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Undergraduate Student Stories
KATHERINE WOOD (Biochemistry, Molecular and Cellular, 2013)
Katherine reflects on her time at Pembroke so far, her recent success in examinations and tells us about her future plans.
My course is Biochemistry (Molecular and Cellular). I came 1st in the year group in my Part I exams sat at the end of 3rd year, with an average percentage of 87%, and was awarded the ‘Porter Prize for the Best Performance in the F.H.S. Part I Examinations in Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry’. I also received a letter of commendation for achieving the highest percentage in 3 of the 6 examined papers.
I think my success in my course is due to a combination of factors. I am an extremely driven and determined person. Part of this motivation is due to my genuine enjoyment of my subject— Biochemistry is absolutely 100% the right course for me, I find it very interesting, and I plan to continue in the subject area long term.
My tutors are also very caring and have been really supportive, so the desire to make them proud has also been a factor driving me to do well.
I would probably say the tutorials are the best part of the Biochemistry course. Until the final year, there is no flexibility regarding lecture courses - there are no modules so everybody attends everything, meaning that you get a very broad knowledge and solid grounding of biochemistry.
For me, the tutorials were the chance for me to get some input into what I wanted to study, and what I wanted to explore in more detail. I am very much looking forward to my final year 18-week lab project because I will get to work on the area I am particularly interested in and will be a transition towards independent research (my future career plan).
My tutors are exceptional. Andre Furger and Kirsty McHugh are both very caring and committed to their students— they will always answer emails, meet up with you if you are struggling and never fail to give us a confidence boost. I am not afraid to approach them about issues, both academic and relating to welfare, with the added bonus that Kirsty did the Biochemistry course herself so can give advice based on her own experience.
REFLECTING ON PEMBROKE
Pembroke was my first choice College. This was largely because I had met my tutor at the Open Day and got on with him really well— it was very important to me that I had a caring and open tutor. The Open Day itself at Pembroke was also brilliant, it is a pretty College and the fact that it could offer me 3 years of accommodation also factored into my decision to choose Pembroke.
The best thing about Pembroke is how friendly and supportive everybody is and how easy it is to access help when you need it. There is a very caring environment in the College and I feel that there is always somebody to turn to if I need help. The JCR committee has also always been very approachable and the peer supporter system is excellent. You never feel lonely at Pembroke.
The College has definitely helped me to be successful in my course. Not only have my tutors been wonderful, but throughout the exam period the College offered me a great deal of support.
My tips for excelling at Pembroke would be to work hard, but also to make sure that students look after themselves and access the great repertoire of resources and support networks Pembroke has to offer. Definitely communicate with tutors and if there is ever a problem or a student needs help (both at an academic and personal level) they should not be afraid to open up to their tutor.
I would also encourage them to work with fellow students doing the same subject— personally I gained a huge amount from helping and being helped by my other biochemists in my year group, as well as contacting those in the year above me for advice when necessary.
Balancing work and other commitments can be difficult. My main commitment is running as I train with the University Cross Country Club and have a role on the club's committee. I find that training is a very refreshing break from the work and actually makes me more productive with my studies as a result. I run most days, but on those days I don't I try to make sure I do at least one other thing just for "me" that is not work. This was especially important in the lead up to the exams.
My friends and I also do things like "afternoon tea" a few times a term where we all get together for a few hours and have tea and home-baked cakes; it is a great way to make sure that we all see each other even if we live in different places, catch up and forget about the work for a while.
For prospective students, my advice would be to "just go for it". I honestly believed I would never, ever get into Oxford, so my acceptance letter was not only a massive surprise but also one of the best things that has happened to me.
Don't worry if you feel under-prepared or that you won't fit in, everybody else is in the same position as you and I found that Pembroke did everything they could to make me feel welcome.
For current students, I would reiterate that you should never be afraid to ask for support if you need it; there is a huge amount of help available but only if you are willing to access it.
I have one more year at Pembroke left as an undergraduate, in which I will be doing my 4th year lab project. After that I plan to do a PhD, with the intention of remaining in academia long-term.
While things aren't always easy, I feel that being at Pembroke has definitely helped me fulfil my academic potential and much of my time here will remembered fondly.