Chia-Hsin (Wendy) Tsai

DPhil, University College 2018

What made you want to study Earth Sciences?

As a Taiwanese, I think having experienced the 1999 Chi-Chi earthquake is definitely one of the reasons that makes me want to study Earth Sciences. As a human being, I believe we all need to understand more about the planet where we reside on. I also think Earth Sciences are great combinations of various sciences. You need to integrate the knowledge from physics, chemistry and biology to study this subject, which is very interesting and full of inspirations. Another reason is that studying Earth Sciences provides more chances to travel around the world, especially to the places where tourists would not be able to visit. And I think this is very cool!

Why Oxford?

I won’t deny that the prestigious reputation of this university is a huge attraction. I also wanted to explore the special college system here (well…I might have a fantasy of Hogwarts). But I think, more importantly, this university is able to provide abundant support and opportunities that the students need such as scholarships, volunteering, training resources, career advice, etc. Oxford University and its colleges pay great attention to postgraduate students as well as undergrads. The community of postgrads in Oxford is strong and tight that could make people feel warm and at ease to study here. Last but not least, Oxford itself is a great and beautiful city for living and studying because of its appropriate size, location, population, facilities and city design.

How did you find the application process?

I found the application process is really simple and straightforward, but it did take quite a while waiting for the confirmation of my scholarship. The application website might not be appealing but is very clear and easy to manipulate. Because I’m an international student, all the application processes were done online or by emails. The postgrad interview was about 20 min and it’s really tough and intimidating, but I have to say that this really helps students clear their thoughts and examine their ideas and goals of the research deeply. (The interview was on Skype and they called me ~ 10 min later than the scheduled time, so be patient and do not be panic for that.)

What advice would you give to someone thinking about applying to study here?

My advice for applying to the DPhil course will be:

  • Make contact with the faculties who you’d like to work with. It’s VERY important to chat with your potential supervisor before applying. It’s a great opportunity to know how her/his research group works, what potential research topics may be and whether there is (enough) research funding or not. Sometimes a chat with the current students is also very useful since they might share some “secrets” and “tips” with you. Don’t be shy and just send an email.
  • Try your best to apply for all the applicable scholarships. Getting financially supported (tuition and stipend) might be the greatest obstacle for international students. It is important to gather information about scholarships and to be aware that some good ones might not be well-disseminated.
  • Be familiar with the professional knowledge of your research. The interview might be focused on both the past research projects that you’ve done or the proposed projects that you’d like to do. Make sure you are very familiar with both of them.
  • Think of “why” Oxford (or this department) should accept you. I think this is quite an important question that is sometimes neglected. It’s easier to succeed in the application once you can convince both yourself and the university that you are the right person.

What’s the best thing about the department?

I think the facilities in the department are very good. This is a very modern and well-designed building that has the nice library, offices, meeting rooms and common room. I believe good physical environments facilitate good quality of works. There are also lots of social events in the department that provide us good social lives. The good thing is you’re able to find your own balance between the working and the social life in the department.

What kind of opportunities have you had as an Earth Scientist?

As I have mentioned above, I had the opportunities to visit lots of places in the world. For doing the fieldwork, I’ve been to the remote area in the Tien Shan in Central Asia. Other than doing the research, we get to interact with the local people and experience the local life there as well. I do enjoy the various nature, scenery and cultures every time I travel as an Earth Scientist.

The beautiful view with fault scarps at the range front in the Tien Shan, Kyrgyzstan.

We encountered the horse-riders while doing the survey on the mountains of Kyrgyzstan.


How did you get into your field/research?

The lethal geohazards, especially earthquakes, happened in my hometown and other places in the world make me want to study them and to help reduce the damages from a scientific perspective. Meanwhile, I really enjoy conducting fieldwork and staring at all kinds of maps, so the research based on mapping and observing the landforms is just right for me! Thus, I chose to do the research that includes searching for faults and earthquakes on Earth and studying the topography and surface deformation caused by them.

My colleague (Roberta) and I set up the dGPS equipment just next to our camping site in the field. (Photo credit: Dr. Austin Elliott)

Do you know what you’d like to do next?

This is a tough question. I guess the answer is no because studying in Oxford is broadening my view and showing me more possibilities as an Earth Scientist. The traditional way for PhD might be entering academia but I might also try to have the industrial experiences in consultancy or insurance companies to make sciences more applicable. However, maybe I’ll also end up running a travel company to help people experience this various and amazing world.