Amber Pavey

Undergraduate, St Edmund Hall 2016

What made you want to study Earth Sciences?

I loved physical geography at school and had a wonderful, very encouraging teacher! I was lucky enough to have geology A level at my college, so I took both geology and geography at AS, and found I had little interest in the human elements of geography and it was in fact geology I wanted to pursue.

Why Oxford?

I loved that the Earth Sciences course at Oxford was much broader just a standard geology programme. I must admit I was also very heavily pulled in by the reputation and the name. I knew very little about Oxford and what made it different from other universities before applying, I just knew it had such a great reputation and was a challenge to get into – I don’t like to back down from a challenge! Once I managed to get an offer, well, I wasn’t going to turn it down. The financial support that Oxford offers was also an attraction, coming from a low-income family the bursary scheme at Oxford is a huge help and means I don’t have to worry so much about not being able to do as much as my peers because of financial challenges.

How did Oxford compare to your expectations?

I don’t think I had very clear expectations in the first place of what I was expecting from Oxford besides it being VERY different to where I was coming from. As I didn’t really know what to expect, many expectations came from others once they heard I was going to Oxford (and they had established it was actually THE Oxford!). I had family friends ask how I/my family was going to afford the tuition fees and the living costs, but I knew I had student finance and my bursary which has now meant it hasn’t cost my family anything. I had people make comments about how most of the students would be really posh and from private schools, and while the stats of the percentage of privately educated students are still disappointing, it is something that I haven’t really noticed at all in my college or the department. Finally, I had suggestions of the workload being ridiculous, and while the work load can be heavy, it is manageable! I guess in fact, my process of coming to Oxford has been shattering the expectations of friends and family from home!

What’s been the most unexpected aspect of coming to Oxford?

How much the independence, community and support of Oxford would allow me to learn things and be comfortable with things about myself. Of course, I expected to learn A LOT at Oxford, but I did not expect to learn so much about myself.

Since starting my degree, I realised I am definitely not heterosexual and came out to family and friends. If you told me when I turned 18 before starting university that when I turned 21 I would be comfortably living in Oxford with my girlfriend I would have said absolutely no way. I think the independence of being at university and the supportive community in my college and the department helped with being comfortable enough to be who I actually am. This is still a journey though, hence why I have said not heterosexual rather than bi or a lesbian, I’m just not quite sure yet and no label feels quite right, so I perhaps I best identify as queer.

I also have an invisible physical disability, which before coming to university I would definitely not have called a disability. In my mind, there was no way I was less able than anyone else and definitely no way that even if I were I would say it! Since coming to Oxford I’ve realised that my condition does mean I sometimes need some extra help to perform to my full potential, but that is ok, and the Disability Advisory Service alongside the college nurse are there to help work it all out. Many exams early in the course are held within the department, and they always made sure the necessary arrangements were in place for me to perform my best.

I also didn’t expect to need the counselling service while at Oxford but dealing with all these personal revelations alongside the challenges of such a life change that is coming to university, it was great to have an accessible service to see a counsellor when things get too tough to deal with alone. Although there is always work to be done to make these services better, my experience has made me grateful for the service and I advise anyone really struggling to go see them!

What would you say to someone considering applying to Oxford who may identify as LGBTQ, disabled or having a health condition or from a low income background?

Give it a go! Don’t let anything hold you back if you’re interested in the course and studying here. Anything that crops up can be dealt with and anyone and everyone is welcome. Some things like these can make the road tougher, and being at Oxford is no exception, but there are people here who will support you, be that a service, a community, a department. The opportunities here are worth the challenges. If you don’t see someone like you represented here, come join us and be that someone!