Penny Wieser, Worcester 2013


What made you choose Earth Sciences?

I have always loved hiking and climbing, so a degree that allowed me to spend time outside was always going to be perfect for me. My family are from the US, so I was lucky enough to spend most summers visiting National Parks. I fell in love with wilderness and rocks from an early age.  A visit to Yellowstone National Park in 2008 got me hooked on volcanoes. I decided there and then that I wanted to be a volcanologist (also inspired by the film Dantes Peak), and have never looked back! As I knew what I wanted to do from year 8, it meant I could tailor my A levels towards my long term aim to get a geology/earth science degree. I took physics, chemistry, geology, maths and AS further maths.

Why did you choose Oxford?

I came to visit on open day, and it was just so pretty, I fell in love with it. All the student helpers were really friendly, and made me feel like I’d fit in. I also chose Oxford because of the subsidized accommodation, and the fact I could ‘live in’ (in College-owned accommodation) for all 4 years of my degree. Coming to Oxford was definitely the cheapest option, as pretty much everything is heavily subsidized, we don’t pay for fieldtrips, and we get money towards our mapping project. Also, unlike London universities, all 4 years I will live less than a 10 minute walk from the department. It is so nice to have everything so centralized that you never have to get a tube or bus.

What’s been the highlight of your time here so far?

I am on the university sailing team, and this has definitely been the highlight of my time here. Getting out to the reservoir to train is such a great break from studying, and I have made some really good friends through this. It also helps me manage my work load, and stops me getting too stressed.

What’s your favourite thing about Oxford?

The college system. It is really nice to feel like you are being looked after when things go wrong, and it’s also a nice small cohort to get to know in freshers week without feeling too intimidated. Everyone is really keen to try new stuff: in my first year my college entered four fresher teams in the Ice hockey inter-college competition, which was possibly one of the funniest nights of my life, as the majority had never even skated before! The inter-college sport competitions are such a great chance to try out something completely new.

What’s been the most unexpected aspect of life in Oxford?

Quite how quickly the 8 week terms go. It feels like you have only just unpacked when it is time for your parents to come get you. However, the plus side of this is that there is so much going on, you will never be bored!

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

Try to decide how much you like rocks, and being outside in the field. Although the course includes a lot of physics, chemistry and biology – particularly in the first 2 years – it mostly links back to rocks at the end of the day. It is only really in 3rd and 4th year there is a chance to specialize and leave these behind if you wish. Also, decide how much you would enjoy spending 10-11 weeks of your degree outside. If you love travelling, and being in very remote places, these weeks will be some of the best of your life.

What are your plans for the future?

I hope to do a PhD in igneous petrology/volcanology, and eventually work for the USGS as a volcanologist.