by Cecilia Tosciri

Here we are, another week has gone in Oxford. As well as in the rest of the world, you would say, but this has a particular meaning here in Oxford, and in general in the UK. Indeed the academic year, running from October to June, is organized in Terms which in turn are divided into 8 Weeks each.

The modern academic calendar used in the UK mainly descends from the English law court system, which divided the year in four terms (Hilary, Easter, Trinity and Michaelmas), partly to create a predictable work schedule, but also to facilitate the English law students when they had to travel to London for training or legal advice. The oldest universities changed a bit the terminology over time and in Oxford we ended up with three terms, dropping the Easter Term. So currently, just to orient yourself, we are at the beginning of Week 4 of the Michaelmas term.

You certainly remember that during my amazing summer I already had the chance to spend some time in Oxford, but now everything is different, the academic life is intense and dynamic, I have to attend several lectures and seminars, carry out assignments on a daily basis, go regularly to meetings, and present achievements.

I arrived in Oxford just in time for the Freshers’ week, which takes place in Week 0 (the week before term begins) and represents the opportunity for the new students to settle into University life, make new friends, discover courses and get involved in clubs and societies. The Fresher’s week includes registration, social events and orientation activities, like the annual Fresher’s Fair,  a big event where you can find out more about courses, sports and recreational activities that Oxford has to offer.

Some of these events are also organized by your own college. Indeed, the University of Oxford has a collegiate system, consisting of 38 self-governing colleges, related to the central University by a federal system. Each student, after having been admitted to the University, is selected and becomes member of one college, which will provide accommodation, meals, common rooms, libraries, sports, and social facilities for its students during the years of study. The collegiate system gives the students the benefits of belonging both to a large, internationally renowned institution and to a small, interdisciplinary academic community.

But that’s not all! If you are a new student in Oxford you should be matriculated. Matriculation is one of the most famous Oxford traditions and consists in the ceremony that marks the formal admission to the University. It takes place at the beginning of Michaelmas term in the Sheldonian Theatre, the official ceremonial hall of the University of Oxford, where the Vice-Chancellor welcomes the new students and reads out the following traditional Latin speech:

“Scitote vos in Matriculam Universitatis hodie relatos esse, et ad observandum omnia Statuta istius Universitatis, quantum ad vos spectent, teneri” (“Know that you are today added to the Roll of the University and bound to obey all the statutes of this University so far as they apply to you”).

Matriculants are required to wear the academic dress with sub-fusc during the ceremony. The academic dress includes a gown and a cap (a mortarboard). Sub-fusc (from the Latin for ‘beneath dark coloured’) is the formal outfit worn with the academic dress. It comprises a dark suit, black shoes, a white shirt, a black tie or a white bow tie. The result was a very suggestive scenario, at least for the astonished tourists: the streets in Oxford were filled with students in formal dress, bunches of aspiring Harry Potters (really, some of them are only missing the magic wand!) marching toward their (hopefully) brilliant future!

Me on Matriculation day.

Beyond the peculiar traditions, being a graduate student in Oxford has many advantages. Many resources are provided, like a wide range of library services. Also several courses are available to increase knowledge inside and outside your own research field, both in class and online. Many seminars are organized by the Department, where special guests are invited to talk about the most recent scientific achievement.

One specific example: a few days ago Professor Gabriela Gonzales, the spokesperson of the LIGO experiment, came to the Physics Department to talk about the recent direct observation of gravitational waves. In that circumstance, some of us also had the opportunity to have lunch with her and ask questions before the talk. It was really exiting and unique!

Professor Gabriela Gonzales, spokesperson of LIGO, presenting the results on the first direct observation of gravitational waves. 

This is just a taste of what happens in Oxford, if I made you want to be part of this reality, I suggest you take a look at this link and maybe you will decide to apply to the University of Oxford. Go now, you could be the next Harry Potter! 😉