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Profile: Naroa Ibarra-Aizpurua

Naroa is standing in front of some trees. She is wearing sub fusc and glasses. She has long brown hair and is smiling.

Naroa Ibarra-Aizpurua (2019, DPhil in Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics), WCR President

Naroa is a third-year DPhil student in Neuroscience (DPAG). Originally from the Basque Country in Spain, she came to Oxford to study for an MSc in Neuroscience. Because she could not get enough, she stayed to complete her DPhil. After being the WCR Vice-President/Treasurer last year and the Secretary the year before that, Naroa is now the WCR President and her goal is to make everyone’s time at Univ WCR the best and most memorable possible. 

How have you changed since walking through Univ’s doors for the first time?
When I look back at the person I was in September 2020, when I joined Univ, I see an anxious and stressed girl who put all her worth into her grades and her work and had a very limited social life. Now, I see a confident, strong (mentally, currently working on the physical part), happy and cheerful woman who does her best to be a good person (and scientist) and to enjoy life. In less than three years I have grown more as a person than I did in the eight years before, and I have come out of my shell and started being my true self. Moreover, since starting in Univ and my DPhil, I feel that I am finally accepted for who I am as a person, and this has made me accept myself too.

I now place my worth on being a good person and doing my best to bring positivity into people’s lives, and my studies now come second to my mental and physical health, as well as my happiness. Do not get me wrong, I still work for many hours and give my DPhil my best, but I also make sure to take more time off to do the things that I enjoy (including my role as WCR President) and spend time with those I love.

King Charles III shaking hands with Naroa

King Charles III (then His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales) visited Univ last year

What are you researching for your DPhil? How is it going?
In my DPhil project, I am studying the role astrocytes, a type of supportive brain cells, have in Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s disease, and because we do not fully understand what cellular mechanisms cause the disease, there is still no available treatment to cure, halt or prevent the disease. Parkinson’s disease is characterized by the death of a very specific population of neurons in the brain: dopaminergic neurons. However, these cells are surrounded and supported by astrocytes, so what I am trying to understand is whether astrocytes contribute to the disease progression and are in turn protecting the neurons.

I have almost completed three years of my DPhil, and I can almost see the finish line, which is both exciting and terrifying at the same time. The answer to the question “How is it going?” changes every day depending on stress levels and how well/badly experiments go, but overall I am excited about some of the findings I have made that are helping to answer my scientific questions. Moreover, I am lucky to be surrounded by incredible scientists and friends in the lab, which are making the whole DPhil experience much more enjoyable.

What are your aims as WCR President?
My main aim as the WCR President is to bring back a sense of community amongst the graduate students in Univ. The Covid-19 pandemic had a very negative impact on the social life in College, and it is taking a lot of time and effort to bring it back to normal. However, we currently have an almost full WCR committee, and the social life is the most active it has been since before the pandemic. Our goal is to keep doing our best to improve it in the next academic year with the new cohort of students, starting with a fun Freshers’ week.

Additionally, my second main goal, which is related to the previous one, is to refurbish the WCR space in the Mitchell building, in order to make it a more mature and welcoming space where graduates will enjoy working, hanging out with friends, hosting events, etc. Luckily, we are already working with different College staff members on this, so changes will be happening soon!

Lastly, my intention is to improve the communication between the graduate community and Univ, for that working closely with different College members and acting as an intermediary with the WCR in multiple College-related matters.

Two people in black tie at a ball smiling with arms around one another

At Univ’s ball last year

Do you have any advice for settling into life in Oxford?
There are two main things I would advise anyone coming to Oxford, based on my experience as a fresher back in the day. The first one is that, even though our studies (DPhil, Master’s, etc.) are important and should not be left aside, make sure you take time to enjoy the extremely enriching social life Oxford and Univ have to offer. There are always many events happening in Oxford and College, and there are clubs for pretty much anything you can think of, so do not be scared to get out of your comfort zone and try something new! It is also a wonderful opportunity to meet many interesting people working in your field or on something entirely different.

My second piece of advice is to never feel like an imposter; if you have been admitted and have come to Oxford, it is because you deserve to be here and have worked extremely hard for this. Never forget that you belong here. A lot of the people I have met in Oxford, including myself, have suffered or suffer from imposter syndrome. However, even if it is a common feeling amongst students, it does not mean that it is right, and nobody should feel that they are not enough to be here, because you are.

What is your proudest achievement?
Not to sound too egocentric, but related to my answer to the first question, right now I feel that my proudest achievement has been becoming a person that I am proud of, not because of what I have achieved academically, but because of all the personal mental struggles I have faced and overcome to be who I am in this moment.

Describe Univ in three words.
Oxford’s longest grace

Published: 12 June 2023

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