Frankie BuckinghamUndergraduate alumna and Postgraduate, St Peters 2012
What made you want to study Earth Sciences?
I had always enjoyed science at school, and developed a love of the environment from my ‘outdoorsy’ childhood; this combined with the fact that climate change seemed to be in the news every fortnight formed my fascination in how the different Earth systems interact and change. I thought studying Earth Sciences would enable me to spend four years understanding these processes; but more importantly, it would be four years studying something I enjoyed! The idea of fieldwork and practicals also appealed to me as it seemed a lot more fun than being in a library all day!
Both Oxford’s collegiate and tutorial system attracted me. Separating the university into colleges, rather than one big campus, sounded like a fantastic way to form strong friendships and gain a sense of identity. The collegiate system provides a lot of additional support – it’s like your own family, full of students and staff who know you on a personal level and are genuinely there to help. I also thought that having tutorials with a leading academic and just 1-3 other students would be a great (and non-scary) way to go over anything I was struggling with in class.
How did you find the application process?
Not that bad at all. The UCAS deadline was earlier than other universities so that was my priority at the start of yr 13, and it was quite useful to have completed it before term became really busy. I was asked to come to Oxford over a weekend in December where I would have two interviews – one in department and one in the college I had put down on my application. Initially, I was very nervous but the weekend turned out to be incredibly fun! I spent the majority of the two days in the JCR (the college’s Junior Common Room) playing Mario Kart and exploring the city with the other interviewees. I still keep in contact with some of the friends I made during this weekend, making it a great example of how easy it is to form friendships within the colleges. Time flew by in the interview and it was over before I knew it, I just had to make sure I kept a cool head and didn’t panic.
How did Oxford compare to your expectations?
I was definitely guilty of having the stereotypical opinion of Oxford; thinking that it was a place for students who had come from very expensive schools, who played numerous sports and musical instruments and were school captains. I came from a background where money was most definitely not a luxury – it was just my Mum and my four siblings so we all took care of one another. I had not expected to be able to afford Oxford, let alone fit in. However, both of these expectations proved to be very wrong. Oxford provides an incredibly generous bursary and a number of scholarships that enables students from low income backgrounds to afford the costs of studying and living away from home. On top of this, if you cannot pay your battels (college rent), there are various hardship funds that you can apply for. The fieldtrips in Earth Sciences are also completely free which helps a great deal! The other aspect of Oxford which completely exceeded my expectations was just how down to Earth and ‘normal’ people are. It doesn’t matter what background you have, or how you speak, the students (and staff) at Oxford are just people who are very passionate about their subject! I found it an incredibly welcoming, accepting and supportive environment and during my entire time I felt a strong sense of belonging.
What advice would you give students in Y11 or Y12, thinking about applying to Oxford?
If you’re in year 11 and you know what you want to study at university then great! Look up what subjects and grades Oxford requires and this will help focus your A Level subjects. If you don’t know what you would like to study (even whilst in yr12) then open days and summer schools are perfect opportunities to come and check out the departments, the colleges and the general vibe of the city. It’s really important to establish whether you could see yourself here – Oxford can be very intense at times so it’s important that you think you’ll be happy here. I also think it is incredibly important to choose a degree for the right reasons – choose it because you love the subject, and the course content, rather than because someone told you to study it!
What has been the best thing about the course?
The ability to shape the degree into something I enjoyed. During the 3rd and 4th yrs I chose every module that I could which related to the climate and oceans as this is what truly excited me. I also found the masters project in the 4th yr so much fun! It was great being able to choose the topic and work so closely with a member of staff. Being in the lab and doing hands on science was not only super fun but very refreshing and a nice way to mix up the day. Oh, and the fieldtrip to Bermuda was also pretty great!
What’s the best thing about the department?
The support that it provides. The department is quite small and has a wealth of staff ready to provide support whenever you may need it and for whatever reason – it really does make a difference. The facilities for undergrads are also great; with the sofas, our own library and our own computer room it has everything you need in one place rather than dashing over Oxford between lectures!
What was the thing you least expected?
When I came to Oxford I was completely set on getting through my degree ASAP so that I could enter the working world and earn money. However, I enjoyed my time so much that I decided to stay put for another four years and do a PhD!