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Different Strokes

I had a weird timey-wimey university experience this weekend – thankfully I came through it OK without being ravaged too much (more) by the time winds and was left still wanting more to study more. Shame about the time and money – current and future students, and their parents, you have my sympathy – so another project is probably going to have to wait a while until I can locate some funding. But at least I can enjoy the achievement now and can perhaps claim to have accidentally pitched myself at both ends of the academic spectrum.
This was brought home to me with the Open University graduation ceremony at the Barbican in comparison to my previous Oxford experiences. I don’t recall those officiating making gags in the Sheldonian in Oxford (although considering a lot of it was in Latin, maybe they were slipping in a few one-liners). Secondly, dancing across the stage to be received by the Vice Chancellor (who was also more than happy to wave cheerfully at supports and be in at least one selfie) was most certainly not allowed. And finally, some of my fellow graduates were not even wearing the correct gown! You would not be allowed into the building if that was the case in the Oxford (and I am not joking – in my day at least if you turned up for your final exams without the entire correct academic dress you would not be able to take the examination.)
I would have said it was enjoyable if it had not been ridiculously long – bless the Lovely Wife whose poor hands were dropping off from all that polite clapping. It was certainly different. Was it better? No, I don’t think so. The ceremony on Friday fitted the institution – the Open University has an incredibly diverse collection of students and does not have the traditions that some of the physical and older universities have. It has to be sensitive to that. One thing for example that impressed me was that the Vice Chancellor while effusive in his handshakes with most people very carefully avoided any contact with the Muslim ladies who were graduating. Subtly but carefully done.
It is just as well the Open University does not have to carry the burden of tradition as it would drag it down. It is happy being its own thing. Oxford on the other hand carries its tradition stoically on aged shoulders, but at least it fits. Personally I like both; they both recognise and celebrate the study within two different contexts.
Having celebrated with some great steak and ale (sadly, in another difference from the Oxford ceremony, Friday’s graduation dinner was at my expense rather than the college) I then fell into a time warp as I attend the open day at my old haunt at the Oxford Department of Zoology (or Biological Sciences as it is now). Surprisingly interesting – I must blog about the nitrogen crisis at some point as I was completely unaware of that impending disaster – it was also nice to meet some current students and find out that some of the things I remember as a student – such as the time when a fellow student managed to shove a razor shell through his foot on a Pembrokeshire field trip (not one to try at the beach guys) have now slipped into department folklore.
But the weirdest point was walking into part of the building and looking around at all the computer screens with a dawning realisation something was wrong. And then it came to me. No library. With most journals online, there is no need to have and keep physical copies so the space where I sweated over essays hoping that having read the abstracts and the conclusions was enough to get the point and therefore avoid having to trying to read the impenetrable paper itself (goodness scientists are terrible writers when it comes to readability). It was very odd, and it was just as well that they had put out some rather nice New Zealand sauvignon to end the day to ease the pain of the loss of my student history (well, this is Oxford after all, what do you expect, Echo Falls?).

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