Oxford's oldest student newspaper

Independent since 1920

The academia video game: the gap year

Nursery, school, university – most of us will have travelled down this linear path, jumping through the hoops of education, with autonomy increasing as we progress, like gaining access to new levels of a video game. At each new level we unlock, we gain more power and freedom of choice.

However, for some people there is a bonus level in this video game – a new and unfamiliar interface with new characters and different landscapes. The coveted gap year. The aim of this level in the game is unclear. Are we meant to earn money? To learn a new skill? To…’find’ ourselves?

Though the words ‘gap year’ invoke images of 18 year-olds sipping pina coladas out of pineapples in Bali, it doesn’t have to be littered with island hopping, voluntourism and elephant sanctuaries. In fact, you don’t even have to be 18.

Whilst many people will consider taking gap years between finishing high school and starting university, I never did. I fast-tracked to the next level in my game, bypassing the bonus option. However, little did I realise that I would have an opportunity to complete that level later on, five years down the line.

I unintentionally took a pseudo-gap year in 2021/2022. I graduated my degree, with little intention to carry on in the subject I studied for five years.  The path was no longer linear, it began to loop and bend and branch off into hundreds of different directions. Though I loved university and academia, I decided not to go down that route. I didn’t want to lock myself in for another however many years, studying something I wasn’t even sure I liked.

So as many people do, I decided to enter the workforce, roll up my sleeves and get out of my academic bubble. I started in a job so far removed from what I studied that it gave me a fresh start – and a fresh perspective. Though I wasn’t watching orangutans swing from trees, I was detached from my university career. Which only made me realise how much I missed it.

My year became a gap year because I wanted to be part of a university community again. I love learning and I wasn’t quite ready to give it all up just yet. But this time I had something that I didn’t have before: time. I didn’t have to juggle my dissertation, job applications and searching for potential PhD projects. I could focus on what I actually wanted, look for areas and subjects that sounded exciting. Mind, it wasn’t an easy process, I began the whole ordeal by googling: ‘fun science subject that lets you travel’.

I don’t think I would be where I am without my accidental gap year. Though we can poke fun at those who come back from Phuket with tattoos that mean ‘soul’ or ‘love’, I am grateful to have taken some time away from studying to be able to determine that I actually want to keep studying.

I am now so excited to upgrade to the next level in my educational video game, having gained some extra bonus skills that should hopefully help me to keep unlocking levels as I progress. I am not sure I would have passed these levels had I jumped straight into a PhD or Masters straight out of my undergrad. Though my gap year began without that purpose in mind, it reignited my desire to keep learning and soon bridged my two university experiences. I may not have found myself spiritually on my break from academia but I found my next step, the next level – I just hope I can complete it.

Image credit: Cottonbro via Pexels.

Check out our other content

Most Popular Articles