Memory… Cambridge’s double edged sword

I’ve been at Cambridge a week– packed with punting, scone- and tea-drinking, Bop-going and trying to figure out how to navigate an archaic system. My first lecture at Cambridge was in a little room set up to hold 100 students– 200 students showed up and we sat on and under the tables. It was a Course on Institutions.

It is widely stated that this is the Number One University in the world. 61 nobel prizes. Newton, Bacon, Darwin, Watson and Crick…the list of course goes on. The memory engrained in this institution in truly incredible. A condensed 800 years of academic brilliance. It makes me wonder whether innovation can be transmitted through old stone walls…

I was told today by my Senior Tutor that Academic Excellence at Cambridge is not because of the Institution, but in fact, despite of it.

  • Self-check out at the library? How would librarians ever keep track of where books are if students could check out books themselves?
  • A unified online student account management system? Nope. 6 user ID and passwords later…
  • Power point lectures? No such thing, but do expect hundreds of sheets of paper (generally not posted online) with the professor’s notes.
  • Sign-up for a discussion group online? Please find sign-up sheet outside room 8A East Wing of CRASSH building.
  • Looking for stimulating events? Twitter or Facebook hasn’t made it here yet, but don’t worry, your inbox will be filled with 50+ emails a day from different student societies.
Yet this is place where ground-breaking discoveries are made. I’m interested in environment, ecology, development, international relations, innovation, resilience…  how do I find out about the lectures? Speaker series? Dialogues? I’m told I don’t… I’m assured they do exist, but one has to happen to find them. In the pub, or in a hidden corner. I have my feelers out. I am looking.  I have to learn how to make the history work for me, dive into old books (and actually read them from start to finish), forget about the fast ever-changing exciting variables on the brink of research, and focus on the slower variables. A long talk with an astro-physicist about galaxy evolution over a pint might be a place to start.
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