Hi, I was recently a first year student studying biochemistry at Oxford. You might be asking 'why are they referring to their studies in the past tense?'. Well, to answer that, I recently dropped out to transfer to another university to continue my education. Unfortunately, as you may interpret this, biochemistry at Oxford is not for everyone.
Personally, I can give you a list as to why I decided to go elsewhere after experiencing Oxford for two terms, and yes that list is by no means short. However, I believe you must make up your own mind after asking more current students. The main point I have to highlight is that your college choice/allocation makes all the difference. As the Oxford University webpage for prospective students likes to emphasise; 'Colleges have more in common than they do differences'. To this statement, I couldn't disagree more. I firmly believe that a lot of your student experience, regarding education, is determined by your tutors. My personal experience with my tutors unfortunately made it next to impossible for me to create a productive learning environment for myself. I found tutorials to be a highly stressful environment due to the attitude of one of my tutors. In addition to unsatisfactory tutorials, the feedback I received for essays I handed in was often lacklustre. Many of the comments I, and others studying biochemistry at my college, received were purely composed of criticism, devoid of constructive comments on how to improve. To this day I have yet to gain a fundamental understanding on how to write a 'good' scientific essay.
I would also like to draw your attention to the substantial amount of physics present on the course. Unfortunately the department assumes a prerequisite knowledge on several advanced topics within physics that many in the biochemistry cohort do not have. This makes it incredibly difficult to adjust to the pace and difficulty of the provided lectures. I'm not one to give up when things get difficult, and I can say whole heartedly this is the case with every single one of my previous course-mates. However, even when remaining determined to overcome the difficulties associated with this module, the overall level of understanding people had remained very low. This sentiment was witnessed in the end of term feedback session. All things said, those who had studied A-level physics, seemed slightly more capable at keeping up with the contents of this module.
Also, in addition to this, the biochemistry department seemed almost incapable of communicating with our respective colleges and vice versa. This meant that none of our tutorial work and tutorial discussions aligned with the lectures we were receiving. For example, when returning to Oxford for Hilary term, we were asked to write an extensive essay where we were required to read close to 200 pages of a textbook in a short time frame, as we were not due to have lectures on this topic until week 5. I remember being in disbelief when our tutor stated 'I hope this was a good introduction to this topic'. I understand that there is always more to learn and a greater depth of knowledge to grasp in every topic of science, but I just couldn't, and still can't, believe that we were given such a complex and multifaceted topic to essentially teach ourselves. Fast forward 4 weeks, we came to have the required lectures on this topic and it felt as if we were wasting our time sitting through them when we had essentially introduced ourselves to this, almost surface level, knowledge weeks prior. I have never shied away from independent learning, in fact I love it, yet when I'm paying over 9k a year for this, I expect to have a little more support when it comes to learning degree level foundations. I am and will always be a firm believer that textbooks should supplement and build on your depth of knowledge, not create the foundational knowledge required to understand the chapters. This was by far the most frustrating thing I found about Oxford. I would often say to my friends and family that 'Oxford has so much potential, they have all the resources, lecturers, tutors and prestige. However, they just don't know how to apply/organise it efficiently'.
To sum it up, Oxford definitely was not for me. I strongly believe that Oxford does not deserve its reputation in regard to undergraduate learning. In my opinion, and I must emphasise this is my opinion, if you want a brilliant education where you are supported, encouraged and provided topics and resources in an organised way; go elsewhere to find it.