Work hard, play hard. I’m told that’s the mantra at other universities. Managing to balance serious academic work with being a fun-loving go-getter is the eternal struggle of the Oxford student.

It’s a struggle that causes people to pre-drink in the library, read Shelley in the loos in nightclubs, and consider their special topic FHS paper to be a hobby. I am neither a panicker nor a planner, which is, in many ways, the worst possible combination. Whilst I don’t suffer from the ‘essay crisis’ epidemic that seems to befall a certain type of Facebook-status-loving student, I also struggle to effectively use my vacation time to plan for the term ahead.

The three-month-long summer vacation (which Oxford students are not allowed to consider a ‘holiday’ as they are simply ‘vacating’ their rooms) presents yet another work/play dilemma.

To the casual observer this behemoth of seemingly unadulterated leisure time is more than adequate compensation for three eight-week terms, but any student knows that the situation is more complicated.

What happens during the vacation is what I would call a work/work dilemma. Should I be tackling the BigBank Inc. internship thrust down my throat by a lecherous bigwig at the finance society drinks? Or, should I be cracking on with the reading list, which, in itself, took me a day to get through?

There’s a whole breed of cut-throat undergraduate who have their futures mapped out, with pre-existing offers for schemes at Deutsche Bank or Slaughter and May. They put the fear of God into students, like myself, who have been happy to wander through our three-year degree with the bright, sparkly expectation of some sort of employment in the future. But now I find myself in the offices of a monthly current affairs magazine, covertly flicking through the pages of my Philip Roth novel (my ‘special author’, so I guess this is just a hobby) whilst trying to smile in a pleasant, CV-enhancing way whenever anyone asks me a vague question. It turns out that there’s not an awful lot that an unskilled 20-year-old can offer a leading print publication, and the days where you could hound the intern to get you endless cups of coffee seem to be ended.

So, I sit here, working my way through my reading list in an increasingly blasé manner (what’s nicer than to put your feet up with coffee, biscuits and a book?) and hoping that I might be given something to proofread.

But, instead, I’m just left wondering whether my time wouldn’t be better spent in a library. During the previous vacation, I managed to completely avoid doing any written work until I was back in Oxford with several thousand libraries surrounding me.

When I explained this to my tutor, he said, “don’t you live just a walk away from the British Library?”. It had never crossed my mind that the library-fuelled rollercoaster of undergraduate life might extend to the vacation and, more scarily, enter my home. But, for now, the stack of tomes beside my bed will have to wait. The work/work dilemma represents the more ruthless side of Oxford — a side that happily ignores my desire to watch golf on the television. Perhaps it’s never truly possible to ‘vacate’.

  • Nicholas Hilton is a third year English student at Pembroke College