Application

 Oxford

 Pembroke

 Biological Sciences

 2005

 offer made

Applicant

 A-levels

 pre-qualification

 home

 United Kingdom

 Comprehensive School

 yes (9 A*,2 A)

A-levels

(B at AS)

(A at AS)

(A at AS; predicted A; gained A at A2)

(A at AS; predicted A; gained A at A2)

(A at AS; predicted A; gained A at A2)

(A at AS; predicted A; gained A at A2)

Details about the offer

 conditional

A in Biology, A in Chemistry, A in Geography

yes

N/A

 offer met

Decisions about the application

Encouragement from school and parents, fantastic reputation, good job prospects, beautiful surroundings.

I was more interested in studying biology on its own, than a combined science degree. I also wanted to continue with geography, to A2 (my school only lets people take three proper A levels at most) which meant I had to drop Maths in order to keep on with Biology, Chemistry and Geography. Maths is generally required for NatSci degrees, so I opted for straight biology.

Because I’ve always loved the subject.

I was advised not to apply to certain colleges by my head of sixth form (Christ Church, Magdalen, New, Brasenose – from what I can remember.) I’d been down on an open day, but never actually looked round Pembroke, in the end I picked it because it had a very good reputation for my subject (this year it was the top performing college in Biological Sciences)and one of the fellows is the head of plant sciences, which is the area of biology I’m particularly interested in.
Oh, and I wanted a college with a central location.

Preparation

yes

Ten people from my school applied, we had a couple of group meetings, where we gave each other informal interviews, and we each had a mock interview with the head of sixth form.

Read around the subject, keep up to date with recent developments by reading newspapers. Have an area of biology that you’re particularly interested in, and be prepared to discuss it (tutors often let you lead the discussion to your favourite area of the subject.) Think about what you’d talk about if questioned on your personal statements – WHY you liked the books you mentioned, whether you disagreed with anything the author wrote.

Interview

no

no

no

I had three interviews, two at Pembroke, one at Somerville (standard practice with all biology applicants this year.) Each was with two tutors, and they were all fairly informal. Before the interviews, the eight candidates at the college being interviewed had a ‘meet and greet’ with the tutors, which was actually a lot more intimidating than the interviews. They told us what exactly would happen with the interviews, when they were, and that we could expect to see video clips, and not to discuss the interviews amongst ourselves.

The first interview was with two fellows from Pembroke college, it was very relaxed, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. One of the tutors was very friendly, and made some casual little comments (which boosted my self confidence during the interview greatly) like ‘Ah yes, you’ll be able to continue this debate with me when you’re here, I like debating with my students’. The second interview was nothing like as good, I struggled with some of the questions, and felt that I needed a lot of leading to reach the answers. This interview was with another Pembroke fellow, and someone they’d borrowed from Christchurch. The interview at Somerville was with a Somerville fellow, and the head of the botanical gardens. Initially, the Somerville tutor indicated that she would be leading the interview, but she then asked me which area of biology interested me particularly, when I said plant sciences, she let the other guy take over – and I talked to him for the rest of the interview. Again, it was very relaxed and friendly.

Interview one (The nice one at Pembroke)
Why Biology? What had I particularly enjoyed about a specific book mentioned on my PS?
A debate about whether you could be relgious and also a scientist (argued with one tutor about this – he said that they were contradictory – whereas I argued that it was perfectly possible, as I considered myself to be both.) I think he liked the fact that I was prepared to disagree with him. The other tutor then showed me some videos on predation, (big birds pouncing on little birds, basically) and then asked me questions about it. No prior knowledge was required.
Second interview (the rubbish one at Pembroke)
The tutors were friendly, but a bit more ‘no-nonsense’. The first thing I was asked, was what extra-curricular things I’d done that related to my subject. This stumped me a bit, because I had no practical biology work experience. I waffled on about a geography field trip and how I looked at all the seaweed… So we had a brief discussion about xerophytes and halophytes.
Then, I was shown some very obscure video clips. One was a pulsing cell, that was glowing green. When asked what I thought it was, I answered something to do with jellyfish and their luminescent genes. Turns out it was something to do with radioactive tracing, oops. The second was a close up of a green wiggly thing- which I deduced to be a plant, but couldn’t actually say any more. I felt a complete prat when he zoomed out, and it transpired that it was seaweed,which we’d been discussing minutes earlier.
The other interviewer took over, showig me some videos involving crows, and asked me some questions relating to them. I felt horribly like she was being gentle on me, because she thought I was completely rubbish. I was a bit perplexed when her mobile suddenly rang, and she went off to answer it. The first tutor then said ‘Right, well we’ll finish the interview there. Is there anything else you’d like to ask, anything you think we’ve missed out about your personal statement?’ I then (very stupidly) said that I was disappointed that my ECs hadn’t been mentioned, so he started talking to me about judo – which he did in his youth, and turned out to be much better than me at. He then said that I was the person from the furthest North that he’d met all day, and I should encourage more Northerns to apply. He was being friendly, but it suprised me a little, as I’m only from Leeds..!
Third interview (Somerville)
The tutors introduced themselves, and asked how my interviews at Pembroke had gone. I said the first one was good, but the second one wasn’t, as the tutor had shown me some videos of green slime. One responded, sniggering, ‘Oh I bet that was -‘ naming the tutor who had indeed been conducting my interview. When I said, that yes, it had been actually. They both burst out laughing, and the whole interview became rather relaxed. I was basically asked what area of biology interested me most, then had a nice chat about plants. I was shown a massive seed (a double coconut, I believe) and made a slight fool of myself when I was asked why I thought it was so big (I responded – ‘So I can see it?’ not realising that it was a real seed, assuming it was an enlarged model.) The tutor asked me a couple of questions, and when I said ‘I’m not entirely sure what those terms mean – but I think its …etc’, she was happy to explain the terms to me. All in all, a fairly enjoyable experience.

A spotty black and white skirt, a purple blouse and a black tank top. Oh and black shoes with big pink flowers on them. It actually looked smarter than it sounds, to be fair. I wore it for comfort, because it looked nice, and because it gave me self confidence. For the third interview on the second day, I wore a maroon jumper and black trousers – mainly because I didn’t want to smell (due to the nervous perspiration of the first day!)

Impressions

Pembroke was lovely. Even though it was winter, the gardens were well cared for and very attractive. The buildings were nice, similar to most of the old colleges. Somerville was a bit more modern, but still very nice. Bigger grounds, but it was a confusing entrance. I walked in with a few other people I met on the way there, and we got lost trying to find the room we were directed to.

It was a very large room. They’d put two beds in for during the interviews, although I didn’t end up sharing, the beds fitted comfortably, and I was shocked to learn that it was normally a single room. Toilets and showers were just down the corridor. Didn’t see any kitchens, so can’t comment on them.

Ok. Limited choice, as they were operating on skeleton staff. But nice enough. I’m vegetarian, and they had perfectly good veggie options.

Despite now having a slight grudge against the one who showed me green slime, I found that every single one was very nice, and very friendly.

The guy who showed me to my room was friendly, but slightly full of himself, fairly posh. The rest of the runners seemed much more down to earth, very nice and helpful.

Final stage

I tried not to think about it. I came back on a Wednesday, and told that I might get the decision by Friday. It in fact turned up on Monday – so it was a few days of anxious waiting.

Was at home with my mum and dad, when the dog started barking, meaning the postman had come. I went to the door, picked up the post. Yelled that I had a letter, and went in to see my mum and dad, and open it. I refused to let them see it, opened it, and pulled out the second page first, which detailed the Oxford Bursaries, which made me realise i’d got in. Scanned the letter for long enough to take in that it started ‘On behalf of Pembroke college I’m pleased to offer…’ Then started yelling and swearing, my parents and I jumped up and down a bit, then I rang my best friend, and my boyfriend.

Looking back

Absolutely.

Just go for it. You have six choices, so even if you don’t get in, you’re not losing much, and you have a hell of a lot to gain.