Introducing Marisa…

Marisa Benoit was determined to earn her DPhil in History of Medicine at Oxford but had to apply three times before she could take her place at Christ Church. Read her story here:

Marisa Benoit

I’m currently in the fourth year of my doctorate in the History of Medicine, and my research compares attitudes towards infertility in early modern England and colonial New England. Infertility is a medical issue that is experienced on a personal and societal level, with deep emotional resonance across time and space. My project examines this seemingly timeless issue within a specific historical context, and provides the opportunity to untangle the web of emerging anatomical discoveries, social ideas about gender relations and the family, and religious beliefs that characterised attitudes toward reproduction in the early modern period.

I come from a small town on the coast of Maine in the United States, and my life changed when I first arrived in Oxford, ten years ago, as an undergraduate study-abroad student.  It was an experience that literally opened up my world, and the strong professional relationships and personal connections that I formed in those first few terms made me determined to return for postgraduate study. It took two years of working in the private sector before I was able to take my place in the M.Sc. programme in the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology.  The M.Sc. programme provided important training in methodological tools as well as the specialist subject knowledge required to embark on more advanced research. Having self-funded my M.Sc., I returned to work, but I was determined to continue my studies and earn my D.Phil.

After two more years working, I was very fortunate to receive partial funding that enabled me to finally take my D.Phil. place. The financial burden of attending Oxford for postgraduate studies is too much for many to bear, especially for international students. I was forced to turn down my place twice due to financial reasons, and it took a great deal of optimism and resolve each time the application period rolled around again. Further funding from generous alumni organisations has supported my studies, funded research trips, and allowed me to participate in conferences.  My research has benefited greatly from these bursaries, and I am very appreciative of the support that I have received.

Oxford is a transformative place. It inspires intellectual curiosity, academic excellence, and character development. My relationship with Oxford has shaped my personal and professional growth over the last decade, and I know that it will continue to enrich my life for many more years to come.  It is my hope that the work of the development office will enable other students facing financial pressures to join this remarkable community and experience education in its truest form.


The Student Ambassador Scheme is recruiting now!

Update: The application deadline has now passed. Please contact Lucinda Yeates at the below e-mail address if you are still keen to apply.

If you are passionate about funding for students and want to shout it from the rooftops, the University of Oxford Development Office would love to hear from you! We’re building on our team of Student Ambassadors with students who will share their story with potential donors through conversations at events, written testimonials in fundraising proposals, videos and this brand new blog.  If you are keen to see the Oxford experience made accessible to all who have the ability, to learn new skills through rewarding volunteering and to be part of the Oxford Thinking Campaign, this could be the role for you! If you are interested, please see the Further Information pack and complete the application form attached below. For applications and further information, please contact Lucinda Yeates, Development Assistant – Student Support at [lucinda [dot] yeates [at] devoff [dot] ox [dot] ac [dot] uk].

Student Ambassador Scheme further information

Student Ambassador Scheme – Application Form

Alumni Weekend Panel Discussion – An Oxford Education

On 21st September, Student Ambassadors Jennifer Brennan and Priscilla Santos were invited to speak at the Alumni Weekend Q&A Panel Discussion led by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Andy Hamilton, at the Said Business School. Here, Priscilla tells us about her experience on the Panel:

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The Panel Discussion was a fast but very interesting debate. The theme was about different perspectives of ‘an Oxford education’ (in my case, a graduate student perspective). We talked about subjects related to funding, different social and ethnic background and other themes such as the tutorial system for undergraduates. In this sense, I could contribute to the discussion telling a little about my personal experience as a student who comes from the Brazilian Amazon who would never have the opportunity to study in Oxford if it wasn’t for the University’s scheme for funding.

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I really enjoyed being part of the debate and found it enjoyable answering the VC’s questions. I thought it was particularly interesting his provocations to all panel members about how the University could improve. I thought it was so brave of him that he recognised that although the University is seen as one of the most respected academic institutions in the world, there is also an opportunity to reflect on how we can get things even better. To answer that, I decided to express my opinion on how Oxford would benefit from paying more careful attention to the developing countries in the world. Countries part of the BRIC alliance (formed by Brazil, Russia, India and China), for example, are growing at such a fast speed and face great challenges related to social and environmental issues. The University could really make a difference in understanding this process in detail and embracing applied research in this area. It is also important to count on students and researchers who are from these countries and to accommodate them in a way that they feel comfortable and part of a truly international community to which they can contribute with their local and empirical knowledge.

To illustrate how Oxford still has room to grow towards a more international approach in its teaching system, I gave the example of my course as one which is more about European environmental policy only. In this case, having a better understanding about how environmental policy is understood outside of Europe is very important considering the major challenges developing countries face when committed to follow a sustainable development path.

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The VC also provoked the guest speakers to have comments about the role of online education and how Oxford could benefit from it. He explained the meaning of MOOC and how this acronym has been recently added in the Oxford dictionary (For more information about the term, see here: and the discussion about the role of online tools in education.

Following the discussion about MOOC, I recognised that the University of Oxford (or a specific department in the University) can’t have specialists in every subject coming from all countries in the world. But in one specific subject, the course should find ways to fill this gap. I suggested one of these ways could be having an international network of researchers, with which we could be encouraged to engage and be co-supervised by experts in our fields/countries online to complement our supervision and to make sure that our research is according to ‘Oxford standards’. Sometimes students cannot find the help they need in their department to develop their research topic, since there is not always a specialist in the department who is dealing directly with a specific subject or country. Therefore, Oxford doesn’t have to necessarily have a specialist on every single subject and country, but it should provide students ways to engage with them through a network of research to make sure we have the sufficient resources to conduct valuable research and to meet our expectations as international students. As the VC himself used as an example, making the best use of online and distance learning tools, I could ”conduct my research about indigenous peoples in the Amazon and at the same time be connected with Oxford!”.

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As a final comment, I said that often we (students) are asked questions such as ‘Are you ready for Oxford?’. In fact, sometimes I would like to ask the same, but in a different way: ‘Is Oxford ready for us?’ Certainly, the University and the students are part of an ongoing relationship in which both need to communicate and to update themselves. At the end, this is what makes Oxford such an interesting place to me.

Photographs courtesy of Rob Judges.

The perks of being a Student Ambassador

As if there weren’t already enough opportunities for a good time at Oxford, Student Ambassadors have the chance to attend interesting and lively events with alumni and donors, and chat about life at Oxford and the impact of student funding. In September while other students were far from Oxford, steeling themselves for the start of Michaelmas, four of our Ambassadors attended the Alumni Weekend Lunch Reception. Gayatri Sapru tells more.

Alumni Weekend Lunch photo

“As a Graduate Ambassador for the University of Oxfords Development Office, it is my privilege to attend events that are truly spectacular as well as immensely enjoyable. One such event was the Alumni Weekend Lunch to thank alumni donors, held at Worcester College on 21st September. We were welcomed with a warm and hilarious toast made by Professor Nick Rawlins, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Development and External Affairs, and a gorgeous string quartet that played through the afternoon. I met many interesting people such as an alumna who was among the first female barristers in England and another who went on to become the editor of one of the leading newspapers in America. Hearing stories of Oxford from decades ago is always an amazing experience because they seem so familiar yet so in the past. One thing that binds the stories we tell our alumni and the stories they tell us is the excitement that being in Oxford still generates amongst all of us.”

Part-time study at Oxford

Sarah Ward is a part-time DPhil candidate in History at St. Hilda’s College. The value of part-time study is something that Sarah is particularly passionate about and between studying, working and discussing the Civil War-era divide between the English and Welsh at the How the Light Gets In Festival at Hay in May, she wrote this blog post on the importance of part-time funding.

Sarah Ward

I have had a career in teaching, writing and examining before deciding that life was too short not to pursue my academic plans. After designing courses, winning student-nominated awards for my teaching and pastoral work and writing articles for the A level History journal 20th Century History Review, I decided that I wanted to do more of what I enjoyed most – research a topic that had been nagging at me for years. Another part-timer, David, had a successful career in journalism and information technology, applied to full-time doctoral programmes but was refused funding. As he could not afford to pay the full-time tuition fees, having also to think of supporting a sick parent, he decided the only way to pursue his academic aspirations was to enrol part-time. Now he works two jobs, alongside pursuing part-time research study. The planning and practicalities of rearranging your life to do something that you are passionate about is rewarding but hard – postgraduate funding would help to make this so much easier but there is so little funding already out there. Researching this blog post has revealed to me quite how much of a need there is. According to HESA statistics from 2011-12, over 45 % of UK postgraduates study part-time. This number will surely only grow as Arts and Humanities funding becomes more and more limited.

The Oxford History Faculty began its part-time programme only last year. From my perspective (and contrary to numerous ill-informed blogs and articles) Oxford has been utterly welcoming from the point of my application onwards. I have felt like a full member of the academic community, unlike other places I have studied at part-time prior to my DPhil. It has been challenging, exciting and fulfilling. My supervisor is excellent and has provided fantastic advice and support. My college, St. Hilda’s, has accommodated my part-time status fully and has supported me pastorally and provided opportunities for me to engage with the graduate community – as MCR Library Representative. Yet because the programme is new, there is very little funding available.

On the surface, part-timers have more money due to the fact that they work. Yet with the rising cost of living and expenses associated with working, the money earned in part-time study pays the bills and fees, but research trips, conferences and developmental courses are luxuries that have to be paid for by extra work – which means less studying. This can lead to difficult choices that can leave part-time students without the experience needed to launch a career when they graduate.  Time that could be spent on the huge effort required for funding applications is used instead for earning money and studying which means that a funding gap becomes a vicious circle.

Part-time study is a different option rather than a worse one. That should mean that funding for these courses is different not worse. Where available, funding helps widen participation, opposes charges of elitism and inequality, rewards hard-working and independent people and, above all, supports able and intelligent students to complete original and important projects.