'Oxford always seemed out of my reach but I am so pleased I went for it'

THOMAS MEWES left RGS to study medicine at the University of Oxford last year. He tells us about settling in, the challenges he faces every day and how he couldn't see himself being happier anywhere else

MY first two terms at Oxford have been busy, intense, ram-packed, and any other synonymous adjective you can think of – which I wouldn’t change for the world. Academically, Oxford has pretty much been what I expected, I anticipated that I would be challenged and often feel out of my depth, I knew that some can find the medical course quite bland at times with the large scientific focus (but this skew was something that appealed to me when applying) as it differs quite significantly from other medical schools and these things are true up to this point. Socially, I’ve met people from all over the country and the world from different walks of life, who are talented in ways that seem superhuman to me. I’ve attempted to make the most of societies, talks and events going on around me on a weekly basis to feel content that I am trying new things and pushing the boat out. It is for exactly these reasons that in hindsight I have enjoyed my time in Oxford so much and am quite sad that it is over for now.

As mentioned, it has been a busy two terms, and continues to be a busy third, albeit from the confines of my home. Before the untimely end to my first year in Oxford I had continued to play rugby albeit at college level (quite possibly my only regret being not trying for the university teams*, convincing myself I may have been capable of making the bench for the third team, but this is most likely wishful thinking); given University Challenge trials a go, to little success; picked up squash, darts and pool; dabbled my hand at yoga and rudimentary astrophysics and attended talks ranging from humanitarian aid to the applications of CRISPR in our world today (one for the biology fans amongst you). University intrinsically offers new opportunities due to the fact that a large array of people with different interests and heritages are suddenly concentrated in one place and as a result you find new avenues to explore which is both refreshing and eye-opening.

It hasn’t necessarily been an easy two terms, I won’t pretend I coasted through them as it definitely was a step up from sixth form, although perhaps not for the reasons you might expect. Work was pretty much a continuation from A-levels that gradually got harder and more in-depth but was very manageable, instead it’s the new surroundings that put you under a different kind of pressure that you may not have considered. Having to juggle everything, including that mentioned above and more, alongside your academic study, and doing so in a new environment that is completely overwhelming to you is hard, that’s a fact. I was lucky enough to have two others from RGS starting as freshers at Brasenose as well, affording me a friendly face especially during those first few days and weeks, a luxury most don’t have. In terms of workload and finding that hallowed balance aforementioned, I must confess, I’m still working on it and I will put my hand up and say I prioritised socialising and other things over my course at times but life here really does seem to come down to that old cliché ‘work hard, play hard’.

I want to emphasise that I didn’t neglect my work, being at Oxford is unique in that there is a reason for you being here, you must have demonstrated a passion for your subject that the interviewers recognised and that’s what helps to create the particular atmosphere that it is not peculiar to want to work and do well, although you would get a few sideway glances if you hibernated in the library. Medicine as a course has relatively more contact time than most other degrees but is fairly similar to other STEM subjects and it’s one I have enjoyed - certain topics more than others, as is the case for everyone. This being said, the tutorial system at Oxbridge helps to encourage you to enquire and delve deeper into your subject, independently finding what captivates you and so topics that superficially may have seemed basic or dull in a lecture can suddenly take on a whole new appearance to yourself and this is what I have learnt to appreciate. The opportunity to look into a topic and then be able to discuss it with one or two other students and academics or clinicians with 30+ years of experience in research or a variety of specialities (medicine specific), and doing this several times a week depending on subject and college, is something that is an irrefutable privilege. It only goes to fuel your curiosity and appetite for your subject and is one thing that, in my opinion, makes Oxbridge so different to other universities This pursuit of learning is something that was constantly encouraged by staff at RGS (particular mention to Dr Linklater) and in my opinion has really helped me in transitioning to a more independent style of learning as it wasn’t completely new

The collegiate system is another aspect that makes life in Oxford quite different to other universities and has undoubtedly contributed to enjoyment so far. By living in such close proximity to so many other students across year groups and subjects, all of whom share a common, unifying trait with yourself - the college - a greater sense of belonging is nurtured and you rapidly become a member of a very tight-knit community which is welcoming, supportive and extremely sociable. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at Brasenose so far, from my tutors, who provide me with immense academic and pastoral support, to the friends I have made, whether having met down in the college bar or on the sports field. Brasenose has provided a solid platform from which the rest of my entire university experience has spanned, making the transition from our relatively small sixth form in North Yorkshire to a large university much more manageable. The college has been there to provide support for me in whatever capacity I may need, from my college family (consisting of two ‘parents’ in second year and two other first year ‘siblings’), welfare officers, the JCR committee, my tutors and many more

As mentioned, there is help whenever you need, all you must do is be willing enough to be helped, settling in however was still a daunting process and it took time and I am admittedly still finding my feet, but that’s not unusual. Upon arrival in Oxford I felt overwhelmed to finally be there, this was something I’d thought about for just over a year and now it had finally been realised and it was quite honestly surreal, almost too good to be true. Having no family members who had been to Oxford previously, the lifestyle seemed worlds away, the jargon alien and the dress and certain traditions just excessively formal. Before arriving I started to get into my own head, thinking about what people told me, especially regarding the male-private school stereotype of Oxford students and the hostile atmosphere that ensues if you aren’t ‘one of them’ but following my arrival all of this was quickly put to bed. This is not to say that you won’t meet people from such backgrounds but equally I don’t want to seem as though I’m dismissing the private-state school disparity exhibited at Oxford, but it is something that is being addressed and slowly improving.

In all honesty I have taken time getting used to only living a stone’s throw away from both the library and my mates, and the dichotomy produced when deciding where I would rather spend my evening - no prizes for anyone who guesses the usual choice. This is what makes university so different to school though and for most people helps to make you feel more independent and mature (even if you don’t realise it) as you become the one who calls the shots and dictates how you spend your time. Your tutors will make sure you’re keeping up and coping academically as they honestly do really care about you and your wellbeing but fundamentally it is your responsibility to take control of your education and find that balance I’ve eluded to already, however successfully. Oxford had always seemed out of my reach and something of a pipe dream, but I am so pleased that I went for it as I couldn’t see myself being happier anywhere else. If it wasn’t for the support that the staff at RGS provide, especially the sixth form team, I’m not sure if I would have properly considered applying to Oxford in the first place and so I cannot stress enough what a useful resource they, as well as your other subject teachers, are in making decisions post-sixth form.

Medicine and university have certainly been somewhat different to what I might have expected but for the most part they have been better than I ever could have anticipated, and I can’t wait to see what the years ahead hold.

*It’s worth pointing out that University level sport is a larger time commitment and more serious than college level but is a great way to meet people from all over the university. This being said, many first-year students do get involved and you shouldn’t be put off by your newfound infancy as age no longer carries the weight that it did in school.

*If any prospective students of Oxford, medicine or both want to ask any questions or need advice, please email me on thomas.mewes@bnc.ox.ac.uk

Picture captions from top:

Arriving in Oxford and moving in. Pictured with little brother Ed (in Lower Sixth at RGS) on Radcliffe Square just outside my college (Brasenose)

With Freddie Crouch, Gus Smith (both from RGS) and another first-year at an event during freshers’ week

In the hall (where we eat our meals and have certain events in college) with five of the other six first year medics at Brasenose after our tutors' dinner (we get to eat a meal with our tutors and get to know them in freshers’ week)

In Old Quad of Brasenose on matriculation day (an Oxford tradition and the day you officially become a member of the university, a new experience that’s for sure).

Following a rugby match against our sister college from Cambridge (Gonville & Caius). They came to Oxford for a  fun sports day, all carried out in good spirits. Lots of sports were played and I also took part in the mixed netball and mixed lacrosse

At a 21st birthday party just before the end of the second term