Oxford graduates share their memories of studying at one of the world's most iconic universities
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The University of Oxford holds the gold standard of universities worldwide. As the oldest English-language university and second-oldest school in the world, Oxford is known not only for its rich history but also its huge academic prestige. But what happens once the stress of applying to Oxford is done — when the celebration of getting accepted has passed, when one actually becomes a student at one of the world’s best known and most academically rigorous universities? And what is it like to look back, years later, on an education in the city of dreaming spires? Dr Shiva Amiri and Dr Hammad Khan are sharing their stories of graduate student life at Oxford as international PhD students starting in 2003 in their new book Oxformed. From the highs and lows of adjusting to an academically intense environment to dealing with social and political shifts in the years following 9/11, the authors give a full perspective of life at Oxford in the book. Neither Amiri nor Khan set out from childhood to be Oxford graduates. Amiri, who is Canadian, laughed off the idea of applying, initially, saying, “I was working in a lab part-time, and one of the post-docs there said, ‘Hey, Shiva, you should apply to Oxford,’ and I was like, ‘You’re just ridiculous. Come on. Let’s get real.’ And then, I did apply. I was like, ‘You know what? Why not. Let’s apply.’ And then, uh, I got in." Khan was applying for post-grad programmes as an undergraduate in Pakistan and was awarded the prestigious Rhodes scholarship to study at Oxford. “It wasn’t a very long-term goal right from childhood,” he said. “Things never work out like that—you never end up doing what you think you’re going to do, most of the time. Circumstances dictate that. I think…I ended up in a place which has really transformed me.” The academically and socially diverse environment at Oxford made for a rewarding time spent there for both Amiri and Khan. “Oxford lets you — not lets you, I would say, kind of forces you — to interact with people who are very different from you…Oxford is structured in such a way that it forces you to learn beyond what you’re there to do,” Khan says. Amiri agrees. “A lot of our friends were anthropologists, for example. We’re both scientists.” Khan adds, “It makes you a complete, well-rounded person. You have to have the knowledge and reading and the ability to actually talk to people. You don’t want to look completely out of place when someone’s talking about world politics and you have nothing to say. So it’s forced upon you to read things, to actually debate things.” Both Amiri and Khan found the environment of high-achieving students at times overwhelming. “I think it’s almost second to none [at Oxford], where everybody is a superstar,” Amiri says. “And you feel like, wow, how did I end up here?”
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