Having been through the hectic Hilary term at Oxford, here are some of my thoughts about it.

Skipping lectures

I think whether lectures are skipped is a matter of personal preference, and it’s really difficult to argue for or against lectures as everyone really has their own ways of learning. In short, I felt that attending lectures last term became a ritual instead of serving a functional purpose. I also felt that since time was always short and self-studying was more time-efficient, I didn’t have time for lectures.

Disregarding whether I should have skipped lectures or not, skipping them has definitely had a significant influence on my learning this term.

Firstly, it really forced me to be self-motivated. I was almost solely responsible for my learning, since my tutors were only really responsible for ensuring that I was on the right track by marking my work. While having immense freedom over my schedule was nice, it was quite hard to objectively track my progress without regular lectures, especially since ability to do any serious mathematics fluctuates greatly from day to day. Very often I didn’t know whether I was slacking off or whether resting was deserved, or whether lack of progress is due to arbitrary difficulty spikes or lack of effort. In that sense I doubted my ability a lot more.

However I did feel that I spent more time digesting lecture notes. Instead of relying on lectures to provide intuition, I had to find them myself. As a result I think I spent more time drawing fancy graphs or looking for stuff online to gain a deeper understanding of the material, which may be a good exercise for learning in say a postgraduate setting.

Time management

So much to do, yet so little time. Hard decisions had to be made about time allocation almost on a daily basis. It was almost always about whether I should be hanging out with friends, going to some talks / events, or chilling in my room doing work. There’s almost always strong arguments for all three options. Having faced this “trilemma” so often one may imagine that I would be accustomed to it, but thinking about paths not taken is always a bit painful.