Blog: January 2014

Standing Out Academically: Part 2

After the response from our last post, we thought we would share some more resources with you. Again, a lot of these cover areas of Philosophy, Politics and Economics, but plenty have wider applicability too! Check out the resources and see what you think!

This post covers Podcasts and Books you might find helpful for extending your studies at school. They are all resources that I have personally found to be helpful!——-


(1)    In Our Time

Helpful for: Sciences, History, Art, Music, Religious Studies, Theology, Philosophy, Politics, General Interest

A BBC Radio Four production, each episode takes a thinker of discipline and aims to shed light on it through discussion with a panel of world experts. Whether it’s History, Philososphy, Science or Art that interests you, you’ll find accessible introductions and compelling discussions on this podcast!

Find the Podcast here:

Find the archives here:






(2)   Oxford General Philosophy Lectures

Helpful for: Philosophy

These are the Oxford 1st Year General Philosophy Lectures that I went to, they’re really good fun, and the lecturer is very good!

(3)   Philosophy for Beginners

Helpful for: Philosophy, anyone looking to increase critical understanding

These are a great introduction to a wide range of topics in Philosophy, given as classes for those continuing education in their later years, I and many of my friends at Oxford found them very helpful!

(4)   Freakanomics

Helpful For: Economics, Psychology, Philosophy, Business Studies

You may have come across the book of the same name (link) and its sequel (link), but did you know that Stephen Dubner and Steve Levitt, the authors, also do a great Podcast? Check it out here, it won’t disappoint: 

A bonus recommendation:

The Moth

Consistently compelling and often emotionally devastating and cathartic. It’s superb.



My top three recommendations are:

(1) What is the Name of This Book?

This is a great introduction to logical thinking skills and critical analysis, the fundamental building blocks of all good thought: I was recommended it before my Oxford interviews and I found it incredibly helpful. It’s good fun!

(2) Very Short Introductions

Make sure to check out the Oxford University Press: Very Short Introductions series – there is a catalogue here on the OUP web store ( They are really good ways to get an introduction to any topic that takes your fancy. They are (as the title suggests) short but also written by experts and very easy to engage with. Maybe sample a few to help you decide what to study with us at Oxford Summer Courses?

(3) Can a Robot be Human?

The first book that got me really interested in Philosophy is this one, worth a look if you’re starting out on A-Levels and wondering if you’d like to study Philosophy at University!


These books aren’t vital, but they are accessible and very thought provoking books that I have really enjoyed. If you are interested in Psychology, Sociology, Technology/Computing or Philosophy you’ll find these to be great reads!

The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us about What It Means to Be Alive (Brian Christian)

Book –

Lecture –

Alone Together (Sherry Turkle)

Book – 

Lecture –

Listen to the lectures first and If you like what you hear then maybe get the book! (In general this is good practice with ‘popular’ academic books. You will find yourself saving a lot of time by listening to the RSA lecture first before deciding whether or not to read it!

Posted: January 31, 2014

How to stand out academically!

When you come to do University applications, you will find that there is a phrase which comes back repeatedly to frustrate you: “shown interest in your subject” – as if wanting to apply for it wasn’t enough!

The good news is that Oxford Summer Courses is exactly the sort of thing you can do to show that interest – spending some of your summer voluntarily studying your subject is a good sign you have interest in it beyond doing it at school, and it is the sort of thing that Universities love to see! (You can apply here)

Oxford Summer Courses only runs in the Summer though, so I thought I would take the opportunity in this post and the next couple to share with you some of the resources that I found helpful between the ages of 16 and now as tried to work out what I wanted to do at University, and tried to stretch and expand my intellectual horizons beyond school textbooks! As I tried to ‘show interest’ (which is what I wanted to do anyway). 

I study Philosophy, Politics and Economics, so my recommendations will focus around them, but for each resource I will include a subject interest area tag for you to see!


In this first post I will share some great podcasts that you might find interesting. Podcasts are a fantastic way to learn – whether you are on the Bus going into school, doing housework, or going for Jog, you can always find the time to something. So why not listen to something which will be interesting and mind-expanding?

(1)    This American Life

Suitable for: General Interest, Politics, US Current Affairs, Science, Psychology, Economics + Business

I discovered This American Life when I was in 6th Form, I think a friend recommended it to me. Each week they take a theme, and tell different types of stories on that theme. From Comedy to Investigative Reporting, Human Interest, Science, Fiction, History they cover the whole gamut of human existence.

One of the best things about This American Life is how it captures, in audio, the experiences of people who are in many ways unlike oneself, and gives one a way of understanding and appreciating something of the lives of others. Equally compelling are the investigative reports they run, and if you’ve never discovered David Sedaris, now is the time to. On iTunes: The App (with the back catalogue):

I would recommend the following episodes as tasters:

(2)    The RSA

Suitible for: General Interest, Science, Current Affairs, Politics, Philosophy, Business, Economics. Really anything!

The RSA is the Royal Society of the Arts, it was founded in 1754, gaining its royal charter nearly 100 years later. Charles Dickens, Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Stephen Hawking and Tim-Berners Lee have all been Fellows of the Society.

These days they run a phenomenal series of public lectures which provide superb insights into cutting edge writing and research. I’ve often found some of the most interesting books I’ve read by hearing an RSA Lecture by the author first!

The best place to start is the RSA Animate Series here:

If you like that then their podcast is superb:

I thoroughly recommend it.

(3)    Planet Money

Relevant to: Economics, Business, Politics, Current Affairs

This podcast is a wonderful application of ideas and theories from the world of economics to modern stories about economics, helping to explain what it is that the economic news means! The best economics essay I wrote here at Oxford was based on a story I had heard on this Podcast!

(4)    Philosophy Bites

Relevant to: Philosophy and Religious Studies

Are you interested in Philosophy? Have you heard someone mention Utilitarianism? Or maybe claim to be a ‘Liberal’? Have you ever struggled to define ‘knowledge’ or wondered what makes something an object? Have you ever asked what Rights are, or how we have them? Or whether Animals have them? Ever paid less for a copy of a painting and wondered why we value the original so highly if the copy is identical? – want to understand more the centuries of thought that lie behind these ideas and claims? This is the podcast for you!

It takes the format of a 15-20min interview with a Philosopher on a topic they write on, in which they explain the area and their position. – you can download it on iTunes, or browse the catalogue on the site.

That’s it for the Podcasts, but we will be posting again soon with more on how to stand out academically, and push yourself beyond the syllabus!

Posted: January 22, 2014

Oxford’s Mind-Expanding Museums

Oxford boasts the world’s first University Museum, the Ashmolean Museum, which opened in the 1683.  It has recently been restored, and was reopened in 2009 to massive acclaim. It hosts many phenomenal exhibitions, spanning 1000s of years of world history, and ranging from statues and casts to works of art, pottery and musical instruments. These include drawings by Raphael, Michelangelo and da Vinci, paintings by Turner, Constable and Picasso, a death mask of Oliver Cromwell as well as the lantern carried by Guy Fawkes during the Gunpowder Plot. Not to mention an extensive Egyptian collection, spanning Prehistoric Egypt and the Early Dynastic Period.

You can wander, within the Ashmolean from room to room, passing these breath-taking exhibits, before settling down at the rooftop café for a hot chocolate and a muffin with the spires of Oxford dotting the skyline around you.

The Natural History Museum and the attached Pitt Rivers Museum are another must visit which we take you to here in Oxford. The Natural History Museum is where the famous 1860 Evolution Debate took place, seen by many as the moment at which science triumphed over a literalist understanding of creation in scripture. It is also the place where the first ever public demonstration of wireless telegraphy occurred – in which a signal was sent wirelessly across Oxford to the receiver set up at the Museum.

Today it remains a marvelous museum, containing the most complete remains of a single Dodo anywhere in the world, it also contains some marvelous dinosaur casts and impressive botany and zoological displays. A massive restoration project is almost completed there.

The Pitt Rivers Museum, renovated in 2009 after opening in 1886, remains my favourite of the Museums, dedicated to anthropology and archaeology it is a mind-bending collection of artifacts and exhibits from historic cultures across the world. Its collection is over 500,000 strong, having grown from the initial donation of 22,000 – meaning that when you come you will only be able to see a small glimpse of the whole collection. But that is no matter, because what you do see is a marvelous, almost overwhelming selection of artifacts ranging from the famous shrunken heads, to a mind-bendingly diverse selection of weapons and ornamental masks from around the world. So whether you prefer to wander around the cabinets and displays, taking in bits of each as you pass, or to study one or two closely, or (like the Residential Deans) do the ‘mouse trail’ (recommended for under-fives, but definitely better as you get older); you will find the Pitt Rivers to be an eye-opening and mind-expanding experience.

Posted: January 15, 2014


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