Profile: Hamzah Sheikh
Hamzah is in his second year studying chemistry at Univ and is JCR Welfare Rep alongside Abbey Vaid (2020, History). In this profile, he discusses his interview experience as an open applicant, Oxford as living history and hating laundry.
Why did you apply to Univ for Chemistry?
I didn’t! I received an offer through the Open Offer scheme and so only found out I was going to Univ on results day! But despite not having met my tutors or course mates at interview, I never felt out of place; you very quickly learn that Chemistry here is characterised by the supportive and enthusiastic people that study it. And all nine chemists at Univ will attest to our tutors being the best of any college (we will gladly fight anyone who says otherwise).
How have you changed since walking through Univ’s doors for the first time?
The first time I walked into Univ was the day I moved in. I unloaded the car at Logic Lane and was presented with our gorgeous Radcliffe Quad and a sense of absolute disbelief that I was going to spend the next four years here. Since then, I have become comfortable in spaces I never imagined I’d have access to. I’ve learned a great deal from the people I’ve met and I’ve done a fair bit of growing up. And while I still have moments where I can’t believe I study here, walking through Univ’s doors now feels so much like coming home that I know I belong here.
I also hate laundry a lot more than I did before. It never ends.
Has anything about the course/Oxford University experience/Univ surprised you?
Is it a cop-out to say that there’s nothing normal or unsurprising about Oxford? I’ll find out my tutor is one of the most prestigious researchers in their field, or that my lecturer wrote the textbook I’m studying from, or that the lithium-ion battery was invented in my department and, well, how can you not be surprised by that? My lab demonstrator told me he used to carry Dorothy Hodgkin’s bags for her – the Dorothy Hodgkin that discovered the structure of Penicillin – while he was studying here. This place is living history and I don’t think you can ever get used to that.
What would you like freshers to know about you as Welfare Rep? Is there anything you have planned welfare-wise that you’re particularly excited about?
One of our key responsibilities is to foster a positive and open discussion about mental health. I’d like people to know that you don’t have to be struggling with your mental health to open up about it. At Univ it’s absolutely normal to talk honestly about having “low days” – these are as much a part of the human experience as the better days. And when people become more conscious of their welfare, they spot issues earlier and handle them more thoughtfully. I think the Freshers’ have been engaged and open-minded and are slowly becoming more aware of what it means to be responsible for their own welfare – so please, keep coming to our events and keep it up!
I have big plans. Skincare was just the beginning. Llamas are coming.
What’s your proudest achievement?
Easily rowing as part of M3 during Torpids last year. We won our race in under a few minutes and it was one of the most exciting bits of rowing I’ve done. It was also my first competitive sports event ever; historically I’ve felt really anxious to take part in sports and it was a massive achievement for me.
What was your interview experience like and do you have any comforting words of wisdom for candidates?
I won’t lie, the interview experience was a very stressful time. I’m sure I tried to cram the entirety of A-level chemistry into the weekend before it. I overthought every single aspect of the process: whether the order in which we were interviewed meant anything (it didn’t), whether getting sent to another college for an interview meant you were worse than the other candidates (or if you weren’t sent to another college, were you flat-out rejected?). We had an admissions test on the first evening, before the interviews, (Univ doesn’t do this) and I thought about whether the content it assessed was a clue to what the interview would entail, or whether it wouldn’t be brought up because it had already been assessed.
All of that was really unhelpful. None of it mattered. At all.
Looking back now, it is so clear that the best thing you can do before the interview is to relax, get excited about your subject, solidify your understanding of core material – that is, core material – and try not to worry about too much else. Your interviewers know you might not have covered certain topics yet. They don’t expect you to know everything or get everything right. Pretty much everyone who gets in recalls an embarrassing interview blunder (myself included). Thankfully, they are looking for potential, and teachable students – not polished answers and perfection.
Also, remember that the second years who help out at interviews were in your shoes not too long ago. If you have any concerns while you’re here, they’re there to help.
Describe Univ in three words.
The best college.
Published: 22 November 2021