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OxNet 2020: A Reflection

One of our North-West STEM participants, Harvey, reflects on what he has learnt over the course of OxNet 2020.

What I Have Learned

The OxNet programme has been a hugely engaging academic experience that has pushed me well beyond my typical school curriculum. As part of the STEM course, the six seminars provided covered a wide range of complex, interesting topics that constantly encouraged engagement between students across the UK. A recurring theme of autonomous systems allowed me to engage with a wide range of topics from philosophy to chemistry, without getting lost in the content. The seminars demonstrated to me the importance of collaboration and communication, which seems to me to be at the core of the Oxford ethos.

As a STEM student, the OxNet programme has also broadened my academic writing skillset. OxNet has provided helpful resources to improve university-style academic writing, which is often not supplied by STEM A-levels. The skills provided allowed me to feel much more confident when presenting an argument, which ultimately led to me improving the quality of my work. Often at GCSE/A-level, I find that your personal opinion is not particularly explored, and OxNet offered this academic freedom. Specific to STEM, OxNet also taught me how to construct a piece of scientific work, covering topics such as integrating personally collected data into my arguments. There was a great balance between practical activities, such as coding, and the actual writing of essays, which I appreciated.

The summer school in particular encouraged my ambition as a student and helped me to engage with new topics in order to enrich my knowledge. OxNet has provided a platform from which I have been able to experience new academic areas I wouldn’t have otherwise had access to. I have learned how to better collect and review academic work to back up my own arguments and use them to construct more compelling and useful pieces of work. The summer school also introduced me to the tutorial system, granting an otherwise unobtainable taste of the sort of teaching Oxford has to offer.

Advice to Future Students

My main piece of advice for future OxNet participants would be to get involved in anything and everything they can. One of the most exciting parts of the programme, for me, was trying my hand at topics I had never even heard about. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed topics I wouldn’t normally consider looking into, and I enjoyed linking my favourite subjects to a range of new ideas and subjects. On a similar note, I would also advise a student to be as ambitious as possible; I found OxNet to be a great opportunity to push myself and my understanding of different concepts and topics. Furthermore, I think that students shouldn’t shy away from their academic viewpoint, especially with regards to essay writing. It’s easy to sit on the fence about an essay, or to feel as though you’re not qualified to have an opinion, but I found that owning an opinion and backing it up was a great way to engage with material. The feedback on work that the OxNet team can provide is extremely powerful in developing your skills, so I would advise a student to truly put their full effort into their work on the course, as this quality of feedback is not something to be wasted.

I’d also say that students shouldn’t restrain themselves from asking questions. OxNet puts you in contact with brilliant academics that will be able to provide you with insightful and individually useful information which might not be available anywhere else.

By Harvey Balaam

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