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Widening access to Oxford

Blog posted by: Martin Christlieb

Applying to Oxford is a daunting prospect.  For many students in their last year of school, the idea of going to Oxford seems so far out of reach that it’s not worth applying.  For others, Oxford seems like a place where they couldn’t fit in or make a success of their time here.

A number of people have set out to challenge these perceptions.  Amongst them The University itself and a teacher training scheme called ‘Teach First’.

A key strategy in challenging the notion that Oxford is ‘not for me’ is encouraging students to come to Oxford and try it out for themselves.  To live here and work here, albeit only for a day or two.  To meet our students and to try their hand at some academic work. 

The Department of Oncology doesn’t teach undergraduate courses, but our science is ideal for providing a great academic experience while students visit Oxford to find out what it’s like to be here.  Cancer is both fascinating and compelling.  Obviously our science is great quality too!

The Easter vacation is a great time to get students to Oxford.  The schools are on holiday and our own students have vacated their rooms for a few weeks.  Ever keen, Oncology volunteered to provide an intellectual challenge for two groups of teenagers who were visiting Oxford during their penultimate year at school.

I have been involved in these activities for a few years now and I offer a few impressions:

It always fascinates me that over 75% of the students we engage through this type of outreach are female.  I’m assured by organisers that they don’t consciously select female participants, but that the students applying are predominately female. 

My second impression is one of genuine affection for the students who come to these courses.  They are bright, passionate, inquisitive and energetic.  They are a delight to spend time with.

Finally I am struck by the observation that they express surprised interest in the complexity of cancer.  We still have much work to do to get the message out there that cancer is more than a bag of dividing cells.

We often get very positive feedback from the students who come on these courses.  I hope this reflects a series of small triumphs in our battle to reach out to young people with the messages:

"Science will cure cancer and you could be part of that."

"Oxford is an amazing place.  For the price of a line on your UCAS form you could be part of a community of people who delight in some fantastic science."

Go on … give it a go.

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