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Nepotism of the Profs….

October 2, 2015
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Marmalade and Raspberry

Would Dr. Marmalade’s career have progressed unhindered if he had written a “real pity” letter to Professor Raspberry’s son? Raspberry Junior didn’t seem to be the happiest of chemistry students. I completed all my compulsory laboratory practical work by the end of the second year, to make space for exam preparation. It was a good plan, though it went wrong because I overestimated my ability to study while having to live in private accommodation in high-rent Oxford. RJ still had a significant proportion of his laboratory practical work to complete at the beginning of the third year. Would there have been ways found to circumvent the “things” that “conspired”, if they were conspiring against the professor’s son?

The unavailability of suitable accommodation was a conspiring thing. It might make sense for a college to allocate limited accommodation preferentially to students who are awarded scholarships for academic proficiency. They could act as a resource in college for the students living out. That didn’t work for me. Raspberry Junior, though awarded a scholarship, lived with his father in Oxford, not in college.

Dr. Marmalade wasn’t my ideal tutor. He was educated at a private school in Bristol, and then at Bristol university. I doubt he had the experience to understand the needs and feelings of an academic over-achiever from a state school in Warrington, a long way from home. I underachieved in all subjects in my finals, but I was worse in his subject, physical chemistry, than in the others, for which I had tutorials in other colleges. I wasn’t far from an alpha on one of the inorganic papers, “physical chemistry 1” was the only outright fail.

A couple of things Dr. Marmalade said to me post-finals were distinctly unhelpful. “In ten years time you’ll wonder what you were worried about”, he said. That might have been true if I had been from a well-connected middle class background and went to private school, like he did. Right then, I was feeling devastated by the Oxford experience.

“Nobody likes exams” he said, when I told him I had a difficult time in my finals. Actually, I enjoyed exams, when they went well. Most times and in most subjects at my state school in Warrington, I gained better results than everybody else. I often felt a sense of achievement. I am familiar with the sentiment that everybody hates a swot. I didn’t expect to hear it from an academic tutor at Oxford University.

Dr. Marmalade eventually became Professor Marmalade, appointed a professor of physical chemistry, at Oxford University, like Professor Raspberry.

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