Meet Karine, who has just returned from a Santander-funded research trip to Ethiopia…

Karine is studying for an MPhil (Master’s) in Development Studies at St John’s College. Her studies are fully-funded by Santander, the Clarendon Fund and her College. Here she explains how she came from Sao Paulo in Brazil to be studying at Oxford, and the difference the funding has made to her future career.

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Applying for an MPhil in Development Studies at Oxford was certainly one of the best decisions I’ve made, potentially only comparable to the decision to accept the Oxford offer. My application was entirely written as I sat on the floor of a slum in Sao Paulo, while working as an MIT D-Lab trip leader. The constant thought in my mind was a rather simple one: ‘I have no idea what my chances are, but I just have to try.’ And everything somehow fell into place…

My name is Karine and I was born and raised in Brazil. I completed my undergraduate studies in 2013 at MIT (USA), with a double BSc in Physics and in Political Science. All throughout my time there, I had been involved in development projects. But the final decision to pursue international development as a career came only as I received a scholarship to study at Oxford. The combined scholarships from Santander, the Clarendon Fund and St John’s College have allowed me to turn down an offer for a full time position at a management consulting company and follow my dream to study development – a difficult decision, but one I would have never been able to do without funding. Oxford has been a fantastic experience in so many ways! The academic rigour of the university is balanced by a rich social life that fosters connections between people working on the most diverse areas.

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The generous funding I am receiving has allowed me not only to come to Oxford, but also to go to Ethiopia for fieldwork. I spent this past summer in Addis Ababa, conducting fieldwork for my MPhil thesis and collaborating with a project in the Oxford Centre for the Study of African Economies (CSAE). My MPhil thesis is a continuation of a research project I worked on while at the World Bank, focusing on self-employment and entrepreneurship as engines for job creation. There is much we still need to understand about the nature of self-employment in developing countries. Under which conditions do urban youth opt for self-employment? Which circumstances allow them to remain in this occupation – and thrive? Finally, what makes them abandon self-employment, and what are their job prospects like once they leave self-employment? The collaboration with CSAE allows me to conduct qualitative and quantitative research with a random sample of individuals in Addis Ababa, a rare and precious opportunity.

Every day, I am reminded of how grateful I am for the opportunity to be here and to learn from the incredible people around me – be it in Oxford or in Addis Ababa. In addition to the material means to study at Oxford, the scholarships I received have also provided me with two invaluable things: the confidence that I belong in the field of development, and the drive to make the most out of my time here. If Oxford is your dream university, I highly encourage you to give it a chance and apply as well – everything might just fall into place for you too. 

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Introducing Riaz…

Riaz Agha has been awarded several scholarships during his time at the University of Oxford: firstly, to fund his studies for a part time MSc in Surgical Science and Practice at Kellogg College, and then to allow him to study at Balliol College for a doctorate. Riaz explains here how the funding he has received has improved his practice and brought benefits to patients.

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As a trainee in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, I was delighted to be awarded two scholarships to study for the new part time MSc in Surgical Science and Practice at Oxford University. Gaining such financial assistance was crucial to me being able to complete the MSc without enduring excessive financial hardship.  The MSc itself was a fantastic programme and allowed me to acquire knowledge and skills that will be useful for the rest of my career.  For example in areas such as; evidence based healthcare, how to be a medical educator, human factors, teamwork and communication, leadership and management, quality and systems analysis and surgical technology and robotics.

It was during my MSc that I applied for a doctorate and was extremely lucky to be awarded a Clarendon Scholarship that would cover all my fees (including those of Balliol College!).  Scholarship funding has made me a more effective and well-rounded surgical trainee and is bringing real benefits to patients.  My development has become more holistic and crucially I have the opportunity to develop my clinical and academic careers congruently.  This has led to rich and unique synergies and collaborations with others internationally, on projects that really engage me, and link in with my clinical development.

Surgical trainees should definitely consider Oxford as a premier place to do a higher degree, develop themselves and their network further.

‘The Importance of Volunteer Work’

Gayatri Sapru applied for her MSc in Social Anthropology at St Hilda’s while she was living in India. Here is her story:

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Coming to Oxford has been more than a life experience for me. As a child, Oxford was the only university that I could name; it existed as a magical land of possibilities. Growing up, I was always a good student, but I found myself looking for more. I learned foreign languages and took courses that everyone told me would not amount to anything in ‘the real world’, but I believe that knowledge, of any kind, is never wasted. This is the spirit I have found at the University of Oxford, a place where unbelievably talented people fill up each classroom with their enthusiasm and world experience. The professors and their commitment to encourage each student to develop a love for learning is perhaps unmatched anywhere else in the world.

Getting to Oxford was not an easy task, because like many others I too believed that it was the privilege of the financially fortunate only. I was adamant I would not attend without a scholarship, but unfortunately there was no financial support available in any form for my degree and my subject. I wrote letters to famous personalities and industrialists for any kind of help they could provide but that didn’t work out at all. Eventually, I entered an essay writing competition about the importance of volunteer work in the world and won a cash prize which was a relief because I finally felt like I was recognized as being worthy of an excellent education.

I have been involved in development related work all of my adult life. At the age of 16, I became a volunteer teacher with an NGO called Akanksha, which provided after school tuition for children that lived in slums. I spent more than five years teaching here, an experience that enriched me in ways that I am yet to comprehend fully. Seeing children coming from houses with no water and electricity, children faced with abuse and neglect on a daily basis made me compassionate and grateful for the opportunities I had taken for granted. I saw that despite all odds, these children wanted to be good, to get an education and to rise above their circumstances and I knew that education was the one and only sure shot way of doing that.

Alongside, I have worked with other NGOs on research projects ranging from analyzing the impact of media on people’s attitudes to projects where I was responsible for reconstructing histories of subjugated tribes so as to empower them and make them know their true worth. I believe that development work can never be over.

At Oxford, I am truly astonished to see the amount of time and resources that the University invests in being accessible to all students, regardless of their ability to pay. Because knowledge is power, we have to work harder to empower as many people as possible without regard to their background or bank account. This is the task that the University has taken upon itself and I am honoured to be a small part of this endeavor. My life’s ambition is to enable students from all across the world to have access to world-class education and taking part in this Ambassador program has only helped strengthen my resolve.

Applying to Oxford from the Brazilian Amazon

Priscilla Santos is studying for an MSc in Nature, Society and Environmental Policy at St Anne’s. Here is her story:

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Studying at the University of Oxford has been invaluable for my academic and professional development. Through the Master of Science in Nature, Society and Environmental Policy, I had the opportunity to reflect on my professional experience in Brazil, informing it with a more solid theoretical basis.

Having been born and raised in the Brazilian Amazon, Oxford was a distant reality – literally and metaphorically. Studying here would not have been possible without the scholarships received from the Allan & Nesta Ferguson Charitable Trust and St Anne’s College, to which I am deeply thankful.

With three years of experience as an environmental lawyer and researcher on climate change and forest governance in the Amazon, this opportunity has exposed me to a more international perspective on environmental policy-making. I believe this qualification has been pivotal for being selected for an internship at the Academy of European Law in Germany, where I hope to further develop my knowledge towards a more effective implementation of the rights of forest dependent people in the Amazon.

The combination of an Oxford degree and the professional experience acquired through the internship will certainly equip me with skills to make a more significant contribution to indigenous peoples and forests, which are still under threat in Brazil, and to a more sustainable development in my region.

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