Profile: Judy Sayers
Judy is WCR President for 2020-2021 and is going into her second year doing a DPhil in Chromosome and Developmental Biology. Outside of studying, she enjoys playing the ‘cello.
What led you to do a DPhil? Was it an easy decision?
I have always been curious by nature, and really enjoyed academic learning through my time at school and as an undergraduate studying Natural Sciences at Trinity College, Cambridge. However, as much as I enjoyed the structured classroom and lecture-style teaching, it was the nature of experimental work that really drew me towards DPhil study. Working in a laboratory as a Masters’ student in Genetics at the Gurdon Institute, Cambridge, I found that I had far greater intellectual freedom and creativity than I was likely to find in a graduate job. The more I learnt about the natural world, the keener I became to discover the intricacies of how life works at a genetic and cellular level. Ultimately it was an easy choice: I opted to pursue what seemed to me to be the most exciting option around; a job and a hobby rolled into one!
How have you found living in Oxford? Has anything surprised you?
I have found Oxford to be a fun and vibrant city to live in. Having lived for four years in Cambridge prior to starting at Univ, I found the collegiate structure, eccentric traditions and attractive architecture comfortingly familiar and so Oxford did not present too many surprises! I was however particularly struck by the close-knit nature of the Univ community, the diversity of interesting people to meet and the range of events, concerts and lectures on offer every week.
How did your DPhil experience change because of COVID-19?
As an experimental biologist, the closure of the Oxford laboratories in mid-March had significant ramifications for my DPhil. While my days typically consist of work at the laboratory bench, as COVID-19 set in I had to pause my experiments from one day to the next and to adjust to a computer-based working routine. Despite the disruption, the pandemic has provided a chance to undertake computational image analysis and develop my coding skills, which I hope will stand me in good stead going forwards.
How do you feel about the coming term? Do you have any advice for incoming freshers?
I feel a mixture of excitement and trepidation as we move into Oxford’s first ever hybrid in person/online COVID-style term.
While it’s not the Michaelmas term I originally had in mind, I have found planning for virtual and socially-distanced events has presented an interesting challenge – in a sense, a chance to rethink the patterns of graduate activity, and to capitalise on those advantages that tech-driven solutions offer.
My main advice to incoming freshers would be to seize opportunities that present themselves, particularly in the first few weeks. It is certainly worth getting involved with Univ WCR events, and in so doing to meet people from an enormous range of both personal and academic backgrounds.
What do you do to relax after a busy day?
I am a keen ‘cellist, and have really enjoyed getting to know the Oxford music scene and performing both chamber and orchestral works since starting my DPhil. Living on Merton Street, I have also particularly liked using the long summer evenings to go running around Christ Church Meadows and to meet up with friends in central Oxford.
Is being a woman in STEM something you’re particularly conscious of?
I was an undergraduate in a particularly exceptional year group at Trinity College Cambridge, and during my degree was one of only two girls studying Natural Sciences in a cohort of thirty-five. A large majority of my early undergraduate teaching was provided by male academics too. Consequently, being a woman in STEM is something that I have often been conscious of.
As time has passed, however, I have encountered several very inspiring female scientific mentors. Day-to-day, I no longer notice such gender imbalances as I go about my lab work; being a woman in STEM is a position that I enjoy immensely.
What do you hope to achieve as WCR President?
The unconventional nature of my presidency, coinciding as it has with a global health pandemic, has meant that my aspirations as WCR President have shifted somewhat with circumstance. However, I still very much hope to see the WCR become more fully integrated with the other Univ common rooms. I hope to steer the WCR towards greater interaction with final year undergraduates in the JCR, many of whom are transitioning towards graduate study, and would also like to encourage more mixing both academically and socially between the WCR and the SCR. Additionally, I am keen to bolster the vibrancy of the WCR community by hosting keynote events that will draw third and fourth year graduates who have lost touch with College back to the WCR. Overall, I hope that over the coming year the buzz of the WCR will spread and reach an even wider College community.
Describe Univ in three words.
Friendly, diverse, forward-thinking
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