This could be you if you just left the library and went to the GraftonAditya Saxena via unsplash

The other day I found myself strolling through the Grand Arcade on a random Tuesday morning at 10am. This wasn’t a leisurely choice – rather my laptop had decided to inconveniently break during the already stressful Week Five and I had to take it to get it fixed. This situation prompted introspection. Although I had to be there, urgently wanting it to start working again to reclaim the valuable time that I had already lost at the sacrifice of productivity, I questioned what I was actually doing. It was a Tuesday morning at 10am. And I was in the Grand Arcade. The weight of guilt nonetheless lingered for merely being out and about instead of working.

Then the realisation hit me: no porter was coming to check on me or tell me off. My DoS wasn’t monitoring my location on Find My Friends and my supervisor had no reason to scrutinise how I was spending my day. There was absolutely nothing morally objectionable or unusual about me being at the shopping centre at that particular moment. In fact, I wasn’t confined just to the Grand Arcade either. If I’d really wanted, after the repair, I could have browsed Regent Street, gone for lunch in town with my friends or hopped on the train down to London, schedule permitting. Equally, I might have been asleep or simply lounging in bed like at home with Netflix. Especially for humanities students, the scarcity of contact hours means having much more control over your day compared to school. Wasn’t that the point of university, the USP before we arrived here – freedom over your studies?

“Cambridge has instilled a pervasive sense of guilt in us for moments of non-productivity.”

And yet, there I stood, grappling with the sense of guilt over not being parked in a library somewhere in the CB2 postcode, working away on my pending supervision essay. Consider the shame that I might have experienced if I’d simply wanted to shop in John Lewis for the sake of it.

Cambridge has instilled a pervasive sense of guilt in us for moments of non-productivity. It’s as if, God forbid, indulging in a leisurely shopping walk, even when time permits, is inherently wrong. This institutionally installed mindset has bound us to a routine that feels inevitable and inescapable. In theory, one could break free, but the pressure to conform remains ever-present.

So why is it that when we allow ourselves to do something later at night, perhaps past 8pm, this bizarre sense of remorse is absent? Why do we willingly subject ourselves to the confines of a nine-to-five routine (as a bare minimum) when we possess the freedom to break away from this conventional workday before we are eventually subjected to it against our will? The intriguing aspect lies in the guilt that is coupled with a deviation from this typical daily schedule. If I, for instance, were to dedicate two hours to shopping in the middle of the day and compensate by working later into the night, it just would not feel the same.

Cambridge likes to make us forget we have free will. Despite the obvious constraints that work imposes, we do have the freedom to make choices. As long as the work gets done, regardless of when, surely this is all that counts. There’s no obligation in college statutes or University regulations to adhere strictly to a nine-to-five; it’s entirely possible and reasonable to engage in early morning work, take a long lunch break and catch up later. Incorporating fun tasks throughout the day, especially during Michaelmas when it’s dark at night, can be beneficial for mental health. The allure of nighttime activities like dinner and drinks is somewhat undeniable – but there is something therapeutic about accomplishing tasks during the daytime while knowing that everyone else is working.

“You are human. Your free will is yours to harness and exercise. And Cambridge is to blame for making you feel otherwise.”

It also accommodates the so-called wishing to be rebellious side of Cambridge students. Most are perfectionists and have always been top students, so the thrill of doing something unconventional because it seems wrong could result in a pretty exhilarating day for Cambridge standards.

You are human. Your free will is yours to harness and exercise. And Cambridge is to blame for making you feel otherwise. I doubt other universities face such an issue. They take breaks and engage in fun daytime activities all the time. While the workload might be the defining factor, the point is, even with their responsibilities, they don’t confine everything to the daylight hours.

The issue with Cambridge extends beyond the institutional level however: it involves the mindset of its members who have been conditioned, although not their fault, to participate in this culture from day one. If BeReal were to go off, and you happened to be punting in the middle of the day for example, comments like “I bet they do *insert humanities degree that STEM students like to ridicule*” or “Why are they not working?” would likely follow. In reality, taking an hour-long combined break on TikTok is equivalent in terms of hours to someone maximising their breaks like this. Cambridge grapples with this judgemental culture, especially in certain colleges high up on the Tompkins table. This toxic library environment prompts students to question their own friends when they leave the library at unconventional times in the day: whether it’s for Sidge, bed or Revs, there shouldn’t be a condemnatory element attached to such choices.


Mountain View

Cambridge puts the ‘late’ into ‘fashionably late’

Our time at Cambridge should encompass more than just academia. Liberating ourselves from the confines of a system that often constrains us means embracing the spontaneous, which gives us a somewhat sense of agency, even if we do not feel like it here. The embrace of spontaneity allows us to live in the moment and open doors beyond the routine of working Thursday to Thursday, week in, week out. And who knows, maybe you’ll appreciate that John Lewis has now set up its Christmas display or that Krispy Kreme has started selling a new seasonal donut.