Class of Spectra: Qi Pan

Qi Pan, Brasenose College, Oxford, Biochemistry (2013-17)

What is your advice to those still at Oxford?

Oxford was the place where I rebuilt my self-confidence. Being mistaken for a tourist in your home for the next four years was an interesting start to my university experience. However, I refused to let this define me. I was lucky to have a wide-ranging group of friends, who accepted me for who I was, gave me courage and saw my potential where I couldn’t.

It’s not a secret that your degree can sometimes feel like unrelenting waves crashing down on you, with problem sheet after essay after lab report, week after week. What pushed me through my degree was not only my passion for the subject, but also the faith that my tutors had in me, and the support network of friends who were all going through the same struggle.

Many of you will face imposter’s syndrome throughout your time at Oxford. Just remember that your tutors chose you because they could see your potential and enthusiasm, and you deserve to be there. Keep your head up and embrace your background and heritage. Do not let yourself be pigeonholed into a stereotype. When the Oxford bubble gets too overwhelming, go to Port Meadow and get some perspective. Your prelims or finals marks will not define who you are in the future, but your experiences at Oxford will, so have fun.

Oxford is not only about academia. Branch out and join societies to find your people. When I told my friends from home I had started coxing for the college boat club they were surprised, as I had always been a shy girl at school. However, being a cox gave me a voice and made me more assertive, thanks to the honest feedback from the rowers. Find your own way of building your self-confidence, whether that be through theatre or quidditch.

There is no one definitive Oxford experience (as the Daily Mail often portrays it), so go ahead and curate your own. Perhaps the greatest aspect of my Oxford experience was day-to-day college life. Candlelit formals and spontaneous late night conversations on staircases on topics ranging from Cicero to designer babies to quantum field theory. My friends at Oxford broadened my horizons and stimulated me to think outside of the confines of my subject, and I am forever grateful to Oxford for bringing us together.

My number one piece of advice is: even when you have long hours in the lab or essay crises, remember to look up at the dreaming spires and breathe.

Class of Spectra: Keertana Ganesan

Keertana Ganesan, Magdalen College, Oxford, Experimental Psychology (2014-2017)

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I’m Keertana and I have just graduated from Oxford with a BA in Experimental Psychology. Before starting my degree, I was timid, anxious and extremely self-deprecating. I downplayed my achievements and constantly criticised the way I looked.

Now, I’m starting to achieve peace with myself. I’m starting to appreciate my quirks and what makes me unique. I am starting to celebrate myself.  Getting to this point has been difficult, but it has been possible because of the strong, female friends and role models I have in my life, who are unapologetically themselves.

I still have such a long way to go but I am excited for the road ahead. If I could write a letter to my teenage self, this is what I would say:

Hey Keertana,

You’re probably in some corner anxiously completing your assignments while fulfilling your social commitments. Please just take a minute to listen to me! You’re so hard on yourself sometimes – just breathe.

You’re quick to fault yourself and pick on your flaws (and perhaps you still are). The notepad you have with all those ugly words you call yourself? Throw that away and write beautiful things about yourself instead. You’re only 16.

You are going to make mistakes and that’s part of the process. There is no use thinking of how things could have gone better. Maybe have a little fun instead of trying to rehearse every single conversation in your head.

Also – yes you are different! But that’s what is great about you. Stop trying so hard to mask your differences to try to appear ‘normal’. It’s really exhausting and living in your true self can be somewhat liberating. It may not seem like it now – but one day someone will appreciate your unique abilities.

You’re beautiful too. The pale, thin models you look up to are beautiful but that doesn’t mean you aren’t. One day, you will find a way to see yourself in a different light.   It takes time and lots of self-love. It’s a journey to get to that point but I promise you it will make you a whole different woman; a woman, who is confident with big dreams and goals.

It doesn’t matter if everyone or no one believes in you: I want you to try and start with yourself.

xoxo

Class of Spectra: Victoria Morris

Victoria Morris, History and Politics, Jesus College, Oxford (2014-2017)

How do you feel about your time at Oxford?

Looking back on my time at university I feel a mixture of pride and relief.

There are lots of reasons I’ll miss it. For obvious (and often repeated) reasons, I’ll miss all the wonderful and supportive people I saw every day. I’ll miss the feeling of newfound independence. I’ll miss the city itself. But the first thing I thought of when I sat down to write this was how much I’ll miss studying a subject I enjoyed full-time and what a luxury it was to be able to do that.

Oxford was extremely difficult at times, but looking back I wonder how much of that stress and difficulty was brought on by myself. By ‘brought on by myself’, I’m not saying that stress is something that you can recognise and then just switch off. What I think is true is that I put a lot of pressure on myself by trying to get the most out of my time at university. I wanted to be organised, accomplished in everything and make the experience ‘perfect’. I had high self-expectations and I felt like I had to prove something.

Obviously, self-motivation is a good thing, but a lot of what was pressuring me to do well was self-doubt. I was continually reminded how ‘lucky’ I was to be here. I don’t remember having confidence issues with public speaking or debates when I was younger; I think those are things that wormed their way into my head because I grew so scared of making mistakes.

I had been very aware of more overt sexism before uni: from implications I didn’t understand simple orders to not being allowed to carry mildly heavy objects. When an elderly male acquaintance refused to believe my sister when she told him I had gone to Oxford (“Oxford Brookes, you mean?”), I was annoyed, but not surprised. It was the expected reaction from someone who had me down as a quiet and incompetent girl in a mostly male organisation. What did creep up on me was that every time I said “I’m not sure” in tutorials, even though I was quite sure, I became more and more like the quiet, unsure, female archetype that the acquaintance had boxed me in as.

I started writing this with the aim of giving advice to my younger self and I think it boils down to this: be more confident during discussions. Make a mistake once in a while, and don’t be scared to be loud.

Class of Spectra: Anne Lim

Anne Lim, Law, St Anne’s College, Oxford (2014-17)

WHAT CHARACTERISED YOUR TIME IN OXFORD?

My time in Oxford was weird and wonderful, but more often than not it was everything in between – challenging, exhausting, and sometimes discouraging. There were many late nights, essay crisis-induced complaints, and the constant reminder that there was always more to do. Things did not start out easy, go smoothly, or end simply. However, choosing to take on the difficulties I faced during my degree (self-induced or not) has been the best thing I have ever done for myself.

I will be the first to say that I was not a star pupil in Oxford. In first year, my personal tutor asked me if I ever thought about being a judge. I was quick to say ‘no’ while gesturing at my latest essay plan. She was one of the first people I have met who made me stop and ask myself ‘why’. To her, there was no reason why I should let pre-conceived notions of my ability as an individual, and as a woman in the legal industry, convince me to place dreams out of my own reach. There was no reason I could not work to achieve something if I wanted it. There was no reason to let anyone tell me ‘no’.

During my three years at Oxford, I have crossed paths with many people like her – people who remind you of your strengths when you refuse to see them and encourage you when you feel like you fall short. In this place, I have heard the phrase ‘you can’t do it’ uttered constantly, but I soon realised the only person who has ever said this to me was myself. No one here will give you a free pass and no one is here to make things easy for you, but through the challenges you face, that loud ‘I can’t’ you tell yourself will be softened by the assurances of those around you that ‘you can’.

I may not have graduated with the ambition of becoming a judge, but I have left with a grateful heart for those who have tested my resolve and challenged me to be better, all the while standing beside me in support. I will not promise you that things will always be easy or fun, but if you choose Oxford you choose a place that will give you the challenges, experiences and support to tell yourself that in spite of what you face, ‘you can, and you will’.

Class of Spectra: Saloni Patel

Saloni Patel, Law, Jesus College, Oxford (2014-2017)

How would you describe your ‘Oxford Experience’?

It was a time of intense challenge and yet the time of my proudest achievements. It was my greatest learning experience and yet I rarely fully understood course topics. It was an instance that raced by and then, a period that dragged slowly. A paradox. However, amidst all these contradictions Oxford never failed to surprise me.

For me, Oxford is best described as a place of surprise.

Aged 18, the first surprise was being confronted with the reality that I was a minority. Being a through-and-through mainstream girl I wasn’t used to being unusual. Having never perceived a tangible difference to my life, I’d never really deliberated upon what it meant to be an Indian girl. The Oxford environment gave me this recognition, but it also prompted this exploration. Living with a dual identity can be a struggle as you try to stabilise yourself in competing winds.

Oxford showed me that racial identity isn’t binary, and nor is it a spectrum on which you decide where you sit between Indian and British. Rather it’s an appreciation of the complimentary – as well as conflicting elements – between the two cultures, and the discernment that it is for you alone to define your cultural identity. At Oxford there was no prescription as to what it meant to be Indian, and instead I was greeted with vast diversity in interpretation of what this label represented. These open communities meant I could engage with this heritage without fearing that I was going to be wrong, that I was going to be too Indian or that I wasn’t going to be Indian enough.

Whoever you are – if it’s right for you, it’s right. Everyone will have something that makes them feel different but one of the things I love the most about Oxford is that there is a space for everyone, and if there isn’t you can make it. I was different and it surprised me; it surprised me because I embraced it.

Oxford is buzzing with a myriad of societies and groups, giving you the opportunity to develop existing skills, acquire new ones, and to surprise yourself with what you’re capable of. Throwing myself into these extra-curriculars meant I could see value in myself outside the sole structure of academic success. In an institution which is synonymous with academics it was surprising – in a liberating way – that what I found was an identity away from exam achievement. Even more significantly, Oxford gave me the power of agency.

On arrival at Oxford I was excruciatingly quiet. Perhaps this was because of socialisation, a good woman is a good listener? Yet through the tutorial system where with small class-sizes you’re forced to speak up, and by being surrounded by so many supportive people who wanted to hear what I had to say, Oxford gave me a voice.

Voice isn’t just about volume; it’s about conviction and assuredness, and when the emphasis is put on you developing your own thoughts and asserting your own opinions, as opposed to rote-reciting others’, these things come naturally. Oxford surprised me because I found myself in positions of leadership and roles of responsibility, all from the girl who couldn’t be heard.

Finally, Oxford surprised me because it wasn’t the answer that I had imagined. I thought achieving a degree at Oxford would prime my life, and after this last obstacle, life would be stable and secure. After all Oxford is one of the most established markers of success. Instead, Oxford showed me that struggle isn’t something to avoid but to relish. In life there is no magical finish line, there is constantly learning to be done and progress to be made. There is no fact or event which will launch you up a ladder of success. Rather you’ll encounter many a slippery snake as you realise that success isn’t a fixed standard, it constantly evolves and grows, as you do. There will always be loose ends but accepting this and enjoying life as it comes rather than striving towards the next milestone will make your success sustainable.

Oxford is full of surprise. Whatever your background Oxford will be new; it’s a melting pot of personalities, perspectives and people. Embrace change, welcome difference, and Oxford is the place for you.