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Profile: Ethan Petrou

Ethan is sat on a wooden bench with foliage in the background. He is looking at the camera with a stoic expression, his hair is short, flowing, blonde curls and he has a cropped beard and is wearing a dark blue jumper.

Ethan Petrou (2018, DPhil Earth and Environmental Sciences), WCR President

Ethan is in his third year researching Geophysics at Univ and is the new WCR President for 2021/22. Prior to coming to Univ, he did an MSci in Geology at UCL He has worked at a variety of geological research centres including Berkeley Geochronology Center and London Geochronology Centre.

Why did you decide to a DPhil?
At the beginning of my undergraduate I was steadfast in my decision to not do a PhD, but as my undergraduate progressed this decision completely flipped. I had the privilege in participating in geological research internships from a volcanology intern at the Volcán de Colima, in Mexico, to a research assistant at the Berkeley Geochronology Center and greatly enjoyed the research aspect of these programmes.

In addition, before starting Oxford I was a Geotechnical Engineer at the Institute for Geophysics in Austin, Texas researching into alternative fuels. I spent time offshore on drilling rigs, living and working right next to the data. I loved this transition from learning science to completing new science and knew that a DPhil was the correct next step for me.

Give your specialist subject pitch! 

For my DPhil I aim to characterise sedimentary methane reservoirs on continental slopes and evaluate how they have changed over recent geological history. The methane cycle is an important component of the carbon cycle that has implications for both the climate and energy resources. My research utilises techniques from experimental Barium isotope geochemistry to geophysical analysis of seismic data. Two fields that normally don’t interact due to the vast difference in scale, so it’s been an exciting challenge fusing them together!

One day I could be analysing sediments in a full hazmat suit in the lab, another I could be at my computer modelling datasets or analysing seismic data. It’s incredibly varied and one of the things I most like about my DPhil studies.

Do you think you’ve changed since you walked through Univ’s doors for the first time?
The fundamental answer to this question is yes! Univ has provided a dynamic and stimulating environment in which I have attempted to become a part of. I’ve rowed for the college, participated in a chalet reading party and I am a proud member of the college Chapel Choir and have improved my musical ability (even though I still shudder when I see the notes climb up the stave). I have had the pleasure of serving the WCR community as first Vice-President/Treasurer and now as President and both have increased my leadership, business acumen and event planning skills. I’ve also had the privilege of becoming friends with some incredibly talented and intelligent members of the graduate community whose friendship I will cherish always.

Ethan in front of Univ's door

Ethan on his first visit to Univ

How has coronavirus affected your life/work?
Coronavirus certainly changed my life. I hadn’t expected to complete 6 months of my DPhil from my parents’ home, learning how to interpret data with supervisors on the other end of a zoom call. It’s been the longest time I’ve spent at home since I’ve left Secondary School. My brother was also back home, and it strangely felt like a second adolescence, but it certainly was pleasant spending a summer in the countryside, languorously in the garden. And like everyone, I dabbled in baking sourdough bread and homebrewing kombucha.

Returning to Oxford for the new academic year and getting to grips with lab rotas and 2m+ working has slowed the progress of my DPhil, but I’ve been fortunate enough to have other sections of my DPhil to concentrate on. Hopefully writing up towards the end won’t come as such a shock now!

Ethan in a rowing boat ready to race in Christ Church Regatta

Ethan ready to race in Christ Church Regatta

What would you like to achieve as WCR President?
My vision for what I would like to achieve during my tenure as WCR President is three-fold: Social, Constructional, Virtual. First, and most importantly, I would like to guide the steady ship of our graduate community out of the pandemic and establish it back as the social, vibrant community it once was. All student communities have suffered from the lack of in-person events and I’m greatly excited to host events as soon as it is safe to do so.

Secondly, I aim to turn our physical WCR building into an accessible facility. Currently, to gain access to our building you have to be able to use stairs. I aim to liaise with college to overcome this issue whilst renovating our bathrooms to gender-neutral toilets.

Finally, the recent pandemic has taught us how important a virtual space is for communities. I aim to revolutionise our virtual communications, improve our current WCR website and keep up to date and informative social media accounts. Do follow @thegradlet & @univwcr on Instagram and @univwcr on Twitter for more information (shameless plug).


Ethan on the chalet trip in front of the Alps

Ethan on the chalet trip in front of the Alps

Have you experienced any challenges that you’re happy to share here?
Coming from a non-selective state school I was quite apprehensive about what to expect coming to Oxford. I was nervous if I would fit in with the stereotype of a typical Oxbridge student but am thrilled that at Univ not everyone fits into that mould and I’ve been able to establish supportive and fruitful friendships during my time here.

What’s been your favourite virtual or in person experience at Univ so far?
In a more academic sense singing in the Univ Christmas concerts in a candle-lit chapel! Having to try not to spill candle wax on you whilst singing and turning the pages of music is certainly a challenge. Secondly, organising and running Univ WCR bops will always be a highlight of mine. They have an energy like no other.

What’s your favourite part of your course?
The flexibility of work hours! As a DPhil student you manage your time completely, which granted is a blessing and a curse, but I’ve found the independence in learning stimulating and developing.

Ethan with the choir on tour

Ethan on choir tour

What’s a new skill you’ve learnt at Univ that you didn’t think you’d pick up?
Singing in the Univ Chapel choir has definitely improved my musical ability and has also given me incredible memories. During my time here I also started Modern Greek classes and I can now express myself in a variety of scenarios which astounds me. I’ve still got a long way to go with both but I’m proud of what I’ve achieved!

What would you tell those applying for a degree at Univ?
Research into the course and get in contact with the professors and potential supervisors. Don’t be afraid to get in contact with current graduate students either, they will be unbelievably willing to help you out with your application!

Do you have an Oxford restaurant / pub recommendation?
The hearty Shawarma Shroom in the Gloucester Green Market! Of course, smothered with all the different sauces available. The stand may have re-branded as Pita Face now so keep a look out. I haven’t had it in a year because of COVID-19 and I can’t wait till the market is back on.

Describe Univ in three words.
Wildest grad bops!

You can follow Ethan on Instagram @ethanpetrou or Twitter @petrouethan.

Published: 12 April 2021

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