On Friday 26 June, I was lucky enough to be accepted to take part in the Women in STEM Subjects Access Day at Hertford College, Oxford. It was an amazing experience to participate in talks from women tutors at one of the world’s most prestigious and leading universities.
Before the day itself Dr Matthew Hiscock, the director of admissions at the college allowed me to choose the three talks I wanted to attend with a brief summary. On arrival, I was greeted at the college by Dr Hiscock and Dr Catherine Redford, the Outreach Fellow with refreshments and a timetable for how the day would progress.
The first session was called Engineering Today’s Enzymes for Tomorrow’s Chemistry by Dr Whitney Kellett. It focused on computational enzymology where enzymes are being engineered in chemistry to catalyse reactions without producing waste that would be harmful to the environment. It was incredibly interesting learning about such a complex yet necessary aspect of science first-hand. This session even included a group activity of finding the quickest way to produce a chemical using different enzymes to catalyse different reactions through matching cards.
The second session I attended was named Chemistry, the universe, and everything by Professor Claire Vallance. This session focused on the question, ‘Are we alone in the universe?’ and included concepts from all aspects of science. Professor Vallance led the session by discussing the history of our planet, all the way from the Big Bang, the creation of simple elements such as hydrogen and helium, to the creation of the Earth and it’s atmosphere. I found this extremely interesting as concepts I was familiar with were included such as nuclear fusion, plate tectonics and the development of the atmosphere from GCSE, but also higher-level science was discussed such as the creation of the first subatomic particles and how protoplanetary disks are formed using the conservation of momentum.
After lunch we were taken on tours of the college with current undergraduates in STEM subjects. This was valuable as the students were happy to ask any questions we had about the admissions process, interviews etc. and even the social scene within the university and around Oxford.
The last session was called X Chromosome Inactivation by Dr Heather Coker, a tutor whose work is mainly focused on the RNA gene Xist which is present during X chromosome inactivation. It was really interesting to learn about a vital process in female genetics and the logistics of it, from a scientist who is currently working on it. We were also shown images from Dr Coker’s own microscopy from inside the nucleus of a cell and her work with Xist and the protein WTAP. I found this session the most interesting as the research is so current as the work has only been happening since January and the work Dr Coker showed us is in her unpublished paper.
On departure, I was kindly given a goodie bag containing a university prospectus, a periodic table and various other gifts. Then, I had to head back to Essex and to prom! Overall, it was an incredible experience to be allowed to visit such a brilliant university and meet some of the leading women in STEM.
Iona Brunker, Year 11