South East England Study Courses
Politics, Philosophy and Economics At Oxford University
As many of you will know, I’m about to start the third year of my PPE degree in October, and is it takes up a considerable amount of my time, I thought I’d tell you all all about it ;) PPE stands for Philosophy, Politics and Economics. It’s one of the most popular degree courses in Oxford, with around 300-400 ... students a year opting for the course. As the name implies, it’s a ‘joint schools’ subject, involving three disciplines. None of these are offered individually in Oxford, so if you want to do any of them, PPE many be a good bet. There are numerous other options available though – such as Economics and Management, Modern History and Politics or PPP (Philosophy, Psychology and Physiology). If you want to do PPE, but can’t get into Oxford, it’s offered by several other universities – obviously it’s not as widespread as, say, History, but York do quite a good course (which is reserve for many Oxford applicants) and I know Essex offer it too (see later details on requirements).
The course itself is split fairly evenly in the first year, and I’ll concentrate mostly on this because that’s what applies to everyone. After your first year, it’s an immensely flexible course – allowing you to drop one branch completely, and major quite heavily in any area that interests you.
The First Year
The first year exams (Prelims) consist of three papers – one per subject. Each is three hours long and has four questions; papers are marked out of 85 each so the total is 255. A pass is around 120 (it varies depending on how you do on each paper – eg 39, 39 and 80 wouldn’t be a pass, but 39, 50 and 50 would) and distinctions are 200 (for the record, I got 198). The first year is devoted, obviously, to passing these exams.
Teaching consists of university provided lectures and tutorials. The usual in the first year is to have three tutori als (one per subject) in each fortnight. Maths and logic (if applicable) will normally be taught in classes. Students aren’t likely to be given that much option in their first year – though they may have a choice such as French or German Politics, but often they will the topics set by tutors.
As for the exam papers (which dictate what is done):
The Philosophy paper features sections on formal logic (based on Hodges’ book), J. S. Mill’s Utilitarianism and Descartes’ Meditations, candidates must answer from at least two sections.
The Politics paper features a range of countries – Britain, France, USA, Germany and Russia – as well as several theoretical questions (concerning either thinkers Mill, Rousseau, Marx and de Tocqueville or themes such as liberty and democracy). Candidates must answer on at least two countries and one theory question.
The Economics paper covers both micro and macro, as well as having a number of maths/statistics questions, of which candidates can answer up to two (none compulsory).
Where there is choice, as I said, it’s often up to tutors. In Philosophy, for example, candidates may be taught all three sections, or just two. Politics will probably cover three countries (but maybe just two) and in Economics the macro/micro split doesn’t matter, but Maths classes are offered to complement tutorials should candidates wish to answer these optional questions (see below for details on course requirements).
Should the Prelims be failed, there is a chance to re-sit one or more papers in September. Should these be failed, you’ll be ejected from the course (re-sits are pretty rare – usually no more than three a year).
Another requirement is completion of an IT course. We (my year, and the one below) did this in the second year, but next year’s freshers will have to do a project using Excel as part of their Prelims, probably during the s econd term. If it’s like ours, it won’t be too taxing, it only has to be completed ‘satisfactorily’.
Second and Third Years
As you can see, there’s quite a range of stuff covered in the first year. Thankfully in the second year you’re allowed to drop one branch completely (just doing Politics and Philosophy like me, for example). Incidentally, Politics is almost never dropped – it’s not that it’s easiest, but least technical and the best fit with either of the others (whereas Philosophy and Economics tends to be a bit odd!)
Whatever combination you do, you study eight papers for finals. Each subject has a number of core papers, as well as options. Candidates must study the prescribed core papers (though sometimes there’s a choice here) and make up the rest of their papers through options (including further core papers if they wish). Candidates doing the tripartite option (i.e. all three branches) can choose what they like, candidates taking just two subjects can split their papers either four and four, or five and three if they wish to ‘major’ in one branch. Candidates opting for Politics and Economics can also choose a single Philosophy paper if they wish.
History of Philosophy OR Knowledge and Reality
(Tripartite candidates only have to do Ethics)
Candidates must do TWO from:
Theory of Politics (also available as a Philosophy option)
British Politics and Government
As you can see, the core papers generally build on work done in the first year. For example, in Philosophy, Mill’s Utilitarianism serves as an introduction to moral philosophy, while Descartes’ Meditations are an introduction to history or knowledge and re ality (both focus on metaphysics and epistemology). Within each paper there may be further options – for example, the History of Philosophy paper covers Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, Locke, Berkeley and Hume, but you’ll normally only study three of these.
Option papers build further on the core papers, and offer much more variety. You can do options that are closely related to the core ones – such as ‘Foundations of Modern Social and Political Thought’, ‘International Relations Between the Wars’ and ‘Sociological Theory’. You can also pursue quite specialist branches, such as Econometrics or Formal Logic.
The eight papers are normally taught two a term (with one tutorial per paper per week), taking up the second year and first term of the third year – there’s then a term set aside for revision before final exams in your last term. By doing the core papers first, you will usually have a reasonably firm idea what other areas you wish to pursue, and tutors and older students are always available to offer advice or guidance when choosing options.
In my opinion, one of the major advantages of this subject is its flexibility. When I came to Oxford, I had no experience in Philosophy, so I was glad I knew I would have the option to drop it. I actually expected to be doing Economics (having enjoyed the A-level). As with a lot of degrees, I found the degree work considerably different from A-level; so as it happened I was glad to be able to drop Economics and tailor my degree heavily towards Philosophy.
To give an example of how you can choose your degree, I’ll use my papers. I’m doing (for Philosophy) Ethics, History of Philosophy, Philosophy of Religion, Aesthetics and Plato’s Republic and (for Politics) Theory of Politics, Political Sociology and Classical Political Thought. As you can see, I’ve arranged a fair tie in of my options, picked arguably s even ‘philosophy’ papers and enjoyed a high degree of flexibility. This is because not only do the three branches on offer marry quite well, but papers and options can be tailored to suit your interests. Theory of Politics, for example, is very popular with students taking Philosophy and Politics – either (like me) taken by philosophers as a Politics option (to increase their Philosophy papers) or taken by those who want to do Politics as a Philosophy option to maximise their Politics papers!
My other overall thoughts are that it’s a really interesting degree, that offers three fascinating subjects, each of which complements the others and develops a broad understanding of modern social thought. It allows students a wide range of choice, and lets them pursue many areas of interest.
The standard A-level offer for PPE (as with all other subjects at Oxford) is AAB (using the old A-levels – quite how the new AS/AS2 levels will effect this I’m not sure). There are no ‘required’ subjects; in particular it is not necessary to have studied any of the three branches before – it’s common, but applicants can do well having studied, say, Maths, Physics and Latin!
Subjects that may be useful (apart from any of the three branches of course) include History, Geography, English Literature, Maths and maybe languages (which could be particularly helpful for study of foreign politics at least!). It does depend what you want to do. Maths is generally reckoned more useful than Economics for anyone going on to a degree. I’d say if you intend to drop Economics after the first year, Economics is the better A-level as it should let you bluff your way through without needing much maths ahem, but if you intend to study Economics in the second year, Maths is probably a far more useful A-level. Otherwise, subjects like History and English involve similar analytical skills, and huma n geography or sociology will familiarise you with techniques used in Economics and Politics.
Like I said, no A levels are required, and even science based subjects could develop necessary skills, so don’t be put off from applying because you’ve done the ‘wrong’ A-levels. Interviewers look for potential in applicants, so as long as you can show enthusiasm for the subject(s) you should be in with a chance. For this reason, I’d say show independent interest (outside school) and, if you are applying to Oxford for PPE, it may be worth putting a reserve application in for York. I can’t comment officially, but I think it’s best to look like you want to do PPE and aren’t just settling for it instead of Economics!
And the future…?
It goes without saying that because PPE can be such a diverse subject, leading to specialisation in various fields of philosophy, politics and economics, such as sociology, international relations and development, many potential career paths are open. You can go into law, teaching, business and many other avenues, as well as the obvious political career. William Hague had a first in PPE from Oxford, so you can’t go far wrong eh?
It’s worth mentioning though that PPE isn’t a vocational degree. There’s no career in mind, so though the skills you learn may impress many future employers, further training may well be needed.
So, all in all, that’s it. My ‘9-5 job’, well – it isn’t really, but something I spend most of my time doing. A challenging yet enjoyable degree. Don’t believe what they say
Why don’t PPE-ists get up in the morning?
‘Cos then they’d have nothing to do in the afternoon
PPE is hard work – harder than History for example (it’s true – last year one of my flatmates did a British Econom ic History paper which is offered by both History and Economics, thing is it was a whole term’s work for him, but would have been run with another paper for PPE-ists!). Departmental policy says you shouldn’t have to write more than 12 essays a term, but some tutors do expect a full six so it can be 16 – and that’s without the occasional nightmare of people who end up doing three papers in one term. Despite this negative end, it’s work I enjoy, and if PPE sounds interesting it’s a course I’d certainly recommend.
DISCLAIMER: I’m not qualified to give careers advice. If seriously contemplating PPE take full advantage of careers advisors, open days, course prospectuses, interviews and the like. Arrangements vary between colleges to a certain extent (and even more so if you’re thinking of PPE at another university). Applicants receive much fuller introductory information from the university, but feel free to ask any further questions in comments/by email.
Note also: PPE is common enough in Oxford to be known as PPE. Consequently no one's ever sure whether it's Philosophy, Politics and Economics, or Politics, Philosophy and Economics. I believe I have it right (and Dooyoo wrong) going by my student loan statement (the only official bit of paper I have to hand). It's not that important, and I believe it's the other way round at York anyway...
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Politics, Philosophy and Economics At Oxford University
I know how people tend to react when you say that you're doing maths at Oxford. Normally with a look of disgust on their faces. I must admit, at times, i can see why. It really was hard work at times.(am in my third and final year now). For me, the first year was the toughest simply because there was so many new things to ... learn in so little time. The work is set on a weekly basis -normally 5 sheets of questions on 5 different topics(in my first year, i studied Algebra, Applied Maths, Mathematical Methods, Non-physical Applied Maths and Differentiability).
I found the time-management very tough, but once you get into the rhythm of it all it does get easier and even fun! The thing with Oxford is that the terms are so short - you get stressed at around week4 or 5 thinking it's never going to end, but then the end of term soon arrives at the end of week8.
The other problem in the first year is that you don't get any options in your subjects. I found this slightly annoying because the subjects weren't the ones that i liked.(i think the syllabus is still the same, so the subjects you'd have to take in the first year would be as i listed above).
Once you get through the first year exams(Mods) -they are okay, hardly anyone fails those- and the first term of second year, when most people take the 2 compulsory courses, you get to the fun bit.
-The optional subjects. You get a very wide range of subjects to choose from, and most of the time you do get to do exactly what you want to study. The tutorials are carried out not in individual colleges but in classes with people from all colleges mixed in it. It makes a nice change, and also means you get help with your work from the university tutor, the marker(normally a research student) AND the appropriate tutor in your own college.
The great thing is you get to choose how to pace the last 2 years of your course. For example, i chose to do as much as i possible could (i.e take as many lecture courses and tutorials for the required 8 papers as i could) in the second half of second year, and this meant that in my third year i've hardly had to go to any lectures nor tutorials apart from the revision ones. Which is great because i'm not being bombarded with any more new topics now, i can concentrate almost 9 months on full revision.
I would recommend this course to anyone who wants to do it. Don't go in thinking it's going to be easy just because you were really good at Maths A-level, etc. It IS tough but definitely worth while.
The benefits are immeasurable. There are many companies looking specifically for graduates from this course to do highly challenging and responsible jobs all around the world. The careers service in Oxford provides a great support in that respect.
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Medicine At Oxford University
Let's get straight to the point-you think you want to be a medic, you've got your interview spiel all lined up ready to impress the interviewers with your life long commitment to medicine as displayed by the hundreds of hours you've worked in the local geriatric ward serving cups of tea to the patients and your weeks work ... experience shadowing a GP, together with extensive knowledge of real life medicine from that most reliable of sources, television!
I am not here to question anybody's reasons for doing medicine- it is inherently a very personal decision. All I am here to offer is my advice, accumulated over two and a bit years concerning the oxford medical course-why I think it is good, and why I think it isn't. The first thing you have to consider is what you want from your university and course: are you interested in the science more than the practice or do you want to be Carter off ER (let's face it-the boys want to be him, and the girls just want him...) If the latter is your thing, i.e. you want hand-on clinical experience from day 1, then unfortunately Oxford's probably not the place for you.
Oxford has and will for the foreseeable future put the emphasis firmly on the acquisition of firm scientific basis before the application of this occurs at the clinical school. I am of the view that this is quite useful, as what good would I be in a hospital in my first year, when I neither knew nothing nor knew how to sound as though I did!...but this is obviously from my biased point of view, as I have not been subject to a different system. The course is centred around the acquisition of critical scientific skills and is taught in a somewhat sceptical way, as exemplified by the third year in which you are taught to critically review scientific literature to look for possible logical flaws and suggest alternatives.
This all sounds very serious I know, and you may well be wondering whether or not you want t o come somewhere as seemingly academic as this. This is not the case: more than anything at Oxford they let you work at your own pace, and the essential information presented in the lecture courses should provide you with ample material to pass, with the tutorials being the opportunity to launch into more detailed analysis of a topic.
To briefly outline the course in preclinical comprising first BM, there are three papers in the first year: Morphology, Reproduction and Development; Physiology and Pharmacology, and Biochemistry. These subject boundaries are well defined enough in the syllabus to allow focussed revision yet the teaching does encourage use of knowledge from more than one area of the course, especially with regards to experimental evidence underlying our current understanding. There is a token amount of statistics in one of the papers, usually biochemistry which should prove no problems if you have done A-Level stats or if you go to the lecture course imposed by the faculty office if you fail the initial statistical test in first term. The second year consists of more systems wide appreciation of the body, built up supposedly on knowledge from the first year-thus the three papers are: Systems of the body: integrative aspects; Neural, behavioural and neuroendocrine systems and Pathology and medical genetics. The exam currently is sat at the end of spring (Hilary) term, providing medics with little rest-bite from the workload, in the first year, but allowing them a relatively free summer term, when the 4-term BA starts.
The 3hr papers themselves are divided into two parts each: the first part is composed of 15 short note questions in which the candidate has to write four or five points on a phrase/sentence/topic in the question. The idea of these is to ensure that you know a little about a lot, with the 12/15 pass mark being very intimidating when first attempted, but subject to alteration depending on the severity of the pape r. If this section is not passed, then the entire paper is failed and the subsequent three essay topics, which have a pass mark of 50% do not count at all. Thus the short notes represent the reason why many exams are failed first time, or at least subject to a viva voce exam if you are borderline. There is often a lot of pressure on students to ensure that they are capable of doing short notes, and if this is not learnt quickly, it can undermine someone?s confidence in their academic ability, yet merely represents adaptation to the system. There is a technique to short notes, which is rapidly learnt after repeated practice and which enables you to at least know the structure of the answer, even if the knowledge is lacking, and it is recommended that no more than 5mins is spent on each short note. See the www.oxam.ox.ac.uk webpage for actual past papers.
The final year is where you are left to your own devices pretty much and have to sit five papers at the end of summer term in your ?finals?, or four together with a dissertation of up to 10000 words which compromises a small research project enabling you to not only think creatively and theorise to a great level of detail in one topic, but offers the chance of obtaining a publication and ?hands-on? experience of what research is like.
The finals papers are classified just as any other subject into 1st, 2.1, 2.2, 3rd, pass and fail. This means that there is no 12/15 pass mark, but that the three essays you write in three hours must be of a sufficient degree of depth and structure to satisfy the examiners in one of the outlined classes. The four term BA is under threat as course changes are being proposed, but does via a dissertation give a good taste of what life in a research laboratory is like and is often for many students the most enjoyable part of their finals preparation.
So, there you have it-if you want a firm science grounding, with good opportunities to go chase a topic to more detail, then oxford is perfect, what with the tutorial system and the extensive copyright libraries constituting the Bodleian allowing access to any journal/paper or book published in the country. The lack of clinical exposure early on is more than made up for in my opinion by the excellent teaching hospital at the John Radcliffe, where more then 50% of oxford graduates choose to do their clinical. If it sounds like tedious academia, then you?d be partly right in that you can do that if you want to, but the existence of a college environment to socialise in on a daily basis, together with the medics sense of community means that you meet lots of different people both inside and outside college, both medics and non-medics. The student organisation 'medsoc' is legendary in organising events to get the freshers as rancidly drunk as possible, if that?s your type of thing, and is the envy of all other subject societies, as well as having a large part to play in the feedback from students concerning the course and exam structure. So, if you do think that you want a place with opportunities to work at your own pace, with the high intensity 8 week terms, and a fantastic work hard-play even harder attitude, medicine at oxford is well worth considering.
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