Rebecca Colquhoun

Undergraduate, Worcester 2016

At the end of her 2nd year, Worcester College undergraduate Rebecca talked to us about her experience of studying at Oxford, as a student with specific learning and mobility needs.

What made you want to study Earth Sciences?

I have always loved science and kept changing my mind over what to study at University. A school trip to Iceland run by one of my physics teachers showed me what earth sciences had to offer. I liked the variety in the Earth Sciences course and how the science you learn is applied to the real world. I studied Maths, Further Maths, Physics and Chemistry at A-Level and Computer Science to AS, which has proved an ideal mixture of subjects for Earth Sciences.

What disabilities do you have?

I have got specific learning difficulties of a dyslexic and dyspraxic nature and Meares-Irlen syndrome. I also have some joint problems.

How did DSA help you?

I receive Disabled Students Allowance from Student Finance, which partly paid for a laptop for university. I was also given a printer/scanner for free and a variety of assistive technology software. The software I have is Dragon Dictate (so I can dictate my work), ClaroRead (which can read out documents such as papers), AudioNotetaker (for recording lectures), Mindview (mind mapping software), ReadIris (which converts PDFs to other formats) and ScreenRuler (which puts a coloured overlay on screen). I also have an allowance for things like printer ink, printer paper, general printing costs (such as in a library). This also funds the tint that I need on my glasses to help with my Meares-Irlen syndrome.

I also have a study skills tutor who I can see for up to 24 hours a year, to give me advice and suggest different techniques to help with my work.

To receive DSA you have to send in evidence of your disabilities to check you are eligible. If you have specific learning difficulties, then it is important you have a Post-16 assessment to send off. I would advise you to get this done as early as possible – so that you can arrange DSA early and ensure that support is put in place before you start at university. You will then need to undergo a free assessment at a centre near you, where you discuss your needs and what equipment could help support you – this is not to check your diagnoses or anything, just to see what support you need.

What has the department done to support you?

The Earth Sciences department has been really great at supporting me and helping meet my needs. I am allowed to record all my lectures which means I can re-listen to them during revision, or if I missed parts. I also get all my lecture notes printed on coloured paper. I struggle to see down a binocular microscope, so my optician recommended I try using a microscope with a camera, so I could see the image on a screen. The department helpfully provided this for me, and it has made a huge difference to my learning.

Due to my joint problems, I would have struggled with going on a mapping project in the field. The department supported me in doing an alternative lab-based project looking at seismic lines. On field trips, they also advised me which activities I might find difficult.

In exams, I get all the same access arrangements as I got at school: 25% extra time and use of a word processor.

Before I was interviewed I got in contact with the college and department to let them know that I need a bit of thinking time and also that I needed resources to be provided on coloured paper.

How is the teaching for you?

I find the variety of teaching methods very helpful. Our lectures are generally very interactive which makes it easy to clarify there and then if you are having problems understanding something. We also have practicals where there are lecturers and demonstrators going round to help you. Of course, a key part of the Oxford teaching style is tutorials. I find these invaluable in my learning, as they are generally conducted 1:2 which means that they can be really focused on what you need more clarification on, and can go at your pace. The lecturers are all very friendly, so if you have any questions you can always email them or go and see them after lectures.

Earth Sciences has around 30-35 students in each year group, so lectures are held in a small lecture theatre and the lecturers soon get to know everyone. This means the environment is not impersonal like it could be if there were hundreds of students.

What is the community like among disabled students at Oxford?

Oxford Students Disability Community is a group which organises social events for people with disabilities at Oxford and also acts as a campaign group. As well as organising in-person socials there is also an active Facebook group where you can ask questions and get advice. There are also a number of condition-specific groups.