Ben Fernando

Postgraduate (DTP), St Edmund Hall 2016

I’d always been interested in science, and was lucky enough at school to have a couple of teachers who really made me fall in love with it. I’d always found stars particularly fascinating, but growing up in the centre of Birmingham it was normally a challenge to actually see many! For my sixteenth birthday, I convinced my parents to buy me a solar telescope (basically, something that you can look directly at the Sun with). That was pretty amazing, and of course you can see so much more detail on the surface of our own Sun than we can see on the surfaces of others.

My family are a bit of a mix and match – my mum is from India but grew up in Canada, my dad is from Sri Lanka but grew up in Brunei. I’m the first person in the family to go to Oxbridge; when I found out I’d got in my grandmother told all her friends, which was ever so slightly embarrassing!

I did an integrated masters’ degree in Physics at Imperial College London, and had decided by the end of my third year to do a PhD but wasn’t quite sure what topic to choose. I happened to see an advert for an internship that Lars Hansen was running, where he wanted to get someone in for eight weeks to do some electron microscopy analysis of an ophiolite sample. I applied on a whim, and was rather surprised when I got the job offer.

Knowing very little about rocks, and even less about ophiolites, I wasn’t sure entirely what to expect. However, I was both shocked and surprised to find a department that was incredibly welcoming and open (contrary to some preconceptions I had about Oxford), and full of people who were happy to answer my rather stupid questions, explain their work to me and to teach me all sorts of exciting new skills.

Having picked a project that straddles both Astrophysics and Earth Sciences, I feel I get the best of both worlds. I get to study an incredibly cool topic (the oscillations of stars) and meet some really neat people from around the world. Being at Oxford has also given me a huge number of opportunities I’m not sure I would otherwise have had. I’ve found the community to be incredibly supportive and welcoming, and personally I think the standard of pastoral care I’ve experienced is fantastic.