Milo Smith

Hometown & Region: Norwich, Norfolk

Degree: Chemistry

A levels: Chemistry, Physics, Maths

Year of study: First Year

When I’m not working I’m…

I like to keep fit by going running and going to the gym, although it’s safe to say both of those pastimes took a bit of a back seat during Freshers’ week. I still try to run regularly, but haven’t been to the gym in an upsettingly long while.  I’ve also done a bit of skiing for the university, rowing with college, and this term I’ve got a college team together to play in the inter-collegiate croquet tournament (called croquet ‘Cuppers’). Despite conforming almost painfully well to the Oxford stereotype, croquet is a brilliant game, and if nothing else the Cuppers tournament is a great excuse to go and look around other colleges (in search of their croquet lawn) and meet new people. If you enjoy sport, the collegiate system of the university is ideal. Students of absolutely any ability can get involved in college sport in some form, and if you’re good there are always the blues teams (the university wide sporting teams) which compete with other universities.

I am also a choral scholar in the Brasenose chapel choir. Brasenose has one of the only (if not the only, I’m not entirely sure) non auditioning choirs in Oxford. We may not be as good as the Magdelen and New College choirs et al (where places are like gold dust and rehearsals are almost every day) but in my opinion we put on a pretty good show regardless.

When I’m not working, playing sport or singing, I’m often just chilling in college or around Oxford with mates. I made the excellent decision of buying a Nespresso coffee machine before coming up to Oxford, and subsequently often have people over to chat and catch up. Also, as a general rule people tend to hugely appreciate being invited for a coffee at 11am, having recently crawled out of bed after a particularly heavy crew date and night out in Bridge!

What made you choose to study at Brasenose and/or Oxford?

It’s somewhat cliche, but I have always wanted to come to Oxford. I have relatives who live nearby, and an older sister who used to work for the company who designs all the official collegiate logos and merchandise – she dealt closely with college JCR’s and would often tell me amusing anecdotes involving eccentric academics, and these fables made me idolise and aspire to attending the university from a young age.

College choice was somewhat more difficult – no doubt like many applicants before me I resorted to Student Room’s helpful (although likely somewhat inaccurate) guide to the Oxford colleges: I think this provides a good overview of the advantages of the college, however I have a high street room and can safely say that it’s not particularly noisy – I live in the middle of the countryside in Norfolk where the only noise outside is the biannual tractor, so I think I am in a fairly good position to comment! I had a few prerequisites for my college choice: I didn’t want it to be on the outskirts of the city; it needed to have a cool crest (to make for equally cool cufflinks, obviously) and should have suitably cool name. However that was about it, and unfortunately that rules out very few of the Oxford colleges, probably around ten at a guess, leaving me with around twenty to chose from. In the end my choice was made easy by visiting Brasenose at an open day. I felt a bizarre and rather unexplainable sense of belonging to the college – despite how sad this may sound to an outsider (and believe me I still cringe when the thought goes through my head) there is a surprisingly large contingent of Brasenose undergraduates who say exactly the same thing.

Is life at Oxford different to what you expected it to be?

Yes and no. Yes, because it is an incredible place to live and work (both intellectually and architecturally), I love my subject, I have met some brilliant people and contrary to popular belief the social life in Oxford is second to none. I cannot imagine (in the most literal sense of the phrase) a better place to spend the next four years of my life. No, for exactly the same reasons. As I’ve already mentioned I came up to Oxford with very high expectations courtesy of stories from my sister, but also the general aura surrounding Oxbridge. However despite this, Oxford has and continues to exceed my expectations in every respect – academically, socially, and in extra-curricular ventures.

What do you like most about studying in Brasenose?

Brasenose is an incredible college in many different dimensions. Personally, one of my favourite things is simply the grounds and architecture, which are truly amazing. We are also the only undergraduate college backing onto Radcliffe square, which is regarded by many as one of the most beautiful squares in the world. The staff at Brasenose are also fantastic, from the porters (the head porter Andy may just be the most friendly man in the world) to the kitchen staff, the academic tutors and administrative personnel. Everyone tends to be cheerful, and more than happy to help you out in any way that they can. This also extends to the students, who form an exceptionally diverse but friendly community, with the result that in my experience everyone in college feels welcome and included. The JCR (Junior Common Room – the college’s undergraduate student body) does some excellent work to put on all manner of events, and the welfare team is always on hand to make sure everyone is happy. A recent addition to the JCR’s repertoire of welfare events is the availability of weekly professional massages, which I feel compliments well the weekly yoga sessions. The accepting and friendly atmosphere in which we live really is a lovely aspect of the college.

A quality you think is important for someone looking to study at Oxford?

I think that the qualities for which tutors look in candidates, at least for science-based subjects, is often misinterpreted. Most importantly, they are not looking for candidates who know everything, although clearly a good base of knowledge is required. My opinion is that tutors look for candidates who are genuinely interested in their subject, who can think through unfamiliar problems in a logical manner (not necessarily arriving at the right answer, it’s the thought process and rationale that they are looking for), and who are eager to have a discussion with them about the topic in hand. In one of my tutorials last term, I was talking to my Organic Chemistry tutor about the tutorial system, and in his words ‘tutorials are supposed to be a two way thing’ – their purpose is not for the students to be ‘taught’ by the tutor, but for an academic discussion to evolve, out of which the students can glean information which they find useful and enriching. No two tutorials on the same topic, but attended by different students, are likely to be the same.

What are the perks of your degree?

Oxford Chemists study all three fields of Chemistry for three years before specialising. This gives a very strong base of knowledge and an appreciation for the subject as a whole, putting you in the ideal position to specialise in the Part II year (4th year), when you undertake a research project. A related perk is embodied in the fact that Chemistry is regarded by many as the ‘central’ science, in the respect that it sits between Biology and Physics on the continuum of phenomena studied, which results in Chemistry being an exceptionally broad subject. By way of example, in the first year we study the three core fields of chemistry (Organic, Inorganic and Physical), but also have Maths and Physics courses. In the Organic course, we cover aspects of biochemistry including peptide synthesis (progressing to pharmaceutical synthesis in second year); at the other end of the spectrum in the Physical course, we study Quantum Theory, which is complemented by aspects of the Maths course including Complex Numbers, Multiple Integrals and Differential Equations. Chemistry is a difficult and time consuming degree – you have to be genuinely interested and excited by it to be able to enjoy spending the necessary time on it, and indeed for the tutors to select you in the first place. But if you are it’s a fantastic choice, and personally every time I get stuck into a bit of tute work, no matter whether it’s a field that I am particularly interested in or not, I know that I have chosen the right degree.