Sakshi – Experimental Psychology
Journey to Oxford
I am an international student from India. I did the IB diploma program, and my subjects were Psychology, Economics, and English Language and Literature at higher level, and Mathematics, Biology, and Spanish ab initio (beginners) at standard level. After a fair bit of university-related research, I decided to apply to Oxford, and I was privileged enough to have my family wholeheartedly support my decision to move abroad to study. Though my teachers were also extremely supportive, my school did not offer specialized help with the admissions process, unlike a lot of schools here in the UK. At the time, it did feel quite daunting to have to figure everything out on my own, but in hindsight, I can say that it’s definitely manageable, and certain parts of the process were actually surprisingly fun!
Why did you choose to study your course? What is your favourite thing about it?
The answer to this is quite simple – it seemed fun! I did IB Psychology, and immediately took a liking to it – there are so many unique realms of the subject (social, cognitive, biological, etc.) which always keeps things exciting. I had also done a few small research projects which I quite enjoyed, and given the fact that this course is largely experimental in nature, I figured that it was the perfect fit – and I was right! Since I have been here, I have to say that my favourite part of the course is evaluating some of the classic studies, with regards to their limitations and how they stand the test of time: I’ve had some amazing discussions with my tutors that really cemented my love of the subject.
How is your course taught?
For the first two terms, Experimental Psychology students do three introductory modules: psychology, neurophysiology, and probability theory and statistics. For all of these, we are taught by a combination of lectures and tutorials; we have about 4-6 lectures and 3 tutorials per week. A variety of topics are covered, ensuring that we build a strong foundation. As for the workload, we receive two essays and one problem sheet each week, which I do alongside independent studies including making notes and reading around the lecture material.
Describe your average Oxford day…
“Work hard, play hard” is a good way to describe most of my days. Each morning, I grab a light breakfast and walk with friends to where our lectures are held. I then have lunch in college, after which I spend some time catching up on essays and problem sheets – usually on my own, but there is the occasional group-study session.
Some afternoons I spend in tutorials, and others I take out time to watch recordings of any lectures that I may have missed. Once dinner-time hits, however, all the work comes to a halt. Night-time, in contrast to day-time, is not as formulaic: a night out, a movie night with friends, a fancy event, or just a good old self-care session – there’s always something new to do. Naturally, it’s not always possible to maintain this work-life balance, and I’ve definitely slipped up more than a few times; but what’s important is to not get consumed by either work or parties, and to eventually get back on track – and that’s what weekends are for!
Why did you decide to apply to St Edmund Hall? What is your favourite thing about it now you’re here?
Based on the research I did, St Edmund Hall – or as we fondly call it, Teddy Hall – seemed to have a reputation of being one of the friendliest colleges around, and I can now say from experience that it is true! I love the community here – everyone is super warm and friendly, and they really make the college feel like home away from home.
What helped you prepare for the admissions process?
Throughout the admissions process, I ensured that I was consistently engaging with my subject. This includes reading books and articles to stay up-to-date with current research and opinions in Psychology – I highly recommend BPS research digest! This way, I learned about several different parts of the subject that really interested me (which I could include in my personal statement), and I steadily developed the skill to critically analyse and evaluate research findings (which helped with the interview).
With regards to the Thinking Skills Assessment, for me, the best way to prepare for it was to just do past papers under timed conditions. This helped me with familiarising myself with the types of questions asked, as well as getting used to the time pressure.
What was the biggest misconception you had about studying at Oxford before you came?
Coming from a non-western space, I had anticipated that it would be difficult to relate with people here, and I fully expected to have very few friends. However, the people here at Oxford are nothing like what I pictured: all the students and staff here (especially at Teddy Hall) are extremely friendly and helped me settle in faster than I would’ve ever imagined. Students here come from so many parts of the world, and everyone ends up finding others who share their culture and traditions – I’ve had countless chats over samosas with some amazing people I’ve met through the Oxford India Society.
What would you tell your 17-year-old self about applying to and studying at Oxford/St Edmund Hall now?
What I really needed was reassurance – reassurance that my application is good enough, and that even if I do not get in, that does not mean I am not good enough; reassurance that I won’t be alienated because of my accent, skin, and culture, and that I will find people who share even the most niche of my interests; reassurance that the academic pressure is not overwhelming, and that I’ll actually have a lot of fun at Oxford!