Oxford Etiquette: Lectures

This article first appeared in The Oxford Student on 12 February 2015.

Lectures are, in their own way, a perfect encapsulation of the experience of studying at Oxford. Specifically, they embody the academic entropy of the super-intense, highly-involved, sanity-destroying eight-week term. A lecture in first week will typically be lively, engaging and packed to gunnels with eager students. But as the term goes on, audiences begin to dwindle, with sizes going from football crowds to church congregations to book club meetings to, eventually, a group so small as to resemble the attendees of an open mic night at a Hartlepool-based Methodist Church youth group.

Similarly, much as one’s own essays become an exercise in barrel-scraping around sixth week, the content of many lecture series often starts to feel stale, as lecturers desperately attempt to find something new to say about the image of the city in the works of Charles Dickens or the principle of comparative advantage in international trade, topics too well-worn even to be donated to Oxfam.

Or else lecturers realise they have too much to cover in the time they have remaining, and so lectures become an avalanche of pontification on such ludicrously complex topics as Quantitative Easing and How It Helps (short answer: no-one knows and it doesn’t, really) or just what the hell is going on in Finnegans Wake and whether it makes any sense (short answer: no-one knows and it doesn’t, really).

So, what is proper behaviour in a lecture? Obviously, one’s phone must be switched off. This is elementary stuff, and yet every day some fascinating insight into historical determinism is drowned out by the asinine pinging of a personal communications device. Cut it out. Beyond that, it’s really quite straightforward: keep quiet, respect the personal space of those around you, allow people to look at your notes if they missed something, and if you do feel at all drowsy, please try not to drool all over my copy of The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. But if you have brought your own copy, by all means fell free. Lord knows we could all do with a rest.

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