Astrid Van den Bossche


DPhil Programme in Management Studies






Started in 2013

By Astrid Van den Bossche

A place for learning

One may argue that Trinity is the prettiest of the termly triad. It is quintessentially Oxonian, more so than Michaelmas’ fresh-faced hearties, or Hilary’s frost-covered spires. As the limestone warms under a delicate spring sun, Oxford’s gardens and lawns come into their full verdant glory, while the punts reclaim the Isis and the Cherwell. My very own college, Green Templeton, beams under the loving care of our landscaping genius, and we’re not shy of garden parties to show off his handiwork. Let the Pimms flow, and the croquet matches begin!

Spring is lovely anywhere and everywhere, but here the bloom coincides with a climate of serious study, intensified by impending examinations. We non-exam-taking folks wonder (not without some glee) at the city’s atypical tranquillity. Only the occasional college bops—those infamous fancy dress parties—or the series of balls—wildly different occasions for sartorial delight—give an indication of the students’ ‘work hard, play hard’ mentality. And play hard they will, as a respite to their scholarly toil.

You know it is time for their labour to bear fruit when you spot, quite out of the blue, candidates scampering downtown in full exam/war attire. Also known as sub fusc, Oxford’s dark academic dress is finished off with a mortarboard, and a gown that indicates seniority. A single carnation pinned on the breast indicates which exam the candidate will sit: white for a first, red for a final, and pink for everything in-between. Tradition has it that the carnation must be gifted, and I often wonder which friendly comrade had the presence of mind to arrange for this final touch.

Academic dress is certainly not a rare sight in Oxford, with Graduation and Matriculation days being the most spectacular as gowned scholars fill the streets in celebration. But in Trinity term, the occasional sighting becomes a common and understated occurrence, a reminiscence of a time when scholars wore their gowns on a daily basis. A place of learning indeed.

A newfound appreciation for this pedagogic responsibility dawns on me as I watch the duos and trios become flocks near the Exam Schools. Years of tutorial reading and debating must leave some sort of mark, and most exams are designed to test your reasoning, not your knowledge. Just how do you contribute to your students’ thinking faculties, as a teacher, in such a limited amount of time?

The opportunity to teach is vital to a good doctoral programme. I know of some who turn up their noses at the task, but there is much to be learned in the transition from student to teacher. The better you learn to explain the fundamentals of your field, the more insightful you are in your own research. For suddenly, under the pressure of these sharp and inquisitive minds, you begin to see the flaws, the assumptions, the delicacy of argument. In short, it keeps you on your toes.

So perhaps, Trinity’s real beauty lies in that it is an ending of sorts: the time for exams, the moment of reflection on the past and on the future, the hour of farewells to friends, tutors, and spires. In the midst of post-exam thrashes and grading rushes, Trinity offers the fulfilling serenity of a closing chapter.

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