Benjamin Ralph

Hometown & Region: London          

Degree: Mathematics and Philosophy

A levels: Mathematics, Further Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, AS Philosophy

When I’m not working I’m…

…Spending far too much time idly clicking through things on the internet, but when a little more disciplined I really enjoy reading long-form journalism and watching a wide range of movies.

In my first three years I was a member of the boat club, which was a brilliant sub-culture to be a part of.  Like all sports at Oxford, it keeps you fit while also fostering a genuine bond between people – the social aspect is just as important as the competitive aspect.

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

Rather embarrassingly, I applied to Balliol, not Brasenose, but in no way have I regretted ending up at Brasenose, it is everything one could look for in an Oxford college.  Oxford itself appealed to me partly because of the academic excellence – I knew I would get an inimitable education at Oxford – but also the sheer romance of it all.  To live and study in a university that makes a good claim to be the best academically, the most permeated in history and tradition and the most beautiful is just an extraordinary privilege.

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

There probably was a part of me that expected it to feel overwhelmingly intense all of the time, populated only by intellectuals and dandies.  Looking back, perhaps what has been most surprising is how mundane it can be at times (this isn’t a bad thing!).  I have met exceptional people and had extraordinary experiences, whilst also going through many of the same things that any student goes through at any British university.  Oxford is not perfectly representative, but it is managing to do an impossible task incredibly well: finding people from every background who will flourish in a unique environment, and making everybody feel that they are the typical Oxford student having the typical Oxford experience.

 What do you like most about studying in Brasenose?

The tutorial system is undoubtedly the center of an Oxford education, and this is certainly true at Brasenose.  I have been lucky to have many one on one tutorials with extremely knowledgeable and interesting academics, who have been intellectually formative in a way that I just do not think could be mirrored in a class or seminar environment.  In philosophy the intimate format, whilst initially frightening, gave me a confidence in my own views and extensive practice at defending them from a sustained and thoughtful attack.  In maths, the tutorials forced me to think through my working and approaches in a way that I don’t think I could or would have done if I simply got back a bit of work with a few ticks and crosses and perhaps some scrawled comments.

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

One of the qualities that I think is crucial for attracting the interest of tutors at interview and also for enjoying one’s time at Oxford is a genuine intellectual appetite: a desire to learn things not for exams or for showing off, but an unsatiable curiosity about the subject one is studying and ideally beyond that. This is certainly a common factor to everybody I know who has really thrived here.  As an example of tutors prizing interest in things beyond their subject, I have one friend, now studying Medicine, who spent much of their interview talking about “The Grapes of Wrath” and another, a Physics student, who broke the ice at their interview by identifying a model dinosaur in the room.

 What are the perks of your degree?

Doing a rather obscure subject, with only about 15 people a year across the entire university means that I often get a look conveying a mixture of confusion and fear whenever I tell people what it is that I am studying.  However, it does mean there is a lovely community of us “MathPhils”.  The wine and cheese party at the beginning of the year, attended by all four years as well as a few tutors is great, and something that just wouldn’t work with a larger subject.  As there is nobody else in my year at Brasenose taking my subject, I have made really close friends at other colleges taking Maths and Philosophy, which adds another dimension to my social life at Oxford. To boot, it is an excellent course, which I would unqualifyingly recommend to anybody considering applying to it.