxbridge interviews later in the programme.

Students thought about how best to prepare for the interview process – and while there is no quick and easy way to guarantee success in an Oxbridge interview, students came up with some fantastic ideas to increase their confidence. Top tips included keeping yourself up-to-date with current developments in your subject, remaining curious about all aspects of your subject, and avoiding clichés about how “passionate” you are about your subject. Students were reminded that they should instead demonstrate their passion by talking knowledgeably about topics you enjoy, and participating in relevant supra-curricular activities.

It was then time for a short break (which some students used to go for a jog along the river!) and dinner in college, after which students attended a workshop on choosing a course and a college. In small groups, students rated the importance of certain factors in choosing a course and an Oxbridge college. For example, some groups rated the fame of the college low down on their list, whilst a college being all-female or mixed gender turned out to be very important to some groups.

The students then had some well-earned “time out” before bedtime.

Laboratory sessions and a quiz

Friday was another busy day for students! After breakfast, students started heading to their small group seminars. The Psychology class each gave a presentation about a psychological disorder of their choice, while the Physical Sciences class learned about the linear combination of atomic orbitals, i.e. how atoms come together to form molecules. They also watched a video about magnetism, showing how liquid oxygen can act as a magnet.

After lunch, all of the Science students took part in experiments at the Biochemistry lab. They performed a protein analysis practical session, using the process of electrophoresis to analyse different proteins. It was a great chance to participate in a session led by a university lab supervisor, using undergraduate level equipment.

Students taking non-Science subjects had a chance to catch up on their reading or prepare for the 1-on-1 tutorials coming up tomorrow. When the lab students returned, it was time for some outdoor Sports. Half of the group played the “more fun version of baseball”, a traditional British game called rounders, while the other half played the more sedentary British game of croquet, followed by a lively game of British Bulldog!

After dinner, students gathered for our Quiz Night. In teams of seven, everyone did their best to answer questions in the categories of Oxbridge knowledge, Sports, Arts & Culture, Science and General Knowledge. Team “The Bubonic Plague” came out victorious, with “In It to Win It” close behind in second place.

A day in Oxford

After a few days’ settling into life in Cambridge, today’s excursion gave students the chance to compare Cambridge University to its fiercest rival, Oxford University, just a couple of hours’ drive away by coach. Many of the students and staff also took the coach journey as an opportunity to catch up on some well-earned rest!

We were dropped off in the city centre near St Giles by mid-morning and students were granted two hours’ free time to explore the historic city centre on foot in their groups and pairs.

Oxford University is indeed the older of the two ancient UK universities, and though there are many similarities between the two institutions – including the college system, 1-on-1 teaching, and reputation for world-class teaching and research – there are also some subtle differences. Oxford is the larger of the two cities, with more shopping opportunities and more of a busy ‘urban’ feel than its younger sister. When the whole group assembled again at 1:30pm, it quickly became apparent that many of the students had made the most of the variety of shops, particularly those that sold the famous ‘Oxford University’ branded hoodies!

Next on the schedule were some pre-arranged visits to a couple of Oxford’s most beautiful colleges – around half the group headed to Merton College, famous as being the college where J. R. R. Tolkien (author of the Lord of Rings trilogy) taught between 1945 and 1959. One of Merton’s other claims to fame is its library, dating from 1373, which is recognised as oldest continuously functioning library for university academics and students in the world!

The other half of the group were taken to Brasenose College, where the former Prime Minister of the UK, David Cameron, was educated. Students got to see the medieval kitchens, and were treated to a performance by a pianist in the College Chapel.

It was now time to try out Oxford’s most beloved pastime – punting on the river. After piling onto the punts near Magdalen Bridge, our punt chauffeurs took us on a beautiful one hour trip down river.

Sadly, it was soon time to get back on the coach, so we could get back to Cambridge in time for group dinner at a restaurant in Cambridge. On the journey back, students discussed the merits of Cambridge and Oxford, with most pupils maintaining that Cambridge was their preferred destination ultimately.

A busy day of workshops and World Cup fever

The morning was dedicated to group seminars in both chosen subjects, as usual. Since each class is made up of seven students or fewer, everybody has been contributing their ideas and questions to each topic, and a strong bond has formed between classmates in only a matter of days.

At 2pm, directly after the lunchbreak, students gathered for the first key workshop of the day – ‘Current Affairs’. For any student intending to apply to any competitive degree course around the world, a nuanced understanding of current world events is absolutely essential. In small groups of five or six, the students were asked to grapple with a number of propositions such as:

  • ‘Global warming can only be solved by a global government’
  • ‘Brexit is an example of why referenda are a bad idea’
  • ‘Corruption has made football the success that it is’

Students researched and then debated their approach to these questions, referencing statistical studies and specific news stories to counter opposing arguments.

After a five-minute break, the 3pm workshop began, this time focusing on Examination Skills and in particular, the aptitude tests required to study Medicine, Law or any Social Science at Oxford or Cambridge University. With aptitude tests now required by a number of top UK universities, it is vital that students learn how to prepare and practice effectively. The session brought up some interesting anecdotes and advice from our in-house BMAT, LNAT and TSA experts.

For most students, it was now time to enjoy some afternoon sunshine with a scheduled Sports session out on the grass in Clare College gardens. Teams were assembled for a massive game of ‘Ultimate Frisbee’. All the boys and girls involved demonstrated some brilliant teamwork, with one team particularly strong – Oscar quickly showed himself to have a great knowledge of the game and led the team to victory. Luca, on the other hand, also put in a very strong performance for the weaker team, earning himself the title of MVP!

However, students from our Politics & Economics and/or Business & Management faculties had a different challenge in store – a hard-nosed negotiation game designed by the Harvard Business School. One group (Julia, Aurora, and Carmen) so far outmanoeuvred another group that they sealed the deal at $280k when the guide price was only $100k and the target price $165k.

Various activities were organised in the evening after dinner. For many, the main draw was the England vs. Croatia World Cup semi-final match, being shown on a big screen in the Latimer room for any Varsity Education football fans. One student, Loren, was particularly delighted with the end result! Meanwhile, the English Literature, Philosophy and History students went to see an open-air performance of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream on the lawns of King’s College next door. Other students chose to read class notes or rest in their dorms, at the end of a long and busy day!

Group tutorials and guest speakers

The air has cooled overnight and provided a welcome change from yesterday’s hot weather. After the usual English breakfast, students headed to their group seminars in either Old Court or Memorial Court. The Maths & Engineering students, for example, were working on differentiation problems, whilst over in the Philosophy classroom, students were introduced to some of the fundaments of analytic philosophy – such as the contrast between a priori and a posteriori knowledge, or deductive and inductive reasoning. In between seminars, students had some free time to read over their notes or hang out near the dorms.

It was soon time for lunch, with students required as usual to sign out with the House Parents at the office, before heading off in their groups into the town centre. Today’s afternoon activities back in Clare College had a real academic focus, so it was important that the students took some time to get some fresh air and replenish their mental energy!

Between 2pm and 4:30pm each student was timetabled for two half-hour ‘group tutorials’, one for each of their chosen subjects. These group tutorials give students the opportunity to work on a specific task or discuss and debate one particular topic with their tutor, alongside no more than two fellow students. The case studies and questions posed in tutorials very often follow on from more general themes and topics covered in the morning group seminars.

The first workshop of the afternoon then began at 4:30pm in Old Court – this was collaborative and interactive session in which students worked in breakaway groups of 5-6 students to share ideas and advice on writing essays and academic reports. Each group were asked to tackle one aspect of essay writing – for example, the Introduction, or the Referencing – and then presented their conclusions to the rest of the room, helped by the Senior Tutor and English Literature tutor.

It was then time for the second and final workshop of the day with our Senior Tutor – an Introduction to writing the UCAS Personal Statement. This will be followed later in the week by a more specific Personal Statement surgery, in which students will receive personalised guidance.

Dinner was served at around 7pm, after which the students gathered back in the Latimer Room for an evening Guest Lecture. Today’s engaging talk was led by a top barrister and a top neuroscientist, and focused on how their Cambridge degrees shaped their career pathways, and what it is like to work in their particular fields.

First Tutorials

Students woke up this morning to their first full day in the beautiful grounds of Clare College, Cambridge. Breakfast was served for all in the underground buttery in Old Court, before most students went their separate ways for the first of their subject-specific small group seminars. However, for the students taking the Politics and Economics course, the day instead began with a guest lecture on Democracy from the Academic Head of the course, Dr Harald Wydra.

Once students had completed their introductory group seminars in both chosen subjects, it was time for an extended lunch break – for many students this was their first real chance to explore Cambridge on foot. In small groups the students went out to get sandwiches and snacks to eat in the glorious July sunshine, whether sitting on the grass in Memorial Court or outside in a pavement café on King’s Parade.

It was back to Old Court in Clare College at 3pm for an introductory lecture on UCAS and the Oxbridge universities. The sessions were each headed by one Cambridge graduate and one Oxford graduate, who were able to clarify some of the more subtle differences in history and traditions between these two world-class universities. Questions such as ‘What makes Oxbridge different to other UK universities?’ and ‘How does the college system work?’ were covered, with more detail on UCAS requirements and the admissions process to come in workshops later this week.

By 4pm it was time to get back outside again for a tour of the main Cambridge sights, led by a team of professional tour guides. In small groups the students learned about the history of King’s College and its founder Henry VI, the sprawling and grand Trinity College, and a host of other places of interest along the main Cambridge tourist route.

Before dinner, the students had a little free time to relax in the gardens, read over their class notes or chat with new friends. By the time dinner was finished, students were re-energised and ready for our Games Night, run by Marina, one of the house parents. Students enjoyed a variety of games in the Latimer Room, including Taboo, Jenga, Chess, Connect 4 and HeadBandz!

Welcome

Students from 20 different countries arrived safely in the UK on Sunday and were taken to sunny Cambridge. The summer weather was warm and welcoming for our new guests (28 Celsius/83 Fahrenheit). After settling into their new accommodation we held a welcome gathering in the afternoon where students met the faculty and got familiar with their surroundings.

At around 8pm dinner was held and everyone enjoyed their first English meal in college at Cambridge University. After dinner we held an activity to allow all students the chance to get to know each other better on their first day.

After a good sleep and an English breakfast, all students are today met by their enthusiastic tutors ready to begin their Cambridge Summer College journey.

Final Seminars and Tutor Feedback

Time has flown, and it’s already the students’ final full day in Cambridge! In the final seminar today, the History class considered how History fits into the present day, how the internet could be archived, and how the future will consider our present period from a historical perspective. Medics, on the other hand, were discussing the four pillars of Medical Ethics (Autonomy, Beneficence, Non-Maleficence and Justice).

After lunch, students had the chance to sit down with each of their tutors in turn, and gain some constructive feedback and advice on their further studies. This usually includes feedback on any written assignments the student was set over the week, discussion of the student’s contributions during academic debate in seminar classes and tutorials, and the results of any mock interviews or mock entrance examinations. It also represents the last opportunity for our students to get face-to-face feedback on a Personal Statement draft. A full written report will also be sent to students and their families once the student has returned home.

Once everyone had attended these individual feedback consultations, there was some time in the schedule for couple of spontaneous outdoor team games – the ever-popular ‘Sardines’ and a competitive game of ‘Capture the Flag’.

The evening was then dedicated to one of the most popular Varsity Education activities – the Cambridge Challenge! The game works as a kind of scavenger hunt across the historic city centre of Cambridge – an area that the students had come to know and love over the last couple of weeks. Tutors were stationed in hidden places across the city, and the task for each team was to race around a one-hour route to find them all – following a series of cryptic clues and riddles. The winning team received a memento of Cambridge to take home.

It was soon time to pack suitcases and get an early night, before an early start tomorrow for Departure Day!

College Tours and a Formal Dinner

Today marks the penultimate day of classes for our second cohort of Cambridge Summer College students – a time for all students to reflect on what they have learned over the past two weeks. Most classes today were in a presentation format, in which students built on the foundational knowledge covered in classes and presented their own independent research into a specific area of interest to their tutor and fellow classmates.

After lunch, students met tutors for the last of the 1-on-1 tutorials. Business & Management students, for example, were talking through their individual research assignments on the business strategies of various multi-nationals, such as Toyota or Amazon.

Of course, the students have all become very familiar with the grounds of Clare College over the past couple of weeks, and indeed grown very fond of it – but Clare College is only one of 29 undergraduate colleges within the University of Cambridge. For those students who intend to apply to the University in the future, we advise them to take a look around other colleges to understand the subtle differences between them. It’s for this reason that we set aside a couple of hours this afternoon for the students to tour around the grounds of a number of other colleges within easy reach of Clare. Pembroke College, for example, is located right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the town, just like Clare College, but does not lie on the river, and so often escapes the notice of curious tourists. It’s a little smaller than Clare too, but still just as beautiful when you step through the threshold into its very own Old Court. Other students opted to look around Downing College, which has a more neoclassical architectural style, and boasts some of the most modern and comfortable undergraduate accommodation in all of Cambridge.

It was then soon time for one of the true highlights of a Varsity Education programme – a three-course celebratory formal dinner, where students don their suits and dresses to receive their graduation certificates in a formal ceremony. This formal dinner was not held in the underground buttery, like a normal College dinner, but rather at long tables in Clare College’s ancient ‘Small Hall’. Students and tutors alike feasted on roasted guinea fowl and applauded each and every one of our students as they shook the Dean’s hand and received their certificate. It really was a night to remember!

Learning from experts in their field

With the weather gradually brightening from the wet start to the week, students woke up bright and early to attend a morning briefing led by our House Parent Zoe, who made some announcements like: we would be eating dinner in the Great Hall today (more on that later!).

Morning classes took place as usual, with our International Relations class talking about critical theories of International Relations with a focus on Postcolonialism. Psychology took a look at sibling relationships, debating whether having siblings helps or hinders a child’s social, emotional and cognitive development.

After lunch in the sunshine, half of our group had their 1:1 tutorials, examining the essays that they had written for their subjects. For example, Economics students wrote an essay discussing why the value of a new car is so different from the value of that same car after it leaves the showroom, and how the model of asymmetric information may help to shed light on this.

While these were going on, some students had personal sessions with our Dean to discuss their future options with regards to university and careers, while others completed mock interviews. Many of them had had preliminary mock interviews last week and received feedback which they then took on board in order to improve in today’s interview, led by two tutors.

Once these had finished, the whole group gathered together to go into dinner, because students had the chance to eat in the Great Hall at Clare College! While we will have our formal dinner tomorrow, we relished the chance to eat the normal college food in the amazing surroundings of the 17th Century Great Hall, with its highly decorated ceiling, stained glass windows, wood panelling and paintings of illustrious college members.

Students went straight from dinner to a guest lecture by a neurologist and barrister, who outlined their academic and career paths for the benefit of those considering Law and Medicine in the future. Even for our non-Medicine and Law students, the speakers kept them fascinated with their exciting tales of court trials gone by and, for the doctor, by showing off the tools of his trade. Apparently, the most important equipment for a neurologist consists of three very simple things: a tuning fork, tendon hammer and sharp pin to test reactions.

1000 years of history at Warwick Castle

After a few consecutive days of focused academic study in College, today our students enjoyed a well-deserved break. The whole group piled on to the bus outside College in the early morning and headed to one of England’s most famous medieval buildings – Warwick Castle. The site dates back to 1068, when William the Conqueror – the first Norman King of England – built the first fortifications.

On arrival, students enjoyed some free time to explore the castle and its grounds at their leisure. Attractions include an outdoor adventure maze, a gallery of historic weaponry and armour, a giant (functioning!) trebuchet and of course, the towers and ramparts of the castle itself. For many of our students, however, the highlight was the “War of the Roses” live action jousting show – with fearless actors putting on a spectacle of stunt horse-riding, sword-fighting and jaw-dropping special effects as they portrayed the battle for the throne of England.

Next on the schedule was the ever-popular Flight of the Eagles live show, in which students were treated to a display of beautiful birds of prey flying from the castle ramparts – including a Bald Eagle, an Andean Condor and a sextet of Black Kites circling and snatching food from the air.

Most students also took the opportunity to explore the nearby Warwick town centre, before boarding the bus back to Cambridge. Dinner this evening was at a burger and pizza restaurant in central Cambridge, after which there was a little bit of free time to prepare for the next day of classes.

Personal Statement Surgeries & The World Bank Trading Game

Today started with a special morning briefing after breakfast with the head of Varsity Education’s Ambassador programme. The scheme offers CSC students the chance to receive continued support from the expert team after they graduate from the two-week programme, in return for spreading the word back home about their time with us. Scholarship and bursary students are already enrolled in the scheme, but other students were given the chance to opt-in. House parents also asked students to sign up for one or two college visits on Friday afternoon – students chose which of Cambridge’s historic college they’d prefer to look around on a pre-booked visit, from a list including Downing College, Emmanuel College, Queens College and Trinity Hall.

In today’s morning seminars, the Maths & Engineering classes learnt about aerodynamics and its application to car design. The Medics had a lesson on the causes and treatment of diabetes, whilst over in Law the discussions centred around Human Rights Law and the ECHR.

After lunch, the afternoon began with group tutorials, in which students worked on specific case studies or problems for their subject alongside their tutor, in groups of just two or three.

It was then time for Part II of the Personal Statement preparation – the 1-on-1 surgeries. Since the last session on Personal Statements, any student who wished to draft a full Personal Statement (or an outline plan) would get comprehensive feedback from an expert tutor in a face-to-face surgery. Some of the students who will be applying to Oxbridge in October 2018 had already brought a first draft of a Statement with them to the programme, and written a second draft since the first Personal Statement workshop, so this session functioned as a chance to get feedback on recent edits and changes.

Before dinner, there was some time put aside for a team strategy game – the World Bank trading game. In the game, different teams represent different countries which compete against each other in the ‘manufacturing’ of products (paper shapes) to sell on the international commodity market. The catch? Just like in the real world, different countries start with different amounts of resources and cash. The game aims to teach students about the role of the World Bank, the rules of international trade and the economic relationships between first and third-world countries.

The evening was dedicated to Part II of Debate Night, with six further teams arguing their case in front of a judging panel and the whole summer school – tonight’s motions were:

  • This House believes that Cambridge University should have quotas for disadvantaged students
  • This House believes that nobody has the right not to be offended
  • This House believes that video games are a valuable use of time

The winning team was the opposition for the first motion about student quotas – this team all won vouchers for Jack’s Gelato in central Cambridge.

Dissecting Cambridge’s architecture & the first debate

The usual morning seminars today – one for each of the students’ chosen subjects. History students had an outdoor lesson in the grounds of King’s College, analysing the buildings with Junior Research Fellow Anna Blair and discussing what the architecture can tell us about the way political and economic changes shaped Cambridge’s development. Our Law tutor led a class on ‘The Birth of the State’, looking at Kosovo as a case study. Psychology students, meanwhile, began a topic on language and the brain, looking at the processes that underlie written and spoken communication, and learning how a monolingual and a bilingual brain differ.

In the afternoon, students had some time set aside for private study, either to work on their weekly seminar assignment or redraft their Personal Statement. Throughout the week, a number of students have been asking their subject tutor to read through the first or second draft of their Personal Statement and have received both written and verbal feedback.

The whole group also took part in a collaborative workshop on Public Speaking, led by Charlotte Grundy, an expert in body language and voice training. Every single student got involved with the interactive games and activities, and the energy in the room was fantastic to see. We hope everyone came away with techniques to use at their next interview, school project presentation or perhaps if they run a TED talk in the future!

Armed with their newly-improved public speaking skills, students then gathered in the Latimer Room after dinner for the first of the Varsity Education Debate Nights. Tonight, three motions were debated in three fast-paced rounds of arguments and rebuttals, culminating in an audience vote. The judges’ overall prize for the most convincing and skilful debating went to the Proposition team for “This House believes that security is more valuable than privacy”. Each member of this team was awarded a voucher for Cambridge’s most popular ice-cream parlour, Jack’s Gelato.

Mock exams and more vital skills

Students were glad to have a lie-in this morning, with morning sign-in pushed back to 10am to allow students a couple of extra hours in bed. The time before lunch was officially designated as a “morning off”, in which students were advised not to study, and instead make use of the time to catch up with friends, relax in the college grounds or even just catch up on laundry!

The afternoon began with individual tutorials for half of the group. Students were able to go through last week’s assignments in detail with their tutors, talk about particular aspects that interested them, and ask any burning questions that had arisen in their further reading.

The afternoon also featured a Debate preparation workshop, as all of our students will now prepare to take part in a series of competitive mock debates in the evenings. Perfect for practicing all sorts of skills, including public speaking, critical thinking and knowledge of current affairs, all of which we look at in different workshops but are brought together here.

In the evening some students took part in timed mock examinations in preparation for Oxbridge admissions tests, such as the BMAT (Medicine), LNAT (Law) or TSA (Social Sciences). These will be marked by the Varsity academic faculty and students will be provided with full feedback at the end of the week.

‘Mini-mock’ interviews and 1-on-1 tutorials

Today saw students really delve deeper into their chosen subjects, by firstly attending small group seminars and then discussing topics in more depth in the afternoon tutorials. In the Philosophy seminar today, the students learned about Bertrand Russell’s response to scepticism (as raised by Descartes), and Russell’s view that the task of philosophy is to conform to or deny everyday assumptions that we make. Our Medicine students spent their time today learning about and discussing cancer, whereas the Politics class focused on populism.

After lunch the students participated in the first of the Interview Skills sessions. Students were invited to undertake a 20 minute ‘mini-mock’ interview for the course they intend to apply for in the future – an informal way to get a first taste of what an Oxbridge interview may entail. These ‘mini-mock’ interview was then followed by individual verbal feedback, in which students receive constructive feedback to work on before their formal mock interview later in the week.

Half of the students then had some free time to return to their bedrooms and do some private study, whilst the other half had their 1-on-1 subject-specific tutorials – a valuable opportunity to work through problem areas with their expert tutors or discuss seminar topics in more depth.

The students then had some well-earned “time out” in the evening with a film night showing ‘The Greatest Showman’ before bed.

AI lecture and science lab experiments

For most students, the day began with a seminar in each of their two chosen subjects. International Relations students, for example, compared and contrasted Realism and Liberalism as theories, whilst those who had opted for the Politics & Economics course were discussing whether we live in a post-democratic world. The History class looked at the representation of poverty in paintings and photographs since the Industrial Revolution, and the Psychology students participated in a session on higher cognition, executive functions and experimental methods to measure these. Meanwhile, over in the Latimer Room Dr Sam Vinko (Lecturer and Research Fellow from the Department of Physics at Oxford) gave a guest lecture to the Maths & Engineering students about the latest research into Machine Learning and its implications for artificial intelligence.

After lunch, all of the Science students took part in experiments at the university’s prestigious Biochemistry lab. They performed a protein analysis practical session, using the process of electrophoresis to analyse different proteins. It was a great chance to participate in a session led by a university lab supervisor, using undergraduate level equipment!

Students taking non-Science subjects had a chance to catch up on their reading or prepare for the 1-on-1 tutorials coming up tomorrow.

In the late afternoon students then participated in a range of sports activities – ranging from Basketball with Innocent (our Biological Sciences tutor), football out on the field or a more slow-paced game of croquet on the lawns.

To the ‘city of dreaming spires.’

Today’s full-day excursion gave students the chance to compare Cambridge University to its fiercest rival, Oxford University, just a couple of hours’ drive away by coach. Many of the students and staff also took the coach journey as an opportunity to catch up on some well-earned rest, after a busy few days of seminars and workshops.

Students and welfare staff were dropped off in the city centre near St Giles by mid-morning and students were granted two hours’ free time to explore the historic city centre on foot in their groups and pairs. A few students had compiled a shortlist of colleges that they wanted to visit in this time, with the view of perhaps applying to Oxford University in the future.

Oxford University is indeed the older of the two ancient UK universities, and though there are many similarities between the two institutions – including the college system, 1-on-1 teaching, and reputation for world-class teaching and research – there are also some subtle differences. Oxford is the larger of the two cities, with more shopping opportunities and more of a busy ‘urban’ feel than its younger sister. A lot of our students made the most of the variety of shops, and when they returned to the meeting point at 1:30pm, we noticed that a large number of them had bought a famous ‘Oxford University’ branded hoody. A popular choice – but perhaps best not to wear it too proudly when back in Cambridge!

Next on the schedule was a pre-booked visit to one of Oxford’s most beautiful colleges – Merton, famous as being the college where J. R. R. Tolkien (author of the Lord of Rings trilogy) taught between 1945 and 1959. One of Merton’s other claims to fame is its library, dating from 1373, which is recognised as oldest continuously functioning library for university academics and students in the world!

The students then got the chance to try out Oxford’s most beloved pastime – punting on the river. After piling onto the punts near Magdalen Bridge, our punt chauffeurs took us on a beautiful one hour trip down river.

Sadly, not long after we had to get back on the coach, so we could get back to Cambridge in time for group dinner at an Italian restaurant in Cambridge. On the journey back, there were a number of (rather tuneless) singalongs, punctuated by animated discussions about the relative merits of Oxford and Cambridge as a place to study.

Tough negotiations and traditional English pastimes

The morning was dedicated to small group seminars for their chosen subjects. English Literature students were treated to a lecture given by Dr Tolley about the use of sounds and stage direction in Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice.’

At 2pm, directly after the lunchbreak, students gathered for the first key workshop of the day – ‘Current Affairs’. For anyone intending to apply to any competitive degree course around the world, a nuanced understanding of current world events is absolutely essential. After a short introduction from the Senior Tutor and International Relations tutor, students split off into focus groups to discuss and brainstorm points of interest related to a specific contemporary issue. Many chose to make use of the Scholars’ Garden or the Fellows’ Garden to construct a collaborative mind map before presenting to the rest of the group back in the Latimer room. Topics of discussion included:

  • The rise of populism in modern-day global politics,
  • Nuclear proliferation
  • Social media and the rise of “fake news”

The final period of the afternoon was dedicated to learning the quintessential British summertime game – Croquet! While most of the group played croquet outside Memorial Court, students from Politics & Economics and / or Business & Management played the Harvard negotiation challenge, hard-nosed negotiation game designed by the Harvard Business School.

After dinner, some students went to see an open-air performance of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream on the lawns of King’s College next door. Other students chose to read class notes or rest in their dorms, at the end of a long and busy day!

An afternoon of workshops and an evening of trivia

After the usual English breakfast, students headed to their group seminars in either Old Court or Memorial Court. The Physical Sciences students, for example, were learning about atomic orbitals, whilst over in the Philosophy classroom, students were introduced to some of the fundamentals of analytic philosophy – such as the contrast between a priori and a posteriori knowledge. In between seminars, students had some free time to read over their notes or hang out near the dormitory buildings. The Business and Management students used Starbucks as a case study for a lesson on Business Strategy.

It was soon time for lunch, with students required as usual to sign out with the House Parents at the office, before heading off in their groups into the town centre. Today’s afternoon activities back in Clare College had a real academic focus, so it was important that the students took some time to get some fresh air and replenish their mental energy!

Immediately after lunch, each student was timetabled for two half-hour ‘group tutorials’, one for each of their chosen subjects. These group tutorials give students the opportunity to work on a specific task or discuss and debate one particular topic with their tutor, alongside no more than two fellow students. The case studies and questions posed in tutorials very often follow on from more general themes and topics covered in the morning group seminars.

Following this students were assigned into focus groups to work on Personal Statements with our team. We have a range of ages and backgrounds on the programme, and a range of subjects too (from Medicine to HSPS). Students in Group 1 were just starting to learn about the requirements for a UCAS Personal Statement, whereas those in Group 4 had already brought their first or even second drafts with them to Cambridge to gain feedback.

The final afternoon session was an interactive workshop on writing an academic essay. In small groups the students broke down and analysed the fundamentals of approaching a question and constructing an argument. Groups then went up to the front to present their knowledge and ideas to the rest of the room.

Dinner was served at around 7pm, after which the students gathered back in the Latimer Room for the Varsity Education Quiz Night. In their teams, students competed to answer questions on General Knowledge, Science, Art and History, and even a round on Oxbridge knowledge. ‘Team UAE (& Thomas)’ were declared the winners at the end of the night, with 26.5 points, followed very closely by ‘Forbidden’ with 25.5 points.

Students on our second Cambridge programme were excited to spend their first full day in the beautiful grounds of Clare College, Cambridge – the second oldest college in the university. A full English breakfast was served in the underground college dining area in Old Court, before most students went their separate ways for the first of their subject-specific small group seminars. Some students from the Politics and Economics course, however, began the day instead with a guest lecture on Democracy from Dr Harald Wydra.

Once students had completed their introductory group seminars in both chosen subjects, it was time for an extended lunch break – for many students this was their first real chance to explore Cambridge on foot. Students went out to get sandwiches and snacks to eat in the glorious July sunshine, whether sitting on the bank of the River Cam (which runs straight through Clare College!) or in Cambridge’s historic market square.

It was back to Old Court in Clare College at 3pm for an introductory session on UCAS and the Oxbridge universities. After a brief introduction from the Senior Tutor, students were split into small groups and sat in the Scholars’ Garden to discuss differences in application process, history and traditions between these two world-class universities. Questions such as ‘What makes Oxbridge different to other UK universities?’ and ‘How does the college system work?’ were covered, with more detail on UCAS requirements and the admissions process to come in workshops later this week.

By 4pm it was time to get back outside again for a tour of the main Cambridge sights, led by a team of professional tour guides. In small groups the students learned about the history of King’s College and its founder Henry VI, the grand, sprawling Trinity College, and a host of other places of interest along the main Cambridge tourist route.

Before dinner, the students had a little free time to relax in the gardens, read over their class notes or chat with new friends. Students quickly got to know more about each other’s backgrounds and ambitions as they ate together.

By the time dinner was over, students were ready to get back outside and enjoy the last of the day’s sunshine. The group enjoyed playing a variety of games on Queens’ Green, organised by one of the Varsity house parents, Zoé. The perennial favourite ‘Werewolves’ was a big hit, as well as a competitive game of Ultimate Frisbee!

Welcome

Students of no fewer than nineteen nationalities arrived in Cambridge today to begin their Cambridge Summer College experience.

Some had chosen to make use of the complimentary airport transfer service from Heathrow airport – Varsity staff were there to greet them at the arrivals hall when they landed, and accompanied them on a private bus to Clare College. Others who were already resident in the UK or visiting with family chose to make their own way to the College by train or car.

After settling into their accommodation in Memorial Court, students all gathered in the Latimer room in Old Court in the mid-afternoon for some ice-breaker games. Students also met the House Parents, who ran a session about the students’ expectations of the programme ahead and any concerns or fears they had about the two weeks they will be spending together.

After dining in the Clare College Buttery that evening, students returned to Memorial Court to have an early night before the first lessons tomorrow morning.

Public speaking and Debate Night

As usual, students headed for their group seminars in both of their chosen subjects this morning. In the International Relations seminar, students discussed non-traditional approaches to security studies and focused on the theory of securitisation. For Law students, the class centred on Fundamental Rights Protection in the UK, followed by the workings of the Human Rights Act 1998, and finally case studies concerning the equality of homosexual couples in relation to tenancy rights, and the indefinite detention of non-British terrorism suspects. Physical Sciences students began to look at Organic Chemistry and the importance of chirality in nature, especially in the creation of new molecules, while Medicine students learnt about calcium regulation. Meanwhile, the new cohort of Politics students learnt about transitional justice in Rwanda, South Africa and Romania.

Students then headed for lunch before attending the Public Speaking Workshop, which ran from 2-4pm and 4-6pm for two groups of students. Led by the professional Drama tutor Jo Laugharne, the workshop aims to create a safe space for students to improve their presentation skills and to embody appropriate gestures and audience awareness through individual and group activities. For instance, in pairs, students had to prepare a 30-second talk for and against a given subject. This was also followed by each group of four to five students coming up with one way to start a speech on the topic to seize and sustain the listeners’ attention. When not attending the workshop, students were invited to a 1-on-1 talk with the Programme Dean to talk about their academic progress and their future university plans.

After dinner in the College Dining Hall students gathered at the Margaret Thatcher Centre for the first of the Varsity Education Debate Nights. Tonight, three motions were debated in three fast-paced rounds of arguments and rebuttals, culminating in an audience vote. The judges’ overall prize went to the team with the most convincing and skilful debating – the opposition team for the motion “This House believes that security is more important than privacy.”

Group tutorials, guest lectures, & mock Exams

This morning began with the usual seminars after breakfast as well as some guest lectures. In a Physical Sciences guest lecture, students gauged how far distant galaxies could be from us using new methods, as well as the Doppler effect and redshift. In the Maths & Engineering guest lecture, students learnt about the foundation of machine learning. For Law students, their seminar looked at Constitutional Law, the principles of Parliamentary Sovereignty, Rule of Law, Separation of Powers, and examined a case in which a secretary of state refused to bring back a deported asylum seeker when the court had told him to do so. In the Business & Management seminar, students discussed the basics of Business strategy and explored how the strategy that Hannibal used to defeat the Romans could inform us in relation to business strategy.

After a scrumptious lunch, students then headed for their afternoon group tutorials. Business & Management students the applied the concepts that had been taught previously to analyse the business and management structures at Varsity Education. In Physical Sciences, students looked at several questions about molecular orbitals and went through more Oxbridge interview questions. This was later followed by a Negotiations Workshop at 4pm. Business and Management, Politics and Economics students were divided into four teams. Each team of three students negotiated on the price and sales of a single piece of land with each other.

After dinner, students sat for their very first mock examinations at the Margaret Thatcher Centre. These exams were modelled on each student’s specific Oxbridge admissions tests, including the BMAT (Medicine), LNAT (Law) or TSA (Social Sciences). These will be evaluated by the Varsity academic faculty and students will be provided with results and feedback at the end of the week.

Putting critical thinking into practice with a challenging world bank trading game

For the first time, students had a free morning before kickstarting their busy day. Many took the opportunity to refine their full drafts of Personal Statement, preparing for a workshop taking place later in the day.

The first of the afternoon sessions today was a 1-on-1 tutorial for each student. For instance, Physical Sciences students looked through questions related to quantum numbers and went over some Oxbridge interview questions. Biological Sciences students focused on essay-writing for Cambridge BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT) in their tutorials. In Medicine, students discussed diabetes and the role of interferon in antiviral immune response, particularly the mechanisms involved.

This was followed by part two of the Personal Statement workshop, in which every student received personalised guidance and support. As it was the last workshop on Personal Statements, any student who wrote a first draft or essay plan earlier in the week would receive comprehensive feedback from the expert tutors in this session. For a few eager students who had already brought a first draft of a statement with them to the first workshop, feedback on recent edits and changes was given.

Before dinner, students enjoyed a fun yet challenging strategy game as part of the Critical Thinking Skills Workshop. In the World Bank Trading Game, students were divided into different teams representing different countries that competed against each other in the ‘manufacture’ of products (paper shapes) to sell on the international commodity market. As in the real world, different countries start with different amount of resources and cash. Through this game, students learnt about the role of the World Bank, the rules of international trade and the economic relationships between first- and third-world countries. In the end, Tanzania won the game by earning up to 8,400 dollars.

After dinner, students were given the option to watch The Greatest Showman at Film Night, followed by a free evening to prepare lessons and mock examinations in the next day.

Laboratory time and a chance to unleash creativity

After a few consecutive days of rain, Oxford was ready for the return of a warmer and sunnier day! As usual, students headed to group seminars for each of their chosen subjects. Engineering students learnt about vehicle aerodynamics, discussing how to design the ideal vehicle without getting caught up with numerical details. In the Medicine seminar, students examined white blood cells, including their function and histological morphology. Business & Management students looked at traits of leaders, discussed the Full-Range-of-Leadership Model, and analysed a scenario, while Biology students learnt about forensics and the application of Biology to solve crimes. In Law, students finished their Criminal Law discussions by looking at Property Offences and Sexual Offences, paying attention to the difficulties of consent.

Laboratory sessions were held in the afternoon for Biological and Physical Sciences students after lunch. Physics students first learnt to levitate objects using a magnet. They then explored how Maglev trains work, how superconductors are made, and how to build their own Maglev “trains” using superconductors. The Biological Sciences students, on the other hand, learnt to use light microscopy to identify different types of cells.

At 4 pm, students were given the opportunity to play board games and/or make cards. It was incredible to witness students’ creativity in both academic study as well as arts and craft – each of them was unique and original. Some students made it for their family and close friends, whereas a few of them made postcards for their tutors as a token of appreciation. While not in classes, students made full use of their free time to prepare for the next day’s 1-on-1 tutorials and personalised guidance on Personal Statement. Some students also studied privately or with their friends.

After dinner, students had a free evening to rest and prepare for tomorrow’s activities.

Tutorials, Mock Interviews, and Quiz Night

The morning began with the usual group seminars, in which students continued to delve deeper into their respective subjects with their peers. Today, Medicine students learnt about allergies and inflammation, and explored factors that may have led to the increased incidence of allergies in the population. Following previous discussion on the broader context of ethics, Philosophy students discussed the philosophy of punishment through different theories and justifications of punishment. In Physical Sciences, students learnt about the uses of electronic configurations, linear combination of atomic orbitals, and forming new molecules from atoms. For Law students, they continued with criminal law, looking at the question whether women who excessively consume alcohol during their pregnancy could and/or should be guilty of committing criminal offences and certain property offences (such as theft, criminal damage or robbery).

After lunch, students attended their one-on-one tutorials to receive personalised guidance from their tutors in their respective subjects. For instance, students in Physical Sciences tutorials discussed their presentations and went through mock Oxbridge interview questions. This was followed by a preliminary mock interview, in which each student was interviewed by two tutors in his or her chosen subject. For instance, questions such as “Do humans have free will?” and “Could you have been a horse?” were posed to Philosophy students in their mock interviews. Feedback was given to each student at the end of the session. In general, students were advised to remain curious and up-to-date with current developments of their subjects, and to demonstrate their passion by talking about topics they enjoy. This will be followed by a second round of mock interviews later in the course, in which students will be able to apply what they learnt today.

In the evening, students had a great time bonding with friends while racking their brains at Quiz Night. Students were divided into six teams to answer five rounds of ten questions. There was also a bonus question that required all teams to name as many countries as they could that begin with the letter S, as well as their respective capitals in two minutes. The team that won was Team Catfishes (Maddy, Chloe, Lara, Susmita and Georgia), beating Team Ligma (Saad, Zain, Abdul, Siva and Rashed) by one point.

A Trip to Warwick Castle

After several days of intense academic study, our students enjoyed a well-deserved break today. They boarded the bus in the early morning and headed to Warwick Castle, one of England’s famous medieval buildings. Situated on a bend of the River Avon, the first fortifications of the castle were built since 1068 by William the Conqueror, the first Norman King of England.

Upon arrival, students were free to roam and explore the castle and its grounds at their leisure. Attractions include an outdoor adventure maze, an exhibition of historic weaponry and armour and a huge working trebuchet, in addition to the towers and ramparts of the castle itself. One of the memorable highlights of the day was the Flight of the Eagles live show, in which students marvelled at the sight of beautiful birds of prey soaring across the skies before snatching food in mid-air. Being encouraged and cheered on by others, several students also tried archery and managed to hit the target after a few attempts.

Many students took the opportunity to explore the town centre. Some of them visited the nearby market place and the Collegiate Church of St Mary, founded by Roger de Beaumont, the 2nd Earl of Warwick in 1123. At 4pm, they boarded the bus back to Oxford and enjoyed dinner at a pizzeria in the city centre, after which there was some free time to rest and prepare for the next day of lessons.

Seminars, Museums, and Shakespeare

Oxford was showered with rain in the morning, but not our students! As usual, they attended their group seminars in both chosen subjects after breakfast, remaining warm and dry. Physical Sciences students learnt about Cosmology and the large-scale structure of the Universe, which also covered astronomical theories, dating back to ancient Greece. What was particularly exciting for them was learning how to measure the size of the earth, moon, sun, and the distance of Voyager 1 with guidance from Dr Chisari. On the other hand, International Relations students learnt about social constructivism and the role of ideational structures before proceeding with case study analysis on Bush’s address to the Congress after 9/11.

It was at 2 pm when the afternoon sunbeams signalled the perfect time to visit some of the museums in Oxford. Students had the opportunity to visit either the Ashmolean Museum or the Museum of Natural History and Pitt Rivers Museum. At the Ashmolean, students explored world-famous collections from most of the world’s great civilisations. Students who visited the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and Pitt Rivers Museum learnt about extraordinary collections of entomological, geological, zoological specimens, as well as archaeological and ethnographical collections from all parts of the world respectively.

In the evening, some of the students chose to watch Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet at Oxford Castle and Prison, whereas the others remained on site to rest or to study in private. By the end of the day, students shared similar thoughts on the journey of learning: as we learn more, we realise how much we don’t know. Indeed, as pointed out by Dr. Chisari, there remain galaxies in our Universe which have not been explored, but such galaxies may not only be contained within the Universe we are in; they may also be found in a seminar, a museum, or a play.

Group Tutorials, Personal Statements, and Guest Speakers

Students were greeted with a sunny morning and a scrumptious English breakfast. They then headed to their seminars in either the Margaret Thatcher Centre or Margery Fry House. In the Physical Sciences seminar, students learnt about quantum mechanical model of the atom, quantum numbers, atomic orbitals and their nodes, and areas of zero electron density to follow on yesterday’s introductory seminar.

In the afternoon, students were feeling excited yet nervous before two thirty-minute group tutorials – one for each of their chosen subjects. However, each student, alongside no more than two peers, was fully engaged throughout the tutorial, taking turns in contributing to discussions or working on a specific task. The questions posed in these tutorials usually follow on from the topics covered in the morning seminars. For instance, the Biological Sciences students had the opportunity to seek further clarification on topics covered in the previous seminar, in addition to learning concepts of competitive and non-competitive inhibition of enzymes. The tutors were not only impressed by some of the interesting questions raised by the students, but also by their enthusiasm to learn and contribute.

At 4pm it was time for the first of two workshops, in which students learnt essay writing skills and applied them to various issues in current affairs. Divided into three small groups, each team was given thirty minutes to prepare for their presentation. One group’s brief was to argue that terrorism, rather than climate change or inequality, is the greatest security threat facing the world. The teams then presented their arguments during the second half of the session.

The second workshop of the day featured an introduction to the UCAS personal statement with our tutors. This will be followed later in the week by a more specific Personal Statement workshop, in which students will receive personalised guidance.

The evening rain did not dampen the students’ enthusiasm and spirit to learn more from the guest lecturers. Led by a criminal defence barrister and a neuroscientist, the Guest Lecture shed light on how Cambridge degrees shaped these specialists’ career pathway, and what it is like to work in their respective fields. Students seized the opportunity to raise questions to and engage with the speakers – their minds remaining bright and eager against the dimming daylight.

First seminars and a guided tour of Oxford

Students attended their first seminars this morning, covering introductory undergraduate-level topics in both of their chosen subjects. The Philosophy seminar covered the foundation of Philosophy in the Anglo-American world, whereas the Law seminar covered the basic structure of criminal offences by analysing a selection of case studies. In the Business & Management seminar, students learnt the basics of operations management and the principles of lean operations. Engineering students went through some interview and practice questions, whereas Medical students learnt about bone and muscle anatomy. The way in which historical narratives have been shaped by scholars’ biases and access to sources were highlighted in the History seminar. Professor Maclean lectured Biological Sciences students on evolution and Darwinism, while the English students were given a lecture on Shakespeare by Professor Tolley.

After the seminars, students enjoyed a long lunch before attending a talk on UCAS application and the Oxbridge system. This was headed by one Cambridge graduate and one Oxford graduate, who clarified some of the subtler differences in history and traditions between these two world-class universities. Questions such as ‘What makes Oxbridge different to other UK universities?’ and ‘How does the college system work?’ were covered, with more detail on UCAS requirements and the admissions process to come in workshops later in the programme.

In the evening, students experienced a guided walking tour around Oxford city centre. From centuries-old college rivalries to modern traces of the film Harry Potter and the book The Chronicles of Narnia, the heart of Oxford holds many tales and myths which both charmed and spooked the students. One of them even had the opportunity to stand on top of the former execution pit on Broad Street! Not only were the students astounded by the mesmerising architecture of the dreaming spires of the old city, particularly the Old Library and Radcliffe Camera, but also by the sheer number of books that lay beneath their feet in Gladstone Link, the university’s underground library. By the end of the two-hour tour, the students headed back to Somerville College for dinner.

Students were full of anticipation as they waited to hear more about Games Night, but what they didn’t expect was a surprise birthday celebration thrown by the House Parent, Zoe for one of the students. After enjoying cakes and laughter, students could choose to play board games, “Werewolf,” or frisbee. While both teams grew in confidence, teamwork, speed and accuracy, the victory went to the girls’ team over the boys’, with the final score of 10-7.

Welcome

Our latest programme participants arrived in Oxford today by car, train or plane, excited to begin their Oxford Summer College experience in the grounds of Somerville College. Our students hail from a multitude of countries across Europe, the Middle East and Asia, with some UK-based participants too.

Some students had chosen to make use of the complimentary airport transfer service from Heathrow airport – Varsity staff were there to greet them at the arrivals hall when they landed, and accompanied them on a private bus or in a taxi to Somerville College in Oxford.

The earliest arrivals had a chance to explore the nearby city centre at lunchtime, before meeting back at the college for an afternoon of informal ‘ice-breaker’ activities.

Once all students had arrived and settled into their accommodation in the Penrose Building, they gathered on the Main Quad – a grassy area in the centre of college – to play some team strategy games, including the ‘Human Knot’ exercise. The afternoon also included a welcome speech from the Dean of the programme, as well as a brief introduction from the Senior Tutor, in which students were asked to indicate whether they’d like to take a mock exam or mock interview next week. Later the House Parents (our in-house welfare team) ran a short session to chat about the students’ expectations of the upcoming programme, encouraging discussion of any concerns or fears they had about the two weeks they will be spending together.

Dinner was eaten in Somerville’s beautiful old dining hall. After a long day of travelling and meeting new people, students returned to the Penrose Building before dark to have an early night before the first lessons tomorrow morning.