Jonathan Parsons, 23, is slumped in a high-backed wheelie chair in an attic room of a suburban house on the outskirts of Cambridge. It’s 9pm. He sits in the glare of innumerable Apple monitors, squinting through LEDs at the text that emanates from a broad screen in an otherwise dark room. Aside from the frat-boy physique that gives away considerable stints in the university gym, all the evidence in the room points to a sedentary day. The surrounding surfaces groan under the distributed mass of academic paraphernalia; textbooks, binders and assorted wads of paper are spread over several desks. A brightly-coloured diagram of a dog-shaped circulatory system is tacked to the wall behind him.
Jonny is an old friend and classmate from my brief cameo as a Cambridge veterinary student, before the course and I “consciously uncoupled” and I changed tack and went into journalism. Now in his fifth and penultimate year, he is on the brink of one of its most infamous exam seasons. He closes his book with an “alright, mate,” swings round in his chair, and asks me what I want to know.
One of around four hundred students at the vet school, Jonny and his classmates constitute a tiny and largely-overlooked slice of a large and historic academic pie. They are grouped – physically and in the minds of the wider population – together with their medical equivalents, and at least for the first half of the course, lecture resources are shared (up until the point at which a human being can no longer usefully substitute for a cow).
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