OxFossil
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I was at St Peter's in the days when Biology was divided into Zoology, Botany and Agriculture and Forestry. Since that was shortly after the animals had disembarked from the Ark, I will mainly be ventriloquising my daughter, who graduated from Christ Church in Biological Sciences just a couple of years ago.

1. Why Biology?
For me, there was never any other subject. I'd grown up filling my parents' home with jamjars of tadpoles, boxes of stick insects, cages of toads and beetles, and old bird nests. What else was I going to do? ("Some tidying up?" yells the ghost of my mother)

My daughter was quite different. She was interested in everything, and at various times thought she might be a linguist, a philosopher and a social scientist. I spent some time looking for a BA course in Arguing, but was unsuccessful. In the end, she decided she wanted to do something that equipped her with specialist knowledge but had scope for utilising the generic skills she was best at (arguing).

She's recently said this was a good decision; she now has a rewarding job in conservation policy that meets this brief perfectly. She still cheerfully admits to not being able to tell a Song Thrush from a Blackbird. What I'd stress is that you can enjoy Biology if you recognise it embraces all life, and like making connections and arguments. It's not just for kids who collect beetles.

Q2. Did any of your teachers inspire you? Or any other experts (e.g. TV presenter, etc.)?
A primary school teacher showed admirable tolerance at my repeatedly bringing in old bird nests, but otherwise, I was encouraged by older people in the local Ornithological Society.
My daughter liked her German teacher, but that's about it for school. Late in her school career, she raised a ridiculous amount of money and took herself off to South Africa, where she volunteered at a wildlife rehabilitation centre for a couple of months. I think the staff there inspired her more than any teacher.

3. Why Oxford?
My comprehensive entered a few pupils for the Entrance Exams each year - more in hope than expectation, and I just did as I was told. In those days, the only way of finding out about a university was to sent a letter asking them for a copy of their prospectus. Since we knew no-one who had been to uni, Oxford was university, as far as we were concerned - it wasn't really a choice.

My daughter had no intention of applying until she went on a school trip to Cambridge. She came back saying "It's so beautiful, I want to go there". But there was no chance she'd do Maths A Level, so she settled for the town with the next most beautiful buildings. Course content wasn't even considered until much later in the process.

Q4. How did you choose your college? Did you go to an open day and if so, did it help you to decide?
My daughter said she chose Pembroke, "because it has a Welsh name". She got reallocated to Christ Church post-interview, so even that level of intense thought and contemplation proved irrelevant. The Open Day put her off, if anything, as she found herself in a small group with a couple of other Biologists who seemed loud and snobby.

Q5. Which resources did you use (please name as many as possible)? Which books/journals did you read? Which did you like best, and why? What did they teach you?
Luckily, my daughter had already read a couple of Dawkins books prior to thinking about uni, and frankly, it would be hard to share a house with me without having to get used to hearing - and interrupting - my rants about climate chaos, species loss, and the general amazingness of the natural world. So for her application, she just dipped into some more focussed texts specifically to say something impressive in the PS - the Introduction to Behavioural Ecology by Davies and Krebs and (iirc) something by SJ Gould.

More useful were general science-y things like the Radio 4 programme "More or Less" and any discussions in the media on policy dilemmas in science. These helped her develop a familiarity with what counts as scientific evidence and how to debate scientific subjects.

At the moment, I often recommend to other Biology enthusiasts the daily digest produced by Nature magazine. It's an email bulletin, free on subscription, that covers current news in all the sciences.

Q6. Did you attend any lectures, or take part in any competitions?
Nope. None. Although listening to proper scientific TED talks or The Cosmic Shambles Science discussions would be something I would suggest to today's applicants.

7. Did you do any work experience?
As a teenager, I singlehandedly maintained and reported on a local nestbox colony for several years. Boy, was I a rebel.
My daughter did her school workplace experience weeks at a local Wildlife Trust office (but hated it). Later, she spent some months doing weekend survey work on Water Voles at a local reserve, and (see above) a couple of months looking after exciting creatures like servals and baby giraffes at a South African wildlife centre. That might sound like a lot, but compared with the thousands of hours she dedicated to the study of Taylor Swift (not the bird) songs, it was nothing.
My tip would be to try and get experience that links you into a wider programme of research, and that can be dipped into over several years. That sounds more impressive, and it may help you understand how different roles like public engagement, pure research, estate management, policy etc all fit together. And get an idea of what - if anything - you find most attractive. The Mammal Society periodically produces a listing of research projects throughout the UK that are looking for volunteers.

Q8. Did you have a specialist subject/EPQ? What was it? How did you go about your research?
She did an EPQ on the feasibility of reintroducing wolves to the UK. Entirely web and textbook based. A good way of getting used to reading scientific lit.

Q9. What did you mention in your personal statement and why?
She referred to her volunteer survey work and supercurricular reading. The framing was to illustrate both her longstanding interest, and that she had demonstrated practical commitment beyond the school curriculum. She highlighted some issue that she claimed to find interesting (a debate in evolutionary theory iirc) and a part of a chapter in the Behavioural Ecology text by Davies and Krebs. As it happened, she got asked a very difficult question about that in one interview. Luckily, she had reviewed her PS beforehand and at least remembered the gist (though her actual answer was comically wrong!)

Q10. Which techniques did you use for the entrance test?
There is no test for Biological Science. Hurray!

Q11. How did you find the interview process? (NO INTERVIEW QUESTIONS PLEASE - this is against TSR guidelines)
All I remember from mine was getting handed a bird skull and being dismayed I couldn't identify it (not realising that wasn't the point).

Daughter had 3 interviews - 2 at Pembroke, one at ChCh. The first went 'OK', and included a discussion of her PS. The second was "A terrible grilling. They asked me to name some famous biologists, and I couldn't think of one. I even called Gregor Mendel, 'the pea guy'...I could feel the sweat running down my face...oh, the shame!"* The last interview was good. I relaxed - and they handed me a bird skull, so I knew what to do..."

*this was not exactly the question, but it's the basic idea

Q12. How did you feel after the interviews?
"Relieved, like now I could get on with the rest of my life. But I kind of kept a little hope I'd gotten in, even after that disastrous pea guy episode."

Q13. Did you socialise during interview week? If so, what did you do?
Daughter said she really wanted to stay in her room but forced herself out. A good decision; the college laid on a subject tea for the Biology candidates. This enabled her to realise everyone else was also very, very nervous. Later, she went for a coffee with a couple of them.

Q14. Where were you when you got your offer? How did you react?
Well, I was at work when she texted. I was over the proverbial. Not because she was going to Oxford, but because she had evidence that she was as good as anyone. I would have been perfectly happy had she then decided not to go.

Top Tips

a) Oxford isn't a golden key to life. Some people love it there, some people don't, and find it drains the joy out of their favourite subject. So don't go if it feels wrong for you. Choose a place that fits you better, and where you are more likely to retain your passion and work a bit harder to network and set yourself up for life after uni. And don't despair if you dont get in.
b) For the interviews, its true what everyone says - the interviewers want a discussion that gives them a good idea of what you'd be like to be to teach. Equally important is to remember it's an opportunity for you to see whether they will suit you. So don't treat it as a test, but a conversation.
c) If you do get in, make it yours. My daughter said she never experienced "imposter syndrome" at Oxford. Not because there weren't lots of cleverer people there, but because she knew I had gone and got a decent degree. "If an idiot like my Dad can do it, I sure as hell can". I recommend everyone from a state/non-traditional background takes this attitude. Look at the idiots who have made it there (no names, no pack drill, eh, Mr J?). Oxford is there for you to use; you aren't there as a favour or to live up to some stereotype. Just keep being your bright, ordinary, self.
d) Never be afraid to ask for help, at any point (although it might not work if you ask the Invigilator to remind you of the name of 'that pea guy' during Finals).

Oxford Mum
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Oxford Mum
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This chapter is absolutely unique, in that it captures a father and his daughter, applying for what is essentially the same subject at the same university.

It also makes me feel rather old! I too, remember writing off in trepidation to universities for a prospectus. Not for us the internet, with its college websites and TSR eh, Oxfossil?

Looking around, even in these Covid days, there are many ways to enhance your biology application. There are plenty of nature type programmes on TV (I was just watching an excellent documentary about a pangolin sanctuary and the illegal pangolin trade). If your interest in a biological topic is piqued, there are loads of articles online, books to order on Amazon (I had to go to the university bookstore 25 miles away, if I wanted to see the academic books available when I was young). Even during the pandemic, you can get yourself out amongst nature and get all the stick insects, worms and tadpoles you could ever wish for. Your mates may look at you askance when you talk about your collection, but frankly, this type of activity is peak Oxford, so embrace that hobby!

Argument wise, my house absolutely resembles yours. Every day, I could hear the sounds of debating, hair splitting, and critiquing from my kids (especially stuff on TV). Love it. As someone once said in the university prospectus, "Oxford teaches you to read between the lines", so students, don't stop questioning what you see.

I notice that your daughter first wanted to go to Cambridge, then Pembroke, Oxford, but ended up at Christchurch. It's almost like an invisible sorting hat houses you where you belong. It's a good idea not to get fixated by one college, or even one university. And that one university might not even be Oxford.

I agree that it's important to be yourself at Oxford, no matter what your background. Oxford says you are good enough to go if you get a place, so embrace that. Get out and grab every opportunity you get (and there will be many). The younger son made the most of the academic opportunities, the elder one of the social opportunities. Both ended up with much more than a degree as a result.

Thanks, OxFossil, for a legendary chapter.
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Theloniouss
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Brilliant chapter :yy:

They have a whole week for interviews at Oxford?
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Oxford Mum
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subject web page:

https://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/unde...isting/biology

Sample questions:

https://www.oxfordinterviewquestions...ical-sciences/

https://sites.google.com/site/oxbrid...stions/biology

A day in the life video

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xlp41sMSlDA

Interview Video

https://www.biology.ox.ac.uk/our-students
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harrysbar
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(Original post by OxFossil)
1. Why Biology?
For me, there was never any other subject. I'd grown up filling my parents' home with jamjars of tadpoles, boxes of stick insects, cages of toads and beetles, and old bird nests. What else was I going to do? ("Some tidying up?" yells the ghost of my mother)
I love this chapter!

And especially the insight into your most relatable family dynamic with mother and daughter. Your poor mother sounds a bit like Gerald Durrell's
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OxFossil
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(Original post by Theloniouss)
Brilliant chapter :yy:

They have a whole week for interviews at Oxford?
Thank you. In a normal year, for the Biol candidates, 3 interviews spread over 2 days is usual. So a 2 night stay is typical. But there are other candidates also in college, leaving and arriving throughout the week.
(Original post by Oxford Mum)
This chapter is absolutely unique, in that it captures a father and his daughter, applying for what is essentially the same subject at the same university.
It also makes me feel rather old! I too, remember writing off in trepidation to universities for a prospectus. Not for us the internet, with its college websites and TSR eh, Oxfossil?
Thanks, OxFossil, for a legendary chapter.
Thank you. Ah, the good old days....I actually didn't realise SPC was an all male college until I got there as a fresher in 0th week. I could have wept.
(Original post by harrysbar)
I love this chapter!

And especially the insight into your most relatable family dynamic...Your poor mother sounds a bit like Gerald Durrell's
Thanks. Gerald's Durrell's books were near-sacred texts in my 11 year old world. The weather in the South Wales Valleys didn't quite match up to Corfu though. Slugs rather than geckos in the garden.
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harrysbar
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(Original post by OxFossil)
Thank you. In a normal year, for the Biol candidates, 3 interviews spread over 2 days is usual. So a 2 night stay is typical. But there are other candidates also in college, leaving and arriving throughout the week.

Thank you. Ah, the good old days....I actually didn't realise SPC was an all male college until I got there as a fresher in 0th week. I could have wept.

Thanks. Gerald's Durrell's books were near-sacred texts in my 11 year old world. The weather in the South Wales Valleys didn't quite match up to Corfu though. Slugs rather than geckos in the garden.
Slugs in the Salad may not have quite have the same ring about it as Garden of the Gods but I expect your mother had to have the same amount of patience nevertheless
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Oxford Mum
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Oxfossil I have been itching to ask this question for years- but were you a biology tutor at Oxford?
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OxFossil
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(Original post by Oxford Mum)
Oxfossil I have been itching to ask this question for years- but were you a biology tutor at Oxford?
No, I was a lecturer in postgrad population and reproductive health studies (or something) at another RG uni for a few years. It could have been medieval embroidery at the University of Otago for all I remember of it now.
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elizabethigw
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how they select applicants from interview performance:

in each category they score applicants out of 10
- clear and genuine interest / enjoy talking about bio
- ability to describe a piece of biology and discuss it
- problem solving
- making reasoned arguments based on evidence
- academic potential

they then rank u and pick first X applicants to give offers to (X=number of places). you can still get an offer from your second college and even if not, if both colleges or either one think you deserve to go to the university, will give you an open offer. (somerville biology tutor so not sure if it the exact same for all colleges)
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Theloniouss
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(Original post by elizabethigw)
how they select applicants from interview performance:

in each category they score applicants out of 10
- clear and genuine interest / enjoy talking about bio
- ability to describe a piece of biology and discuss it
- problem solving
- making reasoned arguments based on evidence
- academic potential

they then rank u and pick first X applicants to give offers to (X=number of places). you can still get an offer from your second college and even if not, if both colleges or either one think you deserve to go to the university, will give you an open offer. (somerville biology tutor so not sure if it the exact same for all colleges)
Do you have a source for that?
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elizabethigw
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(Original post by Theloniouss)
Do you have a source for that?
no, this was told to me by a somerville biology tutor at the online interview workshops they're holding. the categories may not be exactly precise as i was just noting them down as he listed it but u can get the gist of it
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OxFossil
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Here's a recent presentation on Biology at Oxford I hadn't seen before, by Prof Seddon. It describes the whole syllabus in some depth - including the year 4 MBiol.

It has some very useful info about interviews after about 15'30"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6VmPX8Nma1g
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Oxford Mum
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(Original post by OxFossil)
Here's a recent presentation on Biology at Oxford I hadn't seen before, by Prof Seddon. It describes the whole syllabus in some depth - including the year 4 MBiol.

It has some very useful info about interviews after about 15'30"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6VmPX8Nma1g
Thanks for all your help - it's invaluable!!
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