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TNS meets Emily-Rose Eastop, the Oxford student who crowdfunded her masters

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Emily-Rose Eastop's bid to crowdfund for her masters at Oxford University became one of the most talked about student campaigns of the summer; her ingenuity and resourcefulness has been both celebrated and harshly criticised, and many have condemned her as a "posh brat."

However, in spite of a smattering of vocal critics, the generosity of her sea of supporters and well-wishers has helped her raise an impressive sum of 26.3K to cover the considerable cost of fees, accommodation and living she will face as a postgrad. The National Student spoke to Emily-Rose to hear her side of the story.

What initially inspired you to use crowdfunding in order to help you afford your masters degree?
I'm not sure where I had even heard about crowdfunding - I just knew it existed. I had applied for a scholarship (which would have covered fees and living costs). A couple of months later I got an email saying that they had received applications from nine times as many students than they could fund, and that unfortunately they couldn't help me. I knew that my only remaining hope was some kind of fundraising project, and so I did some research and found Hubbub, which is a crowdfunding platform specifically for education.
 
Why do you think that it was so successful and were you surprised by your success?
 
I know a lot of people, which was definitely one of the main reasons for its initial success, since I contacted everyone in my network. My mum also shared my project with her friends, which was really helpful because she has a lot of them too. The large majority of my donors are people I know to some degree. A fraction of them are people I have never met, including two of my science idols, Douglas Hofstadter and Steven Pinker. However, I have read so much of their work that I almost feel I know them, and I contacted them on very informal, friendly terms.
 
I think that all of my donors donated because they picked up on how excited I am by my area of study, and were compelled by the prospect of following my progress. I think I managed to come across as a quirky person with diverse interests who is "going places". In my video, which I tried to make as light-hearted and fun as possible, I described myself as feeling "tentatively optimistic". I think that sums it up well. I was optimistic rather than confident.
 
Around mid-way through the project, by which time I hadn't yet met my minimum needed target, it seemed very unlikely that I would reach 26.3K. But then there were a couple of big, unexpected donations, followed by the press getting involved, which changed things completely. After all the nasty comments stirred up by the likes of The Tab and The Daily Mail, donations started rolling in from people I didn't know - people who wanted to undermine the hostility. It was phenomenal.
 
How would you respond to people who have criticised your campaign?
 
There are countless ways to respond because all the examples of "criticism" I've read are so astoundingly badly-reasoned on so many levels. But I suppose I'd boil it down to two simple facts: I was asking for a pound, not demanding one, and what I was offering in exchange for that pound (access to my MSc blog) will be well worth that sum.
 
Ultimately, people wanted to get involved, so they did. I know who I am; I know why I did what I did. I am proud of my project and I'm not hurt by what people have said. I just feel a little sad on their behalf - it must be a right pain having to lug that bitterness around with them everywhere they go. Oh and by the way, I now own poshbrat.com!
 
Do you think that crowdfunding for postgraduate study will grow in popularity?
 
Yes, I think it will definitely grow in popularity. Currently, people without large numbers of contacts are likely to struggle though. That is the challenge for education crowdfunding - how can it cater for students who have the raw material - drive, talent and imagination - but don't have access to a network of potential donors? I think the answer to this is that it's going to take time - time for crowdfunding to become more of a social institution, sort of like voting and restaurant-tipping, neither of which can be explained in terms of "utility", but which people do because it is represents a part of their identity. 
My vision is that, in 15 years or so, giving a few pounds per week to crowdfunder projects will be something that many people do as a matter of course. It's going to need a shift in attitudes though. Something that has felt really serendipitous about this whole project is that co-operation and the nature of the crowd represent one of the central components of the degree I'm about to do. As my campaign progressed, I became sure that it would be possible to use elements of the theory I'll be learning to help build crowdfunding as a movement, and I plan to stay very much involved. 
What your future plans after your masters? 
I want to go to the States for a PhD, and follow a career as an academic. No concrete plans yet - I still don't know exactly where I want to end up. But I do know that I will always be an active spokesperson for reason, and I'll certainly endeavour to use my science education as a way to promote critical thinking in the public sphere.
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