Profile: Naomi Mburu
Naomi Mburu is a Rhodes Scholar who has just finished her first year researching nuclear fusion for her DPhil at Univ. In this profile, she discusses what surprised her about Oxford and all the experiences she has managed to undertake alongside her studies over the past year.
Why did you decide to pursue further study?
There are two main reasons. I am a cross-disciplinary researcher, and I love learning about different areas of science. I have wanted to work in nuclear fusion for a while but had not yet had the opportunity to study it. As a DPhil student at Oxford, I have the opportunity to work in fusion both from the academic and industrial angles through partnerships in the Engineering Science Department. My second reason is that I do not yet know what I want to do for my career, and pursuing a DPhil has allowed me time and space to learn more about myself and what career would be best for me.
What made you choose Univ?
An OM, Tom McMillen (1974, PPE), reached out to me when I won the Rhodes Scholarship. He had been the first Rhodes Scholar from the University of Maryland, College Park in 1974, and I had just been chosen as the first Rhodes Scholar from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He told me all about his experiences and how he is still involved with Univ now. His friendliness and willingness to share his experiences certainly helped me make my decision!
How did it feel to be awarded a Rhodes Scholarship?
The Rhodes Scholarship is never something that anyone expects to win, so when you do, the feeling is surreal. I do not think it sunk in that I had won until I was sitting at a dinner in Milner Hall at the Rhodes House with the other 95 members of my cohort, sharing over a lovely meal. It is such an honour to be able to spend time among such a passionate, vibrant group, and I am sure that I will treasure these relationships and my time here for life.
What else do you do apart from your subject in Oxford?
My time at Oxford has been completely full of new experiences, and my flexible DPhil schedule has allowed me to spend time exploring other interests. I joined the board for the Association for Black and Minority Ethnic Engineers (AFBE-UK), where I have been able to help run and host events for diverse groups of engineers and aspiring engineers across London. I have spent time getting to know the homeless community here through weekly outreach efforts sponsored by Turl Street Homeless Action and my local church.
Through the Rhodes Scholarship, I have been involved in consulting through the Rhodes Scholar Africa Forum, co-lead a traditional Thanksgiving dinner in the Rhodes House, and travelled to Chile for a weeklong hiking trek through Patagonia National Park (my first time camping, ever!). I have also travelled a bit on my own to India, Turkey, Netherlands, and Czech Republic. I finally have time to read all the books I have wanted to read and also to learn how to cook!
Has anything surprised you about Oxford?
Whenever someone comes to visit me here at Oxford, they always mention how surprised they are at how “normal” Oxford students are. There is a common misperception that Oxford students are unrelatable superhumans, and I came to Oxford fearing that I would not find people to relate to. I was surprised to come here and find groups of people from all over the world that I related to.
Additionally, I am continually surprised by the sheer amount of opportunities available to students. There are funds and resources available to do almost anything (academic and non-academic), mainly thanks to the amazing alumni networks that are continually giving back to the University.
Do you have advice for prospective students?
If you are thinking of applying, get to know current Oxford students or Oxford alumni and ask them honestly about their experiences. If you are an incoming student, get to know the people around you. At Oxford you will be surrounded by people from so many different places who are interested in so many different things, and I have absolutely loved the opportunities to just sit with different people and soak up stories about their lives and passions. There are very few places on earth where you can find such concentrated diversity. You will learn so much about the world and these connections could even be beneficial to you after you graduate!
How do you feel about the celebration of 40 years of women at Univ?
It is sobering to realise how relatively new women are to both Univ and Oxford in general. I am glad that the history of the women here is being documented and celebrated, but I am also aware that there is still quite a bit of work left to do. There are still spaces that I enter on a daily basis here at Oxford where I am starkly reminded of the long, patriarchal history of this university. You cannot change a 900+ year old institution overnight, but recognising the history of this University and creating space for conversations centred on diversity are both steps in the right direction.
Women at Univ 2019. Celebrating 40 years of achievement by women students and academics, and recovering the history of women in the College from 1249 to the present day.