Each and every person at Hertford has a story to tell. HertFolk is our way of showcasing #TeamHertford over the next 12 months. It's a chance for you to get to know the people that make our college the diverse and wonderful place it is!" - Will Hutton, Principal
If you'd like to submit a story for HertFolk, send your text (500-700 words) and a photo to development [dot] office [at] hertford [dot] ox [dot] ac [dot] uk.
Rob is Chief Executive at War Child - from an early age he wanted to work in international development, and his college education and experiences helped to equip him with the necessary tools to make a difference.
I applied to Hertford from inside of a family drama. My parents had gone bankrupt and separated. We were suddenly homeless and I ended up living with my grandparents. This wasn’t the worst hard-luck story in the world but enough to leave me feeling precarious. Although I had no clear expectations of Hertford, the interview turned out to be the most intriguing conversation of my life to date, and the offer letter that followed felt like a doorway to a much better place.
I studied Law. I knew already that I wanted to be an aid worker but international development was not offered as a degree subject in 1983. From the stupendous amount of reading required, I did learn how to spot the important bits, and that’s been really useful. And then there was the boat club. I rowed in my first year, was Captain in my second year and President of the club in my third. I decided that I wanted to get as many people on the river as possible. We dialled up the fun side of the boat club, organising discos, parties, installing loud music at the boathouse. We doubled the number of rowers on the river pretty quickly and by the time I left I remember that a big proportion of Hertford undergraduates were in some kind of a crew.
So how much of that is helpful at War Child? Our job is to help children caught in war zones. We run schools in refugee camps. We help child soldiers to leave their militia groups and go back to their families. We provide psycho-social support to tens of thousands of children a year who have fled shelling, bombs and piles of rubble.
Hertford taught me how to work seriously hard. And the lawyer’s eye for the big issue helps to figure out what to do first in a crisis. More obviously, as a Chief Executive, every day I use the skills I learnt at the boat club. Being men’s Captain allowed me to practice recruiting rowers, getting them the boats and coaches they needed, agreeing what they wanted to achieve and then celebrating their successes. People, resources, goals and results: great training for future leaders.
Most of my career has been in aid, which is what I wanted to do at age 18. I’ve worked with great teams to respond to the Rwanda genocide, the Angolan civil war, Afghanistan, Sudan and now the Syria conflict. I was not a leader when I came up to Oxford and I could easily have missed that part of myself. But Hertford gave me a chance to discover it. Whilst my tutors made me think, the college boat club gave me a chance to lead. Most of all, Hertford gave me a lifeline from a difficult family situation. The sense of hope that, in my case, came in the form of an offer letter, which is something every child should have - including those who today are being pulled out from underneath the rubble.
I always excelled at things like sports and music, but never stood out as the academic ‘type’. I had originally planned to go to York, but after finding out I was dyslexic the summer before I was due to start (conveniently after having sat my A levels!), I began to rethink my options. It just so happened that my dyslexia assessment took place in Oxford and I asked the assessor which college, if any, she would recommend for someone like me (northern state school, newly diagnosed SpLD), to which she replied that all she knew was that Hertford College had a reputation for being the friendliest. So, I went on the September open day, where I was greeted by a friendly, welcoming bunch of students and an enthused Prof. Peter Millican, keen to tell me all the virtues of PPE at Hertford.Holly has just finished reading PPE at Hertford and is now pursuing a career as a jazz singer.
For those three years, which included a stint as Boat Club Captain and JCR President, along with many late night library shifts and perhaps an equal amount of time spent milling around on one of the benches in OB Quad doing very little at all, Hertford more than lived up to expectations. Looking back, I think one thing I’m particularly proud of was setting up the first ever Hartfest during my time as JCR President. What I love most about Hertford is that it belies the myth that all Oxford colleges care about is academic success; while this is very much at the heart of the University, Hertford also provides a place to nurture and explore talent. Whether it’s playwriting, jazz singing, rowing, debating or costume designing for Thursday night’s bop, Hertford is the ideal environment to learn and perfect new skills and old. Hertford gave me the confidence to pursue the things that I love and am passionate about - even if a jazz singing PPE-ist does go slightly against the grain! Right now I’m working on my first EP and a couple of music video’s to go with it. It’s a great privilege to be doing the thing I love most: making music, and Hertford gave me the confidence to give it a shot.
Nick studied Law at Hertford in the 90s and is now Partner at Monticello LLP. He has been supporting Hertford for a number of years and took part in our Bridge to Bridge bike ride in 2014.
‘And what’s your Plan B?’ he responded, immediately and condescendingly. He was the Head of Sixth at my rural comprehensive. I had just told him that I was thinking about applying to Oxford. Not what you’d call unbridled enthusiasm.
It was nearly 25 years ago, but still today that scene will be playing out over and again in schools up and down the country. Fortunately for me, another teacher, an Oxonian, picked up on my interest and nurtured me. He suggested that Hertford might be a good fit. He was right on so many levels.
I was lucky. I read Law, went on to qualify at a big City firm and then transitioned in strategy consultancy. I’m now a partner with Monticello LLP, helping businesses reinvent themselves for the 21st Century.
But relying on luck isn’t good enough. Because for as long as kids are told, either implicitly or explicitly, that Oxford isn’t, somehow, ‘for them’, then we all miss out. Society misses out, by not furthering the brightest and the best – regardless of where they come from. The university misses out, because its ongoing reputation is dependent on the diversity and plurality of thought that drives truly great thinking. And, most of all, young people miss out - on the genuinely transformative privilege that is Hertford.
Michael Hutchence sang: ‘I told you, That we could fly. Because we all have wings. But some of us, don’t know why.’
Because of attitudes like the one above, too few kids know that they can fly. They are held back, needlessly, by the maddening, feudal bonds of ‘class’, ‘station’ and ‘knowing one’s place’. I want others to have opportunity to be liberated from those surly, pointless shackles; to tear through them, with warrior-like gusto. I want others to know and receive - because they deserve it on merit and on no other grounds - what we have all known and received; the lifelong gift of our education from and in Hertford College: intellectual curiosity, learning how to learn and an insatiably hearty appetite for life.
That’s why I donate.
Dr Graham Winyard CBE FRCP FFPH read medicine at Hertford and the Middlesex Hospital and spent a career in public health and management including six years as the Medical Director of the NHS in England. Now retired, he is happily married and an active granddad.
I decided I wanted to be a doctor in the 4th year of secondary school. This decision, which shaped my entire life, was based on nothing more than doing well in science, an abstract desire to “do good”, and the fact that my grandfather had been a stretcher bearer in the Boer War. I was the first in my family to go to any university, let alone Oxford, and I had so little idea of what to expect that I wondered if the almshouses in St Clements, which I passed on the way to the interviews, might be a College. I was pulled out of a timed practical exam involving woodlice ‘for a bit of a chat’ by Hertford’s now legendary medical tutor Miles Vaughan-Williams, on the basis of which I was offered a place.
Oxford and Hertford were simply astonishing. It was OK to enjoy intellectual discussion into the night. Enthusiasm was fine; you did not have to pretend to be cool. Coming from a boys’ grammar school I was dazzled by the style and elan of the female medics, and in awe of the effortless self-assurance of public school contemporaries. Both groups have generated many life-long friendships. I passed the necessary medical exams but was diverted by life and a broken heart around finals; fortunately a third was not the barrier in medicine that it would have been in other fields. My clinical training was at the Middlesex Hospital in London, now razed to the ground to make way for luxury apartments, but I returned to Oxford for junior hospital posts, re-connecting with my former tutor through a chance meeting in the rough at Southfields golf course.
I eventually chose public health as a career and, like Oxford, this opened amazing opportunities including two years in Papua New Guinea mid-training. Challenging management posts in the NHS (re-shaping services in inner city London; rebuilding a public health department in leafy Wessex) and the Department of Health followed, culminating in 6 years as Medical Director of the NHS in England in the 1990s. There were the inevitable frustrations that come from working in large bureaucracies and with politicians, but also opportunities to think big and bring those ideas to reality. Most satisfying was being able to persuade the Labour Government to include the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) in its NHS reform programme, having previously developed the concept in Wessex. There were opportunities to explore completely new areas: I led reviews of Prison Healthcare and of the Defense Medical Services, and for the final eight years of my career was a postgraduate dean, responsible for the training of several thousand junior doctors in a post that combined everything from national policy to pastoral care for individuals in difficulty.
The same intellectual curiosity kindled at Oxford has taken me into new fields in retirement. I belatedly discovered the thrill of academic study for its own sake through a Masters in religions at SOAS. My developing Buddhist practice infuses my personal life and has led to my becoming lay treasurer of a Theravada forest monastery in West Sussex. And my time at Hertford delightfully came full circle in 2015 when I had the pleasure of taking Miles, then aged 97, as my guest to our 50 year Gaudy dinner.
From DJ-ing to banking to global experience design consulting, Sandy's career path wasn't planned but they have all been stepping stones to where she is now!
My romantic notion of English schools stemmed from a steady diet of Enid Blyton books as a child. Growing up in Singapore, the thought of studying in Oxford or Cambridge seemed like a faraway fantasy; until I heard about a small group of British tutors in a top Singapore junior college who were highly successful fielding students to Oxbridge. I eagerly applied to join their course, and it was through them, I landed at Hertford. They must have sensed that Hertford’s open and down-to-earth personality suited me and they were right. I am forever grateful to them for setting me on a path that led to such huge positive ramifications.
The world can be divided into two camps of people: those who have a clear idea of what they want to be since young, and those who don’t. As a student, I was in the latter camp. After graduating with a PPE degree in 1993, I applied to be a DJ at a Singapore radio station. I lacked a career plan but knew that I enjoyed DJ-ing. When the DJ job didn’t pan out (a fortunate thing on hindsight), I took the conservative route and landed in at an investment bank. Over fifteen years, I was on high-pressure trading floors of various banks trading bonds with institutional clients. It was fast-paced and exciting; and having a background in PPE certainly helped me to understand the dynamics of the markets and be a more effective adviser.
In spite of a successful corporate career, there was a side of me that wanted to do my own thing. I started and ran my own businesses four times, including once to open a bar and restaurant which finally allowed me to satisfy my earlier DJ ambition. Most significantly, it was on the third venture that left the longest lasting impact. In my final year in banking, I worked with a mentor to help me figure out what I really wanted to do with my life.
It was a revelatory and transformational process which led me to leave banking and become a mentor myself. The experience made me realise the importance of having a personal long term vision - not one dictated by peer pressure, but one that resonates with your innermost being that makes you thrive. It took me in my late 30s to realise the importance of finding purpose in life. So, if you haven’t already done so by now, my advice is to get out there and figure it out. Don’t wait till you hit a mid-life crisis!
Habits become behaviour which become culture at an organizational level. With my knowledge and experience, I want to help individuals and organisations strive towards positive change for better and sustainable outcomes. It is with this purpose that I co-founded Nomadism (http://nomadism.co/). I believe that all experiences connected to a brand and organisation have both internal and external aspects. My co-founder leads the external piece in product, service and brand design; whereas I lead in culture and organisational change.
Would I have predicted that I would be running a global experience design consultancy whilst building a house and sustainable garden in Tasmania, Australia (more of the latter on my blog https://thegrid.ai/calyx/)? Absolutely not. You cannot predict the future but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a plan.
Eric Martin DM (Oxon), FRCP, FRCR, FACC is Professor Emeritus of Radiology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University. He retired in the U.S. 3 years ago, where he still lives, and has been a regular donor and supporter of the college for the past 20 years.
I graduated MA BM BCh in 1967 and in 1974 moved to America, to Boston, to pursue Interventional Radiology, which was just starting as a specialty. The hard part was trying to learn the American language. Irony, cynicism and even satire were all regarded as sarcasm, and totally unacceptable. Trying to replace open surgery with catheter based techniques and no incision was rather easier by comparison, and it became my passion. Nearly 50 years later, satire is now acceptable, and the leading TV satirist, John Oliver, arrived recently from Birmingham (via the Footlights).
After Harvard Medical School, I went to New York and, three years later, joined the staff at Columbia- Presbyterian, the leading hospital in the city. Bill Casarella, who had recruited me, then told me that he was shortly to leave and I had been chosen to take over the Interventional Department. I knew I would be staying there for my whole career.
The major hospitals are usually affiliated with medical schools so one also has academic titles. This involved teaching registrars, training fellows who are sub-specialising, performing research and writing papers, as well as lecturing at meetings, in addition to a busy clinical load in a major hospital. The lecturing I finally came to like and ultimately travelled the world with meetings in, or at least relatively near, exotic places: Bagan, Borobudur and Angkor Wat all made my list. I rapidly met the leading Interventional Radiologists in the country, joined the Society of Interventional Radiology where I was befriended by probably the best known Interventional Radiologist at that time who, 10 or so years later, I followed as President of the Society.
In retrospect, an impressive sounding education (Oxford and Harvard) and an English accent, which I think in America is worth at least ten I.Q. points, had made the difference. That, and Robert Merton’s “Matthew effect” of cumulative advantage, which as far as I can tell, is a mixture of jobs for the boys and dumb luck.
I was 16 when my biology master suggested that I should consider going to Oxford or Cambridge. This was a totally alien thought to my parents, and certainly to me. By 18, Oxford and medicine were very real thoughts and I took the entrance exams naming Merton as my first choice. When they wouldn’t take me, my papers were passed around that group and I got a charming letter from the late Miles Vaughan Williams offering me a place at Hertford. One of my essays had been on Brideshead Revisited. After a couple of paragraphs I discovered I couldn’t remember Charles Ryder’s name, but it was too late to pick another topic so I soldiered on, hoping against hope that he would emerge from my sleep deprived fog. Perhaps I got points for ingenuity, but Miles opened his letter by saying “did I know that Evelyn Waugh was a Hertford man?”
When I came up I loved the College. I made some wonderful friends, several of whom are my best friends to this day. I was the only one reading medicine (actually animal physiology) and perhaps that was why I was offered a place. I used to trot up to South Parks Rd. and the laboratories most mornings. After that the day was spent less academically; lunches at the Turf, foreign movies, late night bridge games and sports. I even managed to captain the Oxford Rugby Fives team, a dubious distinction. I was reminded of it only the other day when contacted about a fundraising campaign.
Nearly twenty years ago, largely for my own amusement, I found myself totally draped in scarlet and kneeling on the floor of the Sheldonian in front of the Vice Chancellor who was rattling along incomprehensibly. (In my day, we needed a Latin O level to matriculate, but it served me ill.) Apparently, my job was to say do fidem at the appropriate time but he had summed me up correctly. He knew I couldn’t make it and the pause, if there was one, was miniscule. Fortunately it made no difference. Barely briefed for this performance, the do fidem bit never came up and I learned about it only recently. But the V.C. certainly knew.
Jurek lives in Washington DC, and still writes for the Finanical Times...if it doesn’t interfere with his golf.
I arrived in Hertford in 1960 as a Meeke Scholar, an award which was supposed to go to the sons of indigent clergymen in Worcestershire but which could, if none were available, go to some other child of the county. I was not a typical Oxbridge candidate. I grew up in the city without a father, a Spitfire pilot on the celebrated Polish squadrons of the RAF killed shortly after I was born, and with a single working mother, who ran the midwife services in the city and later the county. My conversion on the road to Damascus came in the A level years, when I fell under the spell the crusty old history teacher of my in a modest provincial grammar school. He taught me how to think and how to love history, as well as how to prepare for exams. As I recall, six of his nine students got into Oxbridge, including me.
I arrived at Hertford, an opening batsman and left arm spinner, unversed, as many were, in the ways of the world, but ahead of my contemporaries, even those from elite public schools, in how to approach the subject at hand, which was, naturally, history. My main tutor was already a legend in his own time, FMH Markham, known to all as Felix, the Napoleonic scholar. The weekly sessions with him, generally concluding with sherry after we’d read our essays, were a minor art form, as he lisped ever more wetly, leaning further back in his chair until we all wondered when it would finally tip over, which it never did. The late Gerry Fowler was a bit more disciplined and demanding. The weekly essay was also useful training, if I did not know it at the time, for what would become my later career. And, of course, there were the friendships made, on the cricket field and in the Turf, many of which still endure as a hard core in my life.
I went straight from Oxford to California because I was 21 and wanted to get out of England. In three years there, I was, successively, a school teacher, encyclopedia salesman and bartender but I also started writing and trying to get published articles about all the wonderful things I’d seen and experienced. (it was, after all, California in the mid-60s, sex, drugs and rock’n’roll and much more besides). One, for my old home town newspaper, the Berrows Worcester Journal, proved pivotal to my future life.
It was about comparing baseball, to which, in two misspent summers in San Francisco, I had become addicted, with cricket, at which I’d been reasonably good, an opening bat and left arm spinner for Hertford. And it was this clipping that Gordon Newton, fearsome editor of the Financial Times, was reading before interviewing me for a vacancy on the foreign desk of his newspaper. He looked up and said “what’s a double play?”. Briefly I thought he was referring to something financial, about which I knew nothing, so I told him what it meant in baseball. He grunted and then asked how a pitcher could make the ball swerve and dip. This was soup and nuts to me, I screwed up a piece of paper and demonstrated assorted grips. At which he said, you’ve no qualifications to join the FT, but you’ve just explained baseball to me better than anybody else, you’re hired, I’ll make you a journalist.
Which I still am 50 years later, though less active than in times past, and all for the same newspaper and still not knowing a fat lot about finance. Two years later, Newton sent me to Washington as the junior correspondent and then to New York as bureau chief, which sounds grand but it was a one man office. Exposure to the 1972 presidential campaign convinced me that my real interest was politics and how government worked. So, after three years running the daily foreign news desk in London, I was back in Washington as head of a real bureau and with a whole country to cover. Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, with two more presidential elections to cover and this sense of freedom that left me knowing that happiness equaled the distance from head office.
Next came Tokyo for four years, an unmitigated delight. Japan was feeling its economic oats and opening itself up in ways it never had before. Foreign correspondents there, previously held at arms length, began to enjoy unprecedented access, but that didn’t make the job necessarily easier. Japan is a complex country that demanded an inventive approach to writing about it, a process that made me a much better writer. And I was given licence, sometime I just took it, to delve into the different, like being stuck in a monumental traffic jam, climbing Mt Fuji, the feudal society of sumo wrestling and so on. I suppose it brought me a degree of recognition in the form of two British Press Awards, though nothing like the 15 minutes of fame my wife and I enjoyed in Japan by becoming the first western couple to dance in public with the Crown Prince and Princess, now the Emperor and Empress, who also later became tennis partners.
In 1986, I was appointed foreign editor in London, the only other job, apart from Washington, to which I aspired, the spider in the middle of a marvelous web of well over 100 foreign correspondents and London staff. Those were dramatic years – the Berlin Wall came down, the Soviet Union collapsed, there was the massacre in Tienanmen Square, the first Gulf war broke out to expel Iraq from Kuwait, Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini died, the Balkans began dissolving into war. My pleasure was more vicarious, because I was directing reporting not doing it myself, but no less for that. The quality of those who worked with me left an indelible impression.
But I missed writing and head office and London were not my cup of tea so arranged to have myself appointed back to Washington. In 1997, I gave up my day job after 30 years; my wife’s career, in refugee and migration issues, was taking off and DC was the best place to do it; also I’d done the only two I ever wanted and was not interested in getting old and bored doing something that didn’t really grab me. But the paper wanted me to go on writing from America, mostly in the form of a series of columns, generally political but, for a gorgeous 18 months, about sport.
It is not easy picking out highlights in a working life that knew few low ones. There was the odd scoop – revealing that a New York dealer had found a Raphael lost for 50 plus years, a US plan to save the dollar in 1979, obtained by drinking a source into indiscretions –but the greater body of what I did was trying to get things right. I interviewed heads of government (Bill Clinton easily the most engaging) but did not believe in getting too close to the powers-that-be because that can cloud judgment. There were always fellow hacks who taught me a lot, like Joe Rogaly, my first FT bureau chief in Washington, who could be ruthless if necessary, and the incomparable RW (Johnny) Apple Jr of the New York Times, whom I first met as fellow “boy on the bus” in the 1972 campaign and who remained a lifelong pal and travelling companion.
I know I was lucky enough to live in a golden age of newspaper journalism, especially for foreign correspondents, which is on life support today. I am immensely grateful to the FT, an intelligent newspaper with a genuinely catholic range of interests, for having given me the opportunities it did. I am old school in the sense I believe journalism is a craft not a profession. At my best I was a pretty good plumber.
Barbara studied Biochemistry at Hertford in the 1980s and initially moved into a career in finance, working for Barclays and JP Morgan. However, she was soon drawn back to science and medicine, and is now an obesity specialist based at Guy’s & St. Thomas’s Hospital, London.
I ended up at Hertford largely by chance. My sixth-form tutor had been trying for 25 years to send a student from our local comprehensive school to Oxford, and in 1984 I was the lucky one to get a place. Having moved from Italy 6 years previously, my knowledge of the English language was still a bit rough round the edges and my image of Oxford one for the posh and privileged . I attended my first day with trepidation and anxiety. I will never forget my first Sunday night at formal dinner when I was made to wear a black gown, sit alongside clever scholars, drink Hertford wine and inevitably think ‘what on earth am I doing here’? I soon came to love the Hertford way. It was definitely not exclusive, with many students arriving from a variety of backgrounds which made the atmosphere friendly and relaxed. The chemists were inevitably geeky, the English scholars airy and cool, the geographers lazy but fun.
My best memories of Hertford include getting tipsy on sherry with the college Chaplain, the excitement of early morning rowing on the river, the pimms, Torpids and bumps, the tuck shop, setting up the first Women’s Oxford football team, the memorable Hertford bar lock-downs, Sunday lunch at the King’s Arms, and the weekly phone calls to mum. Memories with my new friends which were free of mobile phones, internet, emails and the shackles of social media. I guess the new generation may struggle to comprehend…
Armed with a biochemistry degree I soon realised that life as a scientist was not for me. At the time, I was hoping to study medicine but the thought of a further 5 years in higher education was enough to suppress those feelings. Most of my friends were joining the City, and I followed suit, spending 2 years at Barclays as an investment banker and a further 3 years at JP Morgan, in New York, London and Milan. It took me 5 years to pluck up the courage to give up banking and pursue a real passion for medicine. I secured a place at the Royal Free Hospital in London and never looked back. During my training, I had 2 wonderful children, squeezed in a PhD and became a Consultant and more recently Reader in Diabetes and Endocrinology. I am currently based at Guy’s & St Thomas’s Hospital and specialise in obesity. My experience in finance has been useful for the post of Treasurer for the Society for Endocrinology and trying to comprehend the complexities of the NHS.
Jason read English as an undergraduate and initially pursued a career in publishing. However, he soon found his vocation in life as a wine merchant and expert, and now works as a director of Theatre of Wine. He still uses his literary skills as a wine journalist, and in 2016 was awarded the Vintners’ Cup.
I grew up in Northern Ireland, as a child on the northern coast and then later in the Tyrone countryside. It was rural and quiet. I did a lot of reading and dog-walking, and, when I was older, arguing about politics which probably helped my tutorial skills further down the line.
I packed a lot into my time at Hertford, not all of it academic. I remember talking lexicography with Charlotte Brewer, Shakespeare with Emma Smith, and some brilliantly bizarre conversations with Tom Paulin about how John Clare's 'hatching Throstles shining eye' is a rifle metaphor. Even as a devout atheist, I remember the cool darkness of the chapel to which I sometimes escaped when things got a bit much. I also remember walking into Blackwells on the day after my finals and buying a ridiculous amount of books that I'd wanted to read for years but couldn't quite justify during my degree.
After Hertford, I had a five-year stint in publishing. It seemed the natural progression from an English degree, but in the end it wasn't what I was hoping for. In an unexpected way, the collaborative atmosphere I had hoped to find in publishing is much more prevalent in wine, and I made the switch in 2011.
Now I am one of three directors of Theatre of Wine, an independent wine merchant, retailer and wholesaler based in London, where I am responsible for retail, restaurant and event business, as well as buying and importing directly from areas as diverse as Bordeaux and Greece. I also write a regular industry-focused column for Drinks Retailing, host wine tastings in our stores and private venues, and act as a wine judge and cellar consultant.
In 2016 I won the Vintners' Cup for the highest mark worldwide in the top level of the Wine and Spirit Education Trust's courses, the Level 4 Diploma. It's a tough exam – a combination of theory and tasting – so I was chuffed to come out with the top mark despite having a hideous question about pruning methods in Champagne on one of the papers.
Although I have never really believed in inspiration, wine certainly comes close. What could be more inspiring than Dionysus? When you taste things like Madeira from the 1858 vintage and reflect that the grapes were picked before Italy or Germany existed, when Queen Victoria was on the throne and Darwin announced his theory of evolution, it is a profound aesthetic and cultural experience.
Grace is an Early Music singer, ensemble director, and researcher, whose love of all things medieval stemmed from her Organ Scholarship and Music BA at Hertford College.
While I was still at school, I couldn’t quite bring myself to choose between music and medicine. Studying medicine was something of a craze in my school-year, and an astonishingly high proportion of my friends made the sensible decision to keep their musical skills as an evening hobby, and to become doctors. I’m sure my parents were quietly hoping for the same decision from me.
After much um-ing and ah-ing, various meetings with the school careers advisers, and umpteen warnings of the financial insecurity of attempting to be a freelance singer, I followed my heart (what else can you do as a teenager?) and chose music - convincing myself that everything would be fine. I picked Hertford for its active choir and Music Society, its beautiful wisteria, and its reputation for friendliness and openness. I was delighted to be selected as the new Organ Scholar for Hertford’s excellent chapel choir. Musical direction and organ playing is still something of a man’s world, and female Organ Scholars are a minority. This isn’t the boys’ fault, of course; it’s largely due to England’s wonderful but rather one-sided tradition of child choristers in cathedrals. I was proud to represent a college that chose to actively support and promote me as a choir director and organist. Hertford also had a female chaplain in my time, and selected another female Organ Scholar after me; it is a college that enjoys challenging the status quo, and levelling the playing field, whatever your background. (But don’t worry, boys, it’s not only the girls who receive such support at Hertford!)
During my three years directing the choir and studying Music, I found myself drawn further and further down the rabbit hole of ‘Early Music’, partly due to Oxford’s thriving Early Music community. Eventually, thanks to the combination of my academic training at Oxford and my practical experience as an Organ Scholar there, I was in a position to successfully apply to the world’s leading conservatoire for the performance and study of Early Music, the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Switzerland. I have since enjoyed five years in Basel, started a PhD at the UK’s top institute for research in Music (the University of Southampton), founded my own medieval music ensemble, Rumorum (do visit us at www.rumorum.com), and am now working with musicians and ensembles in Europe which my pre-Hertford self would never have believed possible. My teenage dream, quite amazingly, couldn’t be going any better; and my time at Hertford played a major role in helping me to become the happy freelancer I am today.
Attracted to Hertford by chance, Ewen Maclean studied Physics as both an undergraduate and a DPhil student. Having studied in Switzerland as part of his research, he is now based there permanently at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.
Oxford didn’t give me a great vibe at first. Coming from a rural state school in Scotland applying to uni down South wasn't a particularly natural choice, but my Dad and I had driven down for the Science Open Day and I’d devoted the morning to checking out some colleges I’d picked from the prospectus. Perhaps it was a consequence of the early time of day, but I seemed to have been met by a series of high-walled, gated communities with signs out front declaring they were closed to visitors.
Hertford had made it onto my shortlist of colleges by virtue of having one of the largest number of physics tutors listed in the prospectus. However, it also rapidly set about demolishing those first impressions of Oxford. As I approached down Catte Street it became apparent some sort of revelry was going on. A banner eventually appeared proclaiming it was also the Herford College Open Day. Inside I was met by a cheerful student, to whom I hesitantly explained that I’d actually come for the science open day, but if it was alright I’d still like to have a quick look around the quad. `Nonsense!’ was the response: I had to join in some of the Hertford activities too! Sure enough I soon found myself ushered onto a guided tour of the College buildings, and on my return was introduced to Dr George Ducas, one of the physics tutors at Hertford, who was about to lead a tour around the university department.
I think I learned far more about Oxford Physics from the Hertford tour than from the University events that day, and like the students on the door George was really friendly. More than that though, I would say his enthusiasm for the subject, university, and encouragement of the students being shown around really helped me get excited about the idea of applying to Oxford for the first time. I did wander around a few more colleges after I finally extracted myself from Hertford, but none struck me as having that same atmosphere. Originally my Dad and I had planned to drive over to Cambridge the next day, but leaving Oxford it started to rain torrentially and we got lost, so I decided not to bother. I was hooked, and would be applying to Hertford.
It was actually Dr Ducas who introduced me to the field I work in now. I spent my penultimate summer vacation undertaking a research project in particle accelerator physics, supervised by George. I would carry it on for my MPhys studies, but it was that summer that inspired me to look for a Ph.D in accelerator physics. For my DPhil I was lucky to get the opportunity to study beam-dynamics in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the highest energy accelerator in the world, operated by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva. Of course I elected to remain a Hertford student (my new supervisor had initially wanted me to move to his college of St. Catz). In practice, though, I was rapidly shipped out to Switzerland. In 2008 a sudden expansion of some helium had damaged the LHC and it had recently started up again (if it sounds trivial it isn’t, but then again the LHC has also been delayed by baguette wielding birds and weasels with a penchant for chewing on high voltage electrical cables). In the end I spent three years in Geneva completing my DPhil. I even got to be in the main Auditorium at CERN as the Higgs Boson discovery was announced, and though my contact with the college was much less than as an undergraduate, support was always there if needed.
After finishing my DPhil I did a postdoc with the University of Manchester, and then returned to Geneva where I'm now working through a CERN Fellowship and studying nonlinear-dynamics in the LHC. Working here has been an incredible experience, and accelerator physics is a fascinating subject, but it's not widely taught in the UK. I think I was lucky to discover it, largely thanks to the support of my tutors and college. Looking back it's funny to think I would be somewhere totally different if a friendly student and tutor hadn't shown me around a Hertford Open Day.
Advice for the next generation: don't turn up to your doctoral defence with your college misspelled on the front page of your thesis!
After reading Modern History as a Baring Founder's Scholar, Julian went into a career in military intelligence, after which he worked with Historic Royal Palaces. Now retired he combines his undergraduate passions with his professional experience as a writer.
I was one of the very lucky generations who had their university fees paid for by the state and, having got an Oxford degree, was able to get a job with little difficulty. In my case I was particularly fortunate because I was accepted by Hertford as a Baring Founder’s Kin Scholar. The College was rather basic when I went up in 1963, with no running water for most staircases. Although a financially poor college, it retained a certain style and the cutlery in hall was solid silver. I read History and was fortunate to have Felix Markham and John Armstrong as tutors who both certainly had style, and would offer Madeira at tutorials. Oxford gave me the opportunity to have so many experiences. These ranged from a bit of rowing, the Officers Training Corps, and being a member of the Conservative Association Committee, where I was fortunate enough on different occasions to meet and chat to the Prime Minister, and various Cabinet Ministers. I also act in two Hertford plays, one of which was performed at the Playhouse.
After Oxford I joined the Intelligence Corps where I had a wide variety of interesting jobs mainly relating to the Cold War and counter-terrorism. I left the Army in 1998 having been Chief of Staff of the Intelligence Centre and then Deputy Director of Defence Security. Following a spell in industry I ended up with what was for me a perfect job of being Security Advisor at Historic Royal Palaces. My office was at Hampton Court Palace overlooking the Thames, but I was also responsible for a number of other wonderful palaces such as Kensington and the Tower of London. The job combined my knowledge of security, with working in surroundings of major historical importance when I could indulge my lifelong interest in history, which had been developed at Hertford.
In retirement I combine intelligence and history by writing about the history of Intelligence. My first book was Cavalier and Roundhead Spies and my most recent book is Rebellion in the Reign of Charles II. I live in a village near Woodstock, so I am in easy reach of the Bodleian where I suspect I spend more time now that I did as an undergraduate!
I will always be grateful to Hertford for accepting me in the first place and giving me such good experiences to launch me into an unconventional but rewarding working life. I am particularly grateful for Oxford’s social life for as well as giving me good friends, it was while I was at Hertford that I met my wife.
Born in Lebanon, Bahi studied Engineering Science at Hertford College, before embarking on a career in finance and as an entrepreneur. His company, Zawarib, is rapidly becoming one of the most important travel and mapping services in the region, and he maintains active involvement in the financial sector as a consultant, now dividing his time between London and Beirut.
I was born in Beirut, and after attending schools in Syria, Cyprus, Switzerland, Qatar and Dubai until age 14, I completed my O and A levels at Emmanuel School, Battersea. I was successful in gaining a place at Oxford to read Engineering Science at Hertford College. At Oxford, I spent my extra-curricular time getting to know a wonderful array of characters from all walks of life, and nationalities, as well as participating in the various student activities that the University allows, from rowing to acting to French club, Science Societies, Oxford Union etc. It was great at opening up so many different doors and avenues into topics and talents that I would never have thought existed, let alone be allowed to experience. The four years there also formed a lot of my social and professional relationships that to this day I value most, and allowed me to have the diverse friends and acquaintances that I do.
After Oxford, I embarked on a career in financial investments in various banks in the city, which I supplemented with a variety of other projects. These ranged from theatre production, launching a magazine and record label, taking time off, spending a year in Rome as well as time in Beirut, personal investments in various SME and personal projects, along with pursuing an acting career that I keep up on the side to this day. In 2010, I launched a Lebanon based mapping company called Zawarib that has since become THE reference for Lebanon’s navigation and guidance of places to go and things to see. Both in print and online, and working with various local and international media channels (BBC, CNN, The Guardian, etc), Zawarib is a combination of Time Out, Google Maps, and your local best friend. We have also launched the same in Istanbul, and we are fully engaged with government and other Non-governmental organizations in promoting local tourism and creating a new section for the economy working closely with the Prime Minister and ministries of tourism, culture, environment and public works. We have been covered by personal interviews and coverage on such high profile media publications as BBC, The Guardian, CNN, Daily Star, The Economist, etc.
I am inspired by people that set their own agenda, creating a lifestyle and objective (as well as evaluation measures) that are self-created and not a copy-paste of something they believe they ought to be/follow. To that end, individuality combined with professionalism and dedication to your own values and objectives is of the utmost importance, it is invigorating to see in others and infectious to all. That is what drives me and inspires me.
For me, the work I now cover with my company Zawarib combines my passion for my country, my skills in presentation (and so acting) as well as financial acumen and engineering experience to create projects that are both meaningful, engaging, adventurous, audacious and passionate! All things that Oxford helped me develop and celebrate :)
In addition, I have set up a financial consulting company in the UK, based out of my flat in Covent Garden, which works with investment boutiques, family offices, small or starting up hedge funds in analysing their management structure and advising on process, personnel, and often trade ideas and investments that make sense to them or their clients.
I currently divide my time between Beirut and London, and cover working on developing both companies and our serving our clients in the best way possible for them, for the company, and for myself.
After studying English at Hertford, the stage beckoned and Lucy is now an actress and voice-over artist based in Los Angeles.
I almost didn’t apply to Oxford at all. My fiercely Mancunian school experience made me fear that such places were for posh people only – a terrible reverse snobbery. But I came down on a field trip and fell in love with the place: there was a feeling of it being somewhere where ideas and life were happening. I was not at all sure of which college to apply to but eventually lighted on Hertford as one that was traditionally northern in its intake, and I loved that it was one of the first colleges to admit women.
I will be forever grateful to my years at Hertford for pushing me to my limit – academically, physically (all those night sessions!) and even providing me with an informal career training. I did over twenty plays whilst at Hertford, this included long summers doing open air Shakespeare. This proved an invaluable preparation for the rigors of the life of an itinerant player. I shall never forget lying on the stage at the Oxford Playhouse as the seemingly dead Juliet and being heckled by school parties, or ‘sleeping’ in the rain in Exeter Gardens as Titania.
After Hertford, I went to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (having survived my last Hertford Final and my final audition for RADA, scheduled on the same day). Two weighty and stubborn institutions faced off – who would budge? Well, in the end, I went into sequestration with the Junior Dean of Hertford, who accompanied me to my audition in London and then returned to sleep over and write my paper at Julia Brigg’s house the next day. It was quite the transitional moment.
Hertford gave me the scaffolding on which to build a career, and it had stretched and challenged me in every way possible because I’d been taught to work hard, to always strive to be better and to embrace risk. After meeting and marrying my husband in London, we set out in 2006 for an adventure in Los Angeles. A decade later, we seem to be here still. I have two American children (Ella and Louis) and a diversified career in both on-screen acting and voice-over work. I have been lucky enough to work with some people on my bucket list – Martin Scorsese, Jay Roach – and I’ve done a lot of ditch digging in-between (I’m very good at dying in several different accents). I have just finished editing and performing in the world premiere of my husband’s play, Our American Hamlet, at the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company in Boston. I know I wouldn’t have been on that stage but for the hours spent in the Rad Cam, in Julia’s armchairs and cycling madly down the Cowley Rd clutching the latest Anglo-Saxon translation of ‘The Fucking Seafarer’ (as it was affectionately known). My greatest hope is that one day my son and daughter will have the opportunity to have a similar experience.
Tom read Biochemistry at Hertford, before completing a graduate-entry programme in Medicine in London. He is a Specialist Registrar in Anaesthesia & Critical Care at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, and an at the University of Cambridge, with an interest in improving anaesthesia care in low income countries.
I applied to Hertford from a South London technical college, as my struggling (now deceased) comprehensive had lost its sixth form several years previously. This might imply ‘access programme’ success, but as with all caricatures doesn't paint an accurate picture. I’d always been bewitched by the idea of Oxford as an escape from Tooting. Interviews in December heightened the agony of expectation. It snowed. I was put up in a beautiful room in OB quad. Everyone I met was awesome. I found in the King’s Arms my spiritual and victual home. I was utterly, irrevocably, hooked. The letter that fell through the mat on Christmas Eve was heartstopping.
Of course romanticism is a poor basis for a relationship. Luckily Hertford was, and remains, a fundamentally good place. Academically strong but not overbearing, friendly, irreverent, grounded. It gave me the best of Oxford: lifelong friends, an understanding of what academia looks like when done well, and the confidence that comes from realising that most successful people have no real idea what they are doing. Other pursuits came and went: the obligatory rowing experiment until I realised it’s basically masochism dressed up as a corporate team-building exercise; rugby at a decidedly amateur level; being Welfare Officer; living next to the only pub I have ever walked into to find a huge crowd at the bar only to be nodded at by the barman with “the usual Tom? I’ll bring it over.”
On leaving, with an adequate degree and a clear conviction not to become a biochemist, I worked briefly for the Royal Society before enrolling on a graduate entry course at St George’s Hospital Medical School in London. St George’s is in Tooting: this was disappointing. The course was otherwise ideal, and I left with a much better degree in Medicine than I achieved in Biochemistry. I headed off in the direction of Anaesthesia and Critical Care because it’s terrifying, and I thought that was a good basis for an interesting life.
I’d always been interested in working overseas, and during my junior medical training spent a year with VSO working in Ethiopia. This set the course for the rest of my career which has focussed on how to improve anaesthetic care in low-income countries. I’m academically interested in how complex systems deliver healthcare, and how these systems can be designed or re-engineered to improve that care: I’m now at another university, which is slightly younger and further East than Oxford, pursuing a PhD in Engineering and completing my clinical training. I spend a lot of time working with charities such as Lifebox and Addenbrooke’s Abroad to maintain a programmatic element: academic insight in global anaesthesia is only of use where it’s practical and usable, and actually makes some difference to the 5 billion of the world’s population who lack access to safe, affordable, surgical care.
Hertford is a special place inside a special place. Oxford boasts Prime Ministers and Nobel Prize Winners as alumni, and is currently the world’s best university if you set any store by league tables. Added to this, Hertford has spent the past four decades working to be inclusive and egalitarian without sacrificing academic performance and I think this shows. From their admission of women undergraduates, their history of widening access, even their current focus on portraits of women in Hall, you can see an institution that is working to maintain the best of its traditions while being genuinely progressive.
All advice is bad, and the most joyful thing about future generations is how little heed they pay to those that have gone before. That being said, I make the following observation: my degree has been useful and the thinking Hertford instilled in me has shaped the way I view the world, however my Hertford friends are more important and have influenced me more. If you are deciding between trying to make your essay a little bit better or going for a pint, ponder this. Also, I've learned that you never really escape Tooting.
Miranda is a second year English student and is campaigning for a better and inclusive environment for disabled people. You can read about her involvement with the Oxford Students Disability Community here.
When I was 15, I was so debilitatingly shy that I was looking into the Open University’s online courses, terrified of the idea of physically going to any university, let alone one that needed an interview to get in! I don’t have any older siblings, and my parents both left education at 16 - most of my information about university came from the movies, so while other people considering Oxford were worrying that the students didn’t party enough (they do!), I was worrying that university was no place for an introvert.
I was invited to locally-held access talks and told about UNIQ, Oxford’s absolutely-free summer school exclusively for year 12 state school students. I decided that UNIQ would, at the very least, be a good test: if I could make it through a week, maybe I could make it through a term? I applied and was selected and, to my surprise, had an amazing time: I was struck by how accepting everyone was of each other, and that’s something I’ve found to be true as a student at Oxford as well – there are so many different personalities here, but, on the whole, people are very happy for you to be you.
I was dreading starting university but my tutors turned out to be amazingly supportive, the other students on my course were great, and, bit by bit, I started adjusting to Oxford and university life: it took me longer than most, but I got to know people, and one of the highlights of my life turned out to be finding the Oxford Students’ Disability Community (OSDC) in my third term here. I’ve met wonderful people through it and my 15-year-old self wouldn’t have believed I’d be doing 10% of the things I’ve done through OSDC.
Oxford has allowed me to develop hugely as a person. I can honestly say that I’ve grown more here than I ever grew in all my years of secondary school, and achieved more – in terms of both extracurricular and academic work – than I ever thought possible for me, and Hertford has been part of the supportive environment in which I’ve been able to do that.
Sherard Cowper-Coles is Group Head of Government Affairs for the HSBC banking group. He also chairs the Financial Inclusion Commission and the Trust that is bringing Sir John Soane’s country house, Pitzhanger Manor in Ealing, back to life. After Hertford, where he read Classics, he spent over 30 years in the Diplomatic Service, ending up as Ambassador successively to Israel, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. He has written two books – 'Cables from Kabul' and 'Ever the Diplomat'. He is an Honorary Fellow of the College.
I didn’t choose Hertford, but Hertford chose me, in the sense that Hertford was short of a classical scholar, and my headmaster did a deal behind my back for me to go there, even though I had applied to Worcester. It could not have turned out better, and I couldn’t have been happier.
There were some misgivings. On the day I arrived at Hertford, the Dean, Roy Stuart, had put a note on the College noticeboard headed simply “VOMIT”, under which he had typed: “I wish to see less of this around College in future”.
But things soon picked up. Hertford then was small, poor, friendly, and at the start of a long improvement driven by three wise policies: first, our efforts to recruit bright students from schools, many in the north, who had never send pupils to Oxbridge; second, the admission of women, in October 1974, under the “Jesus Plan”, which immediately made the College more civilised, more interesting, more intelligent, and more normal – with less vomit; and, third, the then Principal, Geoffrey Warnock, and investment bursar, Roger van Noorden, transformed the College’s finances, by securing transfers from the richer colleges, and by wise investments. Plus the food, and then the accommodation, gradually improved.
The best thing about Classics, or so I thought, was three summer terms in Oxford without a public exam. Oxford went completely to my head. I tried almost everything, at least once, and met so many people I had never met, the children of people ranging, literally, from dukes to dustmen. Only in my last couple of years did I really work, and, thanks mainly to my tutor, Stephanie West, had a distant sighting of what academic excellence could be.
When it came to the afterlife, I always knew that, if I could pass the exams, I would love the Foreign Office, and so it proved. But, as an insurance policy, I applied to banks and to be a barrister. The Bank of England offered both Theresa May and me jobs in 1977: she took it, while I headed to Whitehall.
I then spent more than 30 very happy years in the Foreign Office. I was offered a choice of learning Arabic, Chinese or Japanese, and chose Arabic, out of vanity and ambition, because I thought I could be ambassador in more countries. I was sent to the famous Foreign Office Arabic school above Beirut, which Nasser had called the “British spy school”. But we were evacuated from there, as the Lebanese Civil War hotted up again, and I spent the rest of my time learning Arabic in London, and then Syria and finally living with an Egyptian family in Alexandria. Postings as a political officer in Cairo, Washington and Paris followed, interspersed with jobs in London as the Foreign Office speechwriter, private secretary to the head of the Foreign Office, and head of the Hong Kong department in the run-up to the handover of Hong Kong, on 30 June 1997, almost exactly 20 years ago. Then, in 1999, I was pulled out early from a dream posting to Paris, to work as head of the office for the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook. He was a difficult, but talented, man, of whom I became very fond. And I hugely admired his courage and intellect. I then learnt Hebrew, and went as Ambassador to Israel during the second Palestinian intifada – a difficult but professionally very interesting time. To my surprise, I was then sent to Saudi Arabia, for four years as Ambassador during a particularly unpleasant Al Qaeda campaign, during which the BBC journalist Frank Gardner was badly wounded and his cameraman killed. My three final jobs all related to Afghanistan – a beautiful country, whose people had suffered and still suffer terribly, from too much foreign intervention for too long. I was so pleased that Brad Pitt, who stars in the forthcoming satirical movie War Machine about the misguided US intervention in Afghanistan, read my book about it, and came to see me in London for a briefing.
When in 2002 a letter reached me in Israel from the then Principal, Walter Bodmer, saying that I had been elected to an Honorary Fellowship, I thought it was a wind-up. But it wasn’t, and I am so glad, because it has enabled me in a small way to start repaying my debt to an institution where I spent four of the happiest, and most productive and stimulating, years of my life.
Watch this space—Olivia is going to be making waves in politics and international development in the years to come. She was recently one of our Telethon callers and did a wonderful job at being a college ambassador and raising much needed funds for student support.
I chose to apply to Hertford because it had a couple of pet cats. In hindsight, I probably should have put more thought into it than that. I knew that I wanted to go to Oxford from a very young age, having been told at eight years old that it was the best university in the world; and I knew I wanted to study politics. Faced with very little guidance from anyone around me, and a fair amount of discouragement, I idly put down Hertford on my application, fuelled more by stubbornness, I imagine, than anything else. Fortunately, it was probably the best decision I have made in my life so far.
Beyond Hertford’s inclusiveness and support, it provides fantastic opportunities for all its students. Following a need I’ve always had to solve problems, I ended up working in various student-led consultancy and think-tank-esque societies; my stint as President of Hertford’s own Business and Economics Society, brain-child of a former Hertford undergraduate and her professor, stands out as the most exciting. Thanks to support from our incredible Principal and alumni network, I was able to lead my own project looking into how wellbeing economics could contribute more directly to government policy. I will never forget the day my team were asked to travel to Whitehall to present this project to the Cabinet Secretary; being asked for permission for the Cabinet Office to subsequently publish and consult on our report was the cherry on top. In that moment I realised just how much Hertford had given me.
I was unfathomably lucky to be in a position to apply, and be accepted, to Hertford. Many bright young people all around the world would thrive here, but aren’t as lucky and don’t have the ability or grounding to apply. For us lucky few, we must do everything we can from our position to extend the opportunities Hertford gave us to as many people as we can. As for me now, I’ve moved up north to pursue the career in politics I always dreamed about – to all those whose doors I’ll be knocking on in the coming months, be gentle! I hope to go on to make this career international, with the aim of studying a Master's in International Relations and then joining the Foreign Service or an international political (preferably refugee-oriented) organisation. As far away as I may end up going though, I will always be a part of Hertford, and Hertford will always be a part of me. I hope that many more people can have that too.
Rebecca Mills studied Medicine at Oxford before pursuing a career in orthopaedics. She has recently returned from a period of study and training in Sydney and is now combining a career in medicine with scientific research.
I was fairly hesitant about applying to Oxford – I didn’t know anyone that had been and particularly for medicine. The course was very different from other medical schools, with a heavy science focus. However, I decided to take a chance with my ‘spare’ UCAS choice and, after being randomly allocated to interview at Hertford and spending a night in the bar meeting the other candidates, I remember feeling quite certain that this was the college for me!
I am now training as an orthopaedic surgeon, a career choice I firmly believe I would never have even considered had I not been emboldened by the Hertford tutorial system, and encouraged to believe anything was achievable, no matter how competitive.
I also had no idea that studying at Hertford would open so many doors to incredible opportunities for my future career. I have just returned from 18 months in Sydney, where I was funded by the Radcliffe Travelling Fellowship to dual train as a scientist in a world-renowned orthopaedic biology and engineering lab. Here, I developed a novel model of implant-associated infection and furthered our knowledge of the mechanisms by which such devastating infections occur. I hope that my work will facilitate the development of new antimicrobial agents to improve patient outcomes worldwide. Certainly my science-focused undergraduate education gave me the confidence to take on this challenge and to value taking time out of my orthopaedic programme to train as a surgeon-scientist.
My time living in Sydney also offered the opportunity to continue the Hertford spirit of ‘having a go’ at all manner of sports, and so, naturally, I took up everything from beach volleyball at sunrise to twilight yacht racing, and even found myself enrolled in a highly competitive SUPball league – a game unique to Sydney that involves playing rugby/lacrosse on stand-up paddleboards!
To the next generation of Hertford medics, I would encourage you to embrace the very different medical education you receive at Oxford – enjoy being quizzed relentlessly in tutorials and learning to stand up for yourself. It will help you develop the confidence you need to excel in your future careers!
Louis-David Lord (2014)
Louis-David Lord joined Hertford upon being awarded the Mann Senior Scholarship. His DPhil research aims to help pioneer the emerging field of computational neuropsychiatry.
For my DPhil, I am studying the large-scale dynamics of human brain networks using various mathematical and computational approaches. Communication patterns between brain regions can be estimated using neuroimaging, and summarized as network representations of brain activity, which is why I am using network-based models of brain function to understand how a dynamical balance is achieved between the complementary needs for both the segregation and integration of information processing. I am particularly investigating the effects of psychedelic drugs (i.e. LSD and psilocybin) on the human brain, as these compounds acutely alter not only one’s perception of the world, but the brain’s global functional network activity.
In the long-term, I would like to pursue a career in academic medicine and contribute to the development of clinical applications of network-neuroscience and computational modelling for neurological and psychiatric care. It’s an exciting and challenging area of biomedicine where scientific and clinical advances are greatly needed!
I expected postgraduate life in Oxford to be academically intense, and was confident that the University would provide me with the opportunity to conduct world-class research in my field, should I invest the right amount of focus and dedication into my studies. Oxford has certainly met, if not exceeded, my expectations on that front! The opportunities for intellectual and professional growth in Oxford are basically limitless, and it is extremely motivating to engage with outstanding students and academics from all over the world on a daily basis.
I was only vaguely familiar with the collegiate system when applying to Oxford, and had underestimated the extent to which becoming actively involved in College life would positively impact my overall experience as a graduate student. I have been truly inspired by the friendliness, talent, and humbleness of the many Hertfordians I’ve had the chance to meet thus far. The Hertford MCR is an uniquely fun, diverse and inclusive community where one can let his/her unique personality shine through, whether discussing their academic pursuits, or having a lighthearted chat over some drinks. I am grateful that Hertford has not only provided me with generous financial support towards my doctoral studies, but welcomed me into such a positive and supportive academic community in which I feel very much at home.
Eugenie started at Hertford at the beginning of the millennium reading Archaeology and Anthropology. Since graduating, she has been committed to international development and outreach with indigenous peoples.
Struggling to choose between art and science, and wanting to travel and see the world, my eighteen-year-old self learned through a better-informed friend about ‘Arch and Anth’. It was a trigger for looking seriously at Oxford, and Hertford - one of the few colleges that offered the course and which had a reputation for being a more down-to-earth and less ‘powerhouse’ environment than others among the dreaming spires. In a spartan room in Old Quad I couldn’t sleep before the interview, convinced I couldn’t possibly have read or learned enough to be a serious candidate. Then in a wood-panelled study high above the cobbles, two professors drew me into an almost conspiratorial discussion on Incan warfare psychology and sacred Ganges oil lamps – leaving me absolutely hungry for more.
Three years flies by. That’s the first thing any new Hertfordian should remember, and if possible they should have it printed at the bottom of their coffee cup. There is no other time in life when so much is so generously on offer, from the on-tap genius of tutors and lecturers to the plethora of societies, people, activities and ideas. You need to lean in, absorb everything, and grab opportunities with both hands. You never know where they’ll lead.
After Hertford I went on to do a master’s degree in the anthropology of development at SOAS (University of London) and then worked in international development with a focus on indigenous peoples. In South Asia the highlights of this were staying with indigenous families on the banks of India’s River Narmada and touring a travelling children’s cinema in Pakistani Kashmir after the 2005 earthquake. Then I worked for NGOs in East Africa, with dusty, happy stints of fieldwork living with nomadic pastoralist communities, before spending several years in the Nairobi-based UNICEF regional office. This was a whole new education, not just in fascinating and fragile contexts like Somalia and South Sudan, but in policy and bureaucracy too. Living in Africa was also an education, not least in what a rare privilege my life and particularly education has been. It is heartbreaking to befriend and encourage incredibly smart young people only to realise how much stands in the way of them getting the education they deserve. And a reminder to grab all the chances Hertford and Oxford offers, but also embrace the spirit of sharing them as broadly as possible.
I’m now based in Sydney, working for a fantastic foundation called Jawun that supports Aboriginal communities, including by sending skilled people to Aboriginal organisations that burst with ideas and dedication but lack professional or technical capacity. Those people are corporate or government employees who in turn get a re-education in Australia’s history, culture and identity. It’s a practical way of closing the gap in opportunity marking so many societies today. Just like Hertford’s access and outreach investments, which benefit all those involved and make a truly inclusive and authentic college even more so.
Dr. Cristopher Ballinas Valdés (DPhil in Politics) is Professor and Associate Researcher in Public Policy at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México, Mexico City. Since graduating, he has been committed to the development of disadvantaged people in his country, and working for the improvement of government institutions. Cris also represents Mexico in regional and international Kendo championships.
I still remember it clearly; I was one of many postgraduates arriving at Hertford and trying to find their way to the lodge while avoiding tourists and audacious bikers. I was in my late twenties then and had been working for the Mexican government as a mid-level bureaucrat for a couple of years.
I was delighted to be accepted at Hertford. It was renowned for its international, friendly and relaxed atmosphere, and for its long tradition in my discipline (Thomas Hobbes´ pathbreaking Leviathan was written there!). From the porters to the Principal, everyone was attentive and approachable.
Hertford provided me with an exceptional environment for living and for developing my academic, professional goals. I have now achieved more than I could have ever imagined – I’ve worked at the apex of the government pyramid as Senior Adviser to three deputy ministers in Mexico and possess extensive high-level experience in policy design and implementation. After graduating from Oxford, I was appointed as Deputy Director General for Planning and Social Development for the most vulnerable population at the Ministry for Welfare. After that I was appointed Associate Professor in Public Policy at Mexico City’s ITAM where I teach and research on executive government, autonomous agencies and public policy. It was here that I developed the largest investigation into autonomous agencies in Mexico, which has been published by Palgrave McMillan (2011) and translated into Spanish in 2017.
In addition to all this, I represent Mexico in Kendo. It goes without saying that being part of the Oxford Dark Blues provided me with a competitive foundation that enabled me to join Mexico´s first team and collect a decent amount of silverware. Most recently at the World Kendo Championships in Japan in 2015, I finished among the top eight, and won silver and gold medals at the Latin American Championships. This triumph can only be compared to beating Cambridge a few times (although not as much as I wanted) at the Varsity Games.
A final note: during my time at Hertford, I got the chance and privilege to work part-time in the Development Office. I had the opportunity to witness first-hand the importance of giving something back to college. Besides from being a public funded university, many of the bursaries, scholarships and grants are funded by donations from former Hertfordians. No matter how small, your donation makes a difference for someone who wants to pursue their dream at Oxford.
Lawson studied Japanese at Hertford College before pursuing a career in insurance. Now based in Tokyo, he uses the knowledge he acquired at university on a daily basis and anticipates that his career will be firmly rooted in the Japanese speaking world for some time.
Coming from a single-parent family in a somewhat rural part of London, I never expected I would end up going to university, let alone Oxford. In fact, for most of secondary school I dreamed of being a pro tennis player, that was until I somehow had the luck to be offered the opportunity to study Japanese, a path which would eventually lead me to five years studying Japanology at Hertford.
During my time at Hertford I grew a lot as a person - not only thanks to the friends I made but also my professors and other people throughout the college. I came to Hertford sounding like a teenager who was trying to imitate the accent of 'rude boy' and left being able to pronounce the 'th' sound properly whilst also being fluent in two dialects of Japanese.
It'll be two years this summer since I've graduated and since then I've entered the largest insurance company in Japan to work in the sales department. Though I presumed that a decent amount of my work would use English (though Japanese would be main), it turns out that all my accounts/clients are Japanese firms so my day-to-day work is done completely in Japanese (this is in fact the first time in ages that I've written English, not counting Facebook messages of course). It seems that I'll be working here in Tokyo for a couple more years before I get transferred to the US or somewhere in Europe as the Japanese representative for my company - though me being non-Japanese will probably confuse many of my future colleagues, so I'm looking forward to the banter that will ensue when that time comes.
Regarding my proudest achievements, I'd have to say one is when I got 97% in the Japanese Life Insurance Qualification exam. I came 12th out of 217 colleagues who took the exam that year, confusing many people as non-native people assumed I would get a near pass or fail (#proudtoprovethemwrong). Another is my ability to somehow always get a business card when I do door-to-door sales (not to individuals but to large companies), despite my boss and other colleagues getting consistently turned away - I believe it's all down to my charm though others suspect my non-Japanese surname draws clients' attention. I'll leave it up for you to decide which is more plausible, either way it gets the sale done.
Going back to my time at Hertford, it is strange to think that it was two years since I left and seven since I first matriculated! One of the things that I always thought was great about Hertford was its size. I made so many good friends there and I regularly get messages of Hertfordians telling me they are in Japan and that they want to meet up - and we do! One piece of advice I would pass on would is to make sure that you keep the future in mind whilst going through your time in Oxford. I was there for five years but it all went so quickly and all of a sudden you are an adult working a job have and much more responsibility. Find some friends, find some hobbies and have a vision for future - these three are essential to building a great future for yourself.
Lena read Oriental Studies at Hertford before going on to do further study in International Development. Following voluntary work in Vietnam she now works for UNICEF as a Social Policy Expert.
I grew up in Poland as a daughter of Vietnamese immigrants. We arrived in Warsaw on the eve of the collapse of the Iron Curtain. Fifteen years later, Poland joined the European Union, and suddenly applying for a university in the UK, and perhaps even Oxford, became a real possibility.
I attended a state school, where, though teachers were extremely supportive, there was at the time little by way of resources to help us write personal statements, navigate UCAS, or prepare for admissions interviews. Needless to say, I did not know how to choose a college, but from the first day I felt that the friendly and inclusive Hertford was home. Hertford didn’t have a tutor for Chinese Studies but I always had the support of Bjarke Frellesvig, and always felt there was a lot of attention devoted to each student academically and personally. I remember at one of the Orientalists’ drinks, perhaps towards the end of my second year, a tutor asked whether I still did creative writing - something we talked about during my admissions interview.
After Hertford, inspired by my dissertation research on inequalities faced by the children of rural-urban migrants in China, I went on to study International Development. From there, I took a delayed gap year in Vietnam, where I got involved in a project documenting how schools in disadvantaged districts managed funding from international organisations. This then led to a job with UNICEF, which continued for the next six years, taking me on different assignments to various countries, ranging from researching the implementation of children’s rights while based in the hills of Tuscany, to supporting external communications in Thailand and the Philippines, to overseeing a public financial management support programme for the social welfare ministry in Myanmar (Burma). Earlier this year I moved to Berlin with my husband and I’m now freelancing as an international development consultant. This gives me the flexibility to pursue my other interests (such as creative writing).
I always think of the four years spent at Hertford with great fondness and cherish the friendships I made there, with talented musicians - of which Hertford has so many - or writers, who also happened to excel in physics or archaeology. I’ve often been reminded what a privilege it is to have spent one’s formative years in a nurturing environment that has opened for me so many possibilities and has equipped me with the confidence and skills to make the most out of them.
Head Porter (and consummate storyteller) David Haxell reveals how he came to work at Hertford.
My dear old mother sent me out for a loaf of bread, a pint of milk and some ‘French fancies’ one late summer morning in the year of 1972; an aunt was descending upon the Haxell household that day and my mother was determined to make ‘a big splash’ on the catering front. I was 16 at the time and beyond the stage of having my hair rubbed, accompanied by comments such as “my, hasn’t he grown?”, and two vermillion lips sucking the very life out of my cheeks. Accordingly I decided to miss this event – although, the thought of receiving 50p (a king’s ransom in those days) pressed into my sweaty palm as I waved my aunt goodbye, was enticing. I craved the open road, blue skies and an ever changing horizon. Consequently, I ran away to sea.
It would be another 14 years before I returned and the dear old aunt had passed away, the French fancies had become Euro Delights (only available in lukewarm pink) and 50p wouldn’t get you anything more than a Vicar’s raised eyebrows as he viewed the collection plate.
What adventures I had in those 14 years: travelling the world at the mercy of the ocean’s tide, washing up on foreign shores, falling in love several times and, yes, hearing the mermaid’s cry in the cold light of dawn! But enough was enough, and a shore life was what then beckoned. So with a heavy heart and a light wallet I joined the Royal Air Force. Having to endure several severe haircuts and bellowing mouths an inch from my face seemed to be the only requirement to get on. In fact, it seemed that to be a military superpower all you have to do is shout louder than everyone around you. Shouting was something I was good at (and still am), and so promotion was a certainty; I rose through the ranks with all the skill of a rhino walking in a field of wild orchids.
25 years later and a few successful campaigns under my belt, I was catapulted out of the vortex of military life and into the uncertainties of civilian life. Where to go now? What to do? I found myself entering the hallowed portals of Hertford College in the capacity of that most revered of all positions, Head Porter (or, when I apply for a loan, ‘Lodge Manager’). I spend most of my time now on the mezzanine level of the Lodge, administrating and overseeing the myriad of tasks that befall a porter. Dealing with our fantastic students, and the tangled webs of student life, has taught me many things - most of which I couldn’t ever reveal on the grounds of personal safety.
Hertford is like a large wheel forever turning and it is great to see Freshers arrive, grow in stature, confidence and abilities until they eventually leave as well rounded, mature, intellectual individuals ready to take their places within the world. It’s enough to make me want to say “my, hasn’t s/he grown?” but I will always draw the line at vermillion lips!
Joy studied Biology at Hertford and is currently working towards a Masters in Science Communication at Imperial College. She took part in the Tour de Hertford bike ride for student support and volunteered with Oxford Nightline (an independent listening, support and information service run for and by students at Oxford and Brookes) for two years whilst completing her degree.
I was the first cohort to go to university after the fees tripled, and initially I ruled out higher education, mainly as I couldn’t comprehend the levels of debt I would be in. I remember floating around amongst ideas like becoming a tattoo artist, but at some point a particularly inspirational teacher changed my mind. I decided that if I was going to be in that level of debt I might as well get the best value for money, so I applied to Oxford. I chose Hertford arbitrarily; it felt friendly on the open day and had the nicest pens. I remember after getting my offer one of my teachers saying I’d “better pull my finger out and do some work” – I wasn’t top in my classes at the time by far, but I managed (with more hard work than I think I remember) to get my grades.
My mum was seriously ill and hospitalised two days before my A-levels, and when it came to leave home for the first time the nerves of this were coupled with the anxiety of leaving her. Times at university, life in general, can get tough, and having a supportive environment specifically regarding mental health is vital. I think the event that summarises to me personally how lucky I feel to have been at Hertford was my very first night in Oxford; I was sat next to my tutor at our welcome dinner and he turned to me and asked me how my mum was. I had no idea he even knew but it made me feel instantly more at ease and welcome, a feeling which never left me. It was also great to be sat next to him so I could copy him, as I had no idea which knives and forks to use. The welfare network available at Hertford and the University at large was available to me when I realised I really needed it. Mental health services are far from perfect, but among the awful experiences I have heard of (at Oxford and elsewhere) I felt supported and encouraged in asking for help.
I got my degree. I threw myself into extra-curricular activities. I made lifelong friends. I still have no idea what I want to do, and am currently studying a Masters in Science Communication at Imperial College - I waited for the new government post-grad loan scheme. Hertford has changed my life forever in so many ways, and I still find it amusing (and slightly terrifying) how much of where I am today has been down to chance (and nice pens).
Gautam completed a Masters in Biochemistry and now works as a senior policy manager in India for scientific research to inform poverty reduction.
The first night at Hertford I was daunted and tearful after my parents left. I joined the seven-century old Hertford College after studying at a government college in Warrington, which had then just celebrated three years of existence. The Sutton Trust had brought me to Oxford for a summer school the year earlier, which convinced me that hard work can overcome hardship. My first year at Herford was a rush of trying to keep up, fuelled by cornflakes, bottled pasta sauce (with anything), and not much sleep.
I was far from prepared for study at Oxford. In my first-year, I did not take the two-page weekly reading lists seriously; I thought the length was to impress us. My low scores in the first year told me I had been wrong. My first-year failure created my way of learning that developed from the second-year. I became the first to reach the library, and very fast at photocopying (articles were not online in 2000, but bound in weighty volumes). I thoroughly read, I underlined, made one-page notes, mind-maps, and advanced to scheduling weekly peer-group discussions. Making my own knowledge visible to others crystallised my internal understanding. In tutorials where I had earlier share glib textbook statements, I began to interact with the leading professors on how latest research informs new medical treatments in neuropharmacology, genetics and metabolism. My tutor was sharp, always to the point, and seemed to enjoy extending the famed one-hour Oxford tutorials to two-hours, one-to-one, of my mental agony. This gave me a way to learn that out-lasted the chemical stench of the organic chemistry laboratories.
Oxford gave me the foundations of scientific thinking, being systematic in applying concepts and sharp in analysing details. Today, I apply these same principles of precision and logic in my work at the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) in India. As a senior policy manager, I work closely with state governments across India to disseminate research findings of what has been found effective in reducing poverty, so that policy is informed by scientific evidence. In the same way that medicine has benefited from nearly two centuries of scientific trials, the development sector has two decades of randomised evaluations to measure impact and cost-effectiveness. Where there is commitment, we work with governments and implementation partners to scale-up evidence-based approaches. This includes a programme to build stable livelihoods for ultra-poor women-headed rural households in Rajasthan, Bihar and Jharkhand, and urban community sanitation solutions being tested with municipal governments in Odisha. It is great to see governments recognise the need for quality data, robust analysis and evidence to inform decisions.
Where the Biochemistry building deepened my mental ability to think scientifically, the multiple buildings of Oxford widened my mind. Sunday mornings were for four-hour periods of classic life-drawing at the Ruskin School of Art, as I imagine the Greeks would have enjoyed; other mornings I’d run along the Cherwell with sunrise, afternoons at the Oriental Institute for Hindi lessons, and nights in Hertford’s own dark-room developing black and white photographs. The rigour of studying as hard and long as possible was best relieved with friends, who are lifelong. The happiest location was OB Quad, for the banter, the laugh-out-loud jokes, the earnest debate: we’d talk of the university fees, the Iraq war, world economic injustice; not whether we were empowered or not, but whether we were willing to become so. Oxford gave me excelling minds, and Hertford gave me open hearts. At Hertford: live fully, study like never before, follow your passion, make friends for life, and don’t leave without being ready to know who you’ll become.
Anne is in the second year of her DPhil studying Clinical Neurosciences. Her research aims to improve imaging diagnostics for patients with brain tumours.
I chose Hertford because I had a gut feeling that the college was friendly and accessible; I was so relieved to find out it was such a good fit. Hertford has a lovely community of friendly, talented, and interesting graduate students. Even though we all study different topics, we support and spur each other on. Lots of colleges around Oxford are beautiful, but Hertford seems like it has a special warmth.
The wonderful part about Oxford is that I continue to meet fascinating people every day. When I conduct my research, I keep in mind the great diversity of what people can think, feel, fear and want. In understanding this diversity, I think it prepares us better for the variety of patients that may come in for treatment and surgery.
My hope for my DPhil research is to better understand the functional networks of the brain. I want to contribute to research that will improve cognitive diagnostics in patients, preventing damage and protecting cognitive function, not only for a longer and healthier life, but for a higher quality of life as well.
To the alumni who have given to the college, thank you. Thank you for helping to support the community here. Out of all the universities and countries where I have spent time studying and researching, I have to say that I am happiest here.
Chris Brooks (1962)
Chris, now retired, spent 20 years in manufacturing, mainly on the continent, and then many years as a Global Partner of a headhunting company. He and his wife have made provisions for Hertford in their wills.
I have no recollection of aspiring to be an astronaut or an engine driver. The die was cast when my father read in the Daily Express that the world was short of chemists. He bought a chemistry set for my 11th birthday and that was it: I was to become a scientist. When the time for applications came, I was entered for a scholarship rather than entrance examination, and encountered stiff competition. Undeterred, I posted 24 hand-written letters to Oxbridge colleges, listing my achievements. The following day I took a telephone call from Dr Neil Tanner.
What a break - a small, intimate college with an eclectic and welcoming undergraduate membership! Where else could one attend lectures by the leading scientists of the day, mingle with brilliant minds and participate in activities scarcely accessible to the outside world?
Today’s undergraduates should realise that they are indeed in a highly privileged position and that it is deserved and should be treasured. An Oxford education does many things: it defines career direction, helps the next generation to respect core values, touches the lives of many others, teaches how to combine ambition with gentility and, most importantly, encourages learning – for life.
I am still learning: studying Spanish to add to fluent French and German; I paint and I lead a geology group. My wife and I travel extensively and help with grandchildren. We always find Oxford stimulating, vibrant and uplifting. My time there was truly memorable and I am eternally grateful. That is why we have both made a pledge to the future of Hertford and its students.
A student in post-war Oxford, Norman came to Hertford as a Maths scholar, later switching to Engineering Science for his finals. He went on to a career in the RAF, rising to the role of Air Vice Marshal and President of the Ordnance Board.
I wouldn’t exactly say that I was drawn to Oxford, or Hertford, so much as that Hertford seemed drawn to me out of the blue.
It all began with a lucky birth-date – 30th September. This enabled me to sit the 11 plus a few months before my 11th birthday. I was actually not quite 11 when I started at a very good Liverpool grammar school in September 1941. In the spring of 1945 I achieved a good “School Certificate” including both Latin and Greek. To my horror, I was placed in the Classical section of the Lower Sixth Form. After much struggle, 2 weeks later I escaped to the Lower 6th Maths and Science section. Under the tutelage of a much respected maths teacher I prospered and, in 1947, reached a good Higher School Certificate. That won me a scholarship place in engineering at Liverpool University, but the same teacher, supported by the school headmaster, persuaded me to defer acceptance and try for Cambridge or Oxford instead.
From September 1947 I embarked on a very different mathematics syllabus, and that wasn’t quite long enough to bring me success in the Cambridge attempt in early December. So it was back to school work in January and two or three months on to try for an engineering scholarship at Corpus Christi, Oxford.
The gruelling five days of exam papers culminated in an interview on the Friday afternoon which dealt with many aspects of my life – but not at all with the academic subjects. There are many anecdotes about such interview but the item that stuck in my mind was when, towards the end, I was asked if I was “musical”, I blithely replied that, of course I was, because I had played the bugle in the Boys Brigade. This produced a burst of merry laughter and I left wondering whether that was a good thing or bad. The answer came in the form of a hand-written letter from the Principal of Hertford College (what was that?), a Mr J W L Murphy, asking if I would be able to accept a Baring Scholarship to read maths at the college.
Needless to say, knowing that the £100 scholarship would be enhanced by a Supplemental State Scholarship to cover all the fees (what beneficent days those were), and assured by my maths teacher that Hertford was a good college, and that I could defer National Service until after graduation, I gratefully accepted.
It was only after I arrived in Oxford for Michaelmas Term 1948 that I found that the Principal’s name was Dr N R Murphy (perhaps he had been a GP writing prescriptions in a former life!) And then there was my Ration Book which caused the Bursar, Dr W L Ferrar, some anxiety, being blue rather than the standard buff colour. Reassured that it would be exchanged for the grown up version in a few weeks’ time when I had reached the age of 18, he asked what benefits accrued. This culminated a week or two later in being singled out for a special dessert at dinner; a solitary banana was borne in on a silver charger.
One feature of my first year now reading for a maths and science course was that the major part of that year’s entry seemed to be either returning from War Service or at least having completed the two years National Service. As it was the first time I had ever (the exam weeks apart) been that far into the deep south of England it was all rather strange, but thankfully very welcoming, and I soon felt totally at home.
After a First in Honour Mods I paused, mentally, to think what to do in years 2 and 3. I could not see myself as a teacher, despite my admiration and respect for my mentor at school, but what else can one do with a maths degree (still the better side of my leanings than the science). Computers? What were they? So I applied for Engineering Science and was duly enrolled on that course. That continued the rather quirky situation that none of my tutorials in three years in Oxford was held by a Hertford based tutor. Dear Dr Ferrar was much absorbed in post-grad studies, writing his excellent maths text books and his bursar-ship.
So Hertford, per se, had only an indirect influence on my academic career; what served me best was the warm ambience and diversity of fellow college members which was even more evident in Years 2 and 3 with an influx of newcomers from Lancashire and Yorkshire including on from my own Liverpool Grammar School. Even more marked was that so many of them played football! This led to a great 1950-51 season when we were promoted to the First Division AND won the intercollegiate cuppers. My, how we celebrated that!
So how did those 3 years contribute to the rest of my life? They enabled me to grow up in a mature culture that encouraged a flexible approach to the problems and situations when a change of direction was needed. I learned that whatever the context there is always someone nearby who knows more than yourself about problem-solving. That approach was to serve me well in my later RAF career, where over the course of some 35 years I migrated from would-be Civil Engineer to Aeronautical Engineer, and thence to Missile Systems Engineer, and finally to Ordnance Engineer. A career that brought me to Air Vice Marshal and President of the Ordnance Board.
Nothing much changed after I retired from the RAF in 1986. I then took a job as the Director of the Telecommunications Engineering and Manufacturing Association. The industry was burgeoning through the national liberalisation programme at the time and it involved a whole new learning experience: again the Oxford mind-set helped me enormously, especially when I became Secretary General of a European confederation of similar national associations who were embarking on their own version of liberalisation in the face of determined interference by busy-body EU Commission staff (plus ça change). That activity lasted for some 9 to 10 years until I finally retired for good, to enjoy my life of bridge, crosswords, and following Liverpool FC.
I will always be grateful for my Hertford experience, I will continue as a donor as long as I can, and look forward to further alumni events at college.
Abigail is a first-year English student who is enjoying the range of opportunities Oxford and Hertford have to offer.
Oxbridge, for me, always seemed like an unattainable prospect. I thought I’d be lucky to get into any university for a course as competitive as English, let alone Oxford. Particularly coming from a state school background, with health issues, far-from-perfect grades, and parents who hadn’t been to university either.
But after visiting Hertford on an open day, I quickly changed my mind. Hertford, in appearance, is almost as traditionally ‘Oxford’ as you can get. It was immediately attractive to me, but still held those connotations of Oxford that are conditioned into anyone from a school with few Oxbridge applicants: exclusive, backward, boring, old-fashioned. But I researched, and found the opposite. Hertford has one of the highest state-school intakes, English tutors who specialise in modern periods, emphasis on increasing accessibility and a reputation of inclusivity.
I decided to give it a shot, not expecting an offer for an interview (let alone a place), and surprised myself (and probably quite a few others) by getting in. Thankfully, from the second I arrived at Hertford, I was proved wrong in my worrying. The workload is intense, but tutors are understanding, and ask for your best effort, not perfection; there are countless opportunities to take up new interests; students care as much about what kind of school you went to as they do about a Monday 9am lecture. Personally, the spectrum of writing opportunities at Oxford have been unparalleled, and I have been encouraged to take them up.
Oxford might seem daunting, and maybe it’s not for everyone – but I didn’t think it was for me and yet I have had the most amazing experiences in just the first year I’ve been here. Hertford is a college that will push you and support you in equal measure, encouraging you to develop from, perhaps, lacking the self-assurance to even confidently apply to Oxford University, to feeling at home here.
Steve read Geography here at Hertford, and has gone on to a career of campaigning for diversity and inclusivity as core values for big corporations - and, not least, the 2012 London Olympics.
I am still a young 39 year old (the big 4-0 is months away). And I am fortunate to love what I do: the short version is I embed human rights in corporate decision making to actually improve decisions. We try to de-bias systems and processes by challenging how groups think, tackling blindspots and implementing nudges. The long answer can be found at www.frostincluded.com. We call it diversity and inclusion or inclusive leadership, and it has never been more important - what was once a niche interest is now front-page news.
One of my career highlights to date was a scary moment but also one of my proudest. I was invited to train the fifty captains of the fifty ships in the Royal Navy on diversity and inclusion. The ban on LGBT personnel serving had been overturned in 2000, but the culture lagged behind the law. As I faced fifty intimidating souls in HMS Ark Royal's mess room, all cross-armed and staring intently, I was aware I had been given 20 minutes. In fact, the session lasted almost three hours and some of those captains are clients, colleagues and friends to this day.
People to this day slightly mock me for my choice of geography as a subject (isn’t it all colouring in and capital cities etc?) but in fact I loved it as a discipline - to learn more about the world and develop ways of thinking about it and trying to comprehend it. It’s stood me in good stead, not least with the current changes a la Brexit and Trump and its direct relevance to my professional work today. I still use key concepts such as “time, space, scale” and have fond memories of my tutors, fellow students and of course the Hertford Gilbert society.
And consequently, my love of travel is definitely correlated with my love of geography. At Hertford I undertook my dissertation with three fellow students in Tanzania. We were analysing the gender impact of World Bank economic policy on coffee farmers. Since then, my work has taken me to all continents and manner of places including diversity and inclusion in Saudi Arabia!
I am inspired by making a difference. Of course that’s easy to say but I mean it. Hertford gave me a wonderful foundation of intellectual rigour and kind community. Now, I actively seek out smart people who care. I’ve employed a gang of such folk in my company and I actively seek clients and colleagues of such ilk. We have so much work to do.
It’s important to be yourself, surround yourself with people who will let you be you and work hard doing something you love. Hertford’s a great place to start that journey.
Zoë had two ambitions for 2016: to complete her PhD and make her Olympic debut. She achieved both, passing her PhD in March and winning silver with the women’s eight at the Rio Games.
At 16, I was looking forward to sixth-form college, where I was going to study options to set me up for a career in sports physiotherapy. But during my first year at sixth form college, I decided I was more interested in playing sport than learning about it, and I was finding geography and geology to be much more engaging academic subjects. This led to a series of decisions that ultimately changed my life. I got some really good results on my AS levels, so the sixth-form college principal suggested I consider applying to Oxford or Cambridge. I visited Hertford, which coincidentally was holding its open day, and was ushered in to meet the geography tutors despite not being enrolled for a visit. Straight away, I knew this was the college I wanted to apply to. Without studying at Hertford, I wouldn’t have started rowing, and without that I wouldn’t have become an Olympic silver medallist.
I was determined to get a Blue in netball. But after watching my friends race in Summer 8s, I realised I wanted to row, too. My desire to be in the top boat by Summer 8s saw me balancing work with university netball, college rowing and the university development squad rowing in my second year. For me, rowing was a really different type of team sport. Whereas in netball we all played specific positions, which require different skills and attributes, in rowing the most important component is the synchronicity of movement and effort.
In my third year at Hertford, I found myself on a field trip to Tunisia for my BA Geography course. I had never studied deserts before, so I found it a fascinatingly different environment. I vividly remember standing on the top of a sand dune and looking around and all you could see was sand - and I wanted to learn more! That experience that without doubt made me determined to pursue a PhD looking at one of the fundamentals of desert science, the movement of sand grains by the wind.
At the start of the GB trialling process, I was a student first and foremost and an athlete on the side. This changed significantly when I was invited to train with the senior team. I needed to be available all day, every day to train with the squad. My research had to be crammed into rare days off, evenings and between training sessions. Although this kept me incredibly busy, and stressed at times, the two complemented each other well. It was never possible to fixate too much on one or the other, which I think was healthy for my mind! During the 2015-2016 season, the balance between the two was incredibly hard, as I had a very firm deadline for handing in my PhD and the testing and trials came thick and fast for the Olympic team. But thankfully, I was ultimately successful in achieving both my personal goals for 2016, and it was quite the poetic ending when I found out that I had passed my PhD on the same day that I helped qualify the British Women's eight for the Olympic final.
Some of my fondest memories were forged during my years at Hertford; I met some amazing people and made some fabulous friends. What I think makes Hertford special is that the sense of community is absolutely college wide and, for me, this is unique. When I decided to apply to Hertford, I knew that the interview process would be tough and that hundreds of equally able students would be applying for a place. But instead of letting this unnerve me, I tried to show the interviewers my personality and demonstrate that even if I didn’t have all the answers I was intrigued and wanted to learn. My advice to future students would be: believe in yourself and enjoy the ride – you never know where life might take you and it is much more fun if you’re enjoying every moment.
Although recently graduated and now studying in Marseille, Tim is still infamous around college for his sharp wit, brutal honesty and ongoing commitment to Hertford.
My mum and stepdad (and, in fact, dad and stepmum) have always supported my academic efforts. My mum had to leave school at 16 to get a job and so wanted me to be able to have the chances she never had. We didn’t have much money, but my mum took up two more jobs and thanks to her untiring efforts and a generous academic bursary, I managed to get good grades at the local private school and, in the end, an offer from Hertford to study maths.
I had never imagined that I would want to go to Oxford – I felt uncomfortable enough about having gone to a private school – but after visiting Hertford for an open day, I realised that the students were nothing like the stereotypes that I had feared. I was given a tour by a student who had only had time to shave the left-hand side of his beard (lest he be too late to meet us) and I honestly fell in love with the people and the place almost instantly.
I had always struggled with choosing between studying maths and studying music at university. At the end of the day, my love of music was outweighed by my relative lack of skill, so I chose maths. However, at Hertford, in my first year, I joined a small ensemble that played ‘jazz’ at Hertford events. When most of the ensemble left at the end of the year, I was approached by Hertford College Music Society and asked to form a university-wide jazz band under their banner. Even though I was probably the least adept of all of them, the society really made me feel like I had something to contribute, and I ended up getting some informal conducting lessons from the other ensemble leaders (and making some brilliant friends in the process). During my time at Hertford, thanks to these great chances, I lived some incredibly memorable stories, and music at Hertford is truly an amazing pool of opportunity.
After graduating [Tim got a First, but is too modest to say…], I decided I wanted to pursue maths and undertake a PhD – and I’ve moved to the south of France to do so. It’s been an interesting change from growing up in a small town in Devon. Unfortunately, learning French at school does not prepare you for asking for a haircut, or trying to explain to the local authorities that the UK on your driving licence really does stand for ‘United Kingdom’, not Ukraine. Luckily though, studying maths at Oxford really did give me an additional useful life skill: being able to sit through an hour long seminar understanding very little, but feeling OK about it.
Having recently completed his third year, Paavan is one of the first Hertford students to study the new course Computer Science & Philosophy. He combines his studies with pursuing a unique hobby: magic.
I never really thought about where I'd go to university but upon reaching sixth form lots of people told me I should take a look at Oxford. I really enjoyed philosophy at school and when I looked at the courses available I first latched onto studying it with physics. But I soon realised physics wasn't for me, at the same time as finding out about the new course on offer - Computer Science and Philosophy. It was a perfect match; I'd always loved technology and computers, and had recently grown to love philosophy, so having the chance to do both was ideal. And, after attending the taster day and hearing Professor Millican (I now just call him Peter) lecture about Alan Turing and artificial intelligence, I knew I wouldn't apply anywhere other than Hertford.
Studying at Oxford was incredibly humbling. I had the opportunity to learn one-on-one from huge experts in areas I was interested in. It was, at times, daunting: bringing an essay or problem sheet of what I'd managed to chip away at that week - a small token in the face of these geniuses who'd spent their lifetimes studying it. But it was so incredibly rewarding. To any future applicants reading this: don't be put off, but instead rise to the challenge! It's an incredibly unique and satisfying opportunity.
One of my passions, which I had the opportunity to develop while studying at Oxford, is performing magic. Being a magician is an odd hobby and always gets some surprised looks but I love the chance it creates to connect with anyone from any background, near-instantly: by showing them something impossible. Since I was 13 I loved doing magic and during my first-term at Oxford I was hired to work at a charity ball, and since then it's gone up and up. I've been lucky enough to perform for 20+ colleges, at Blenheim Palace twice, and on the Oxford and Cambridge inter-university skiing trip. My highlight has to be when I put on my own solo show ('A Theory of Magic') at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Doing an hour slot of just me entertaining a crowd was nerve-wracking but it went really well, and I was fortunate to be supported by the Oxford improv troupe, The Oxford Imps, whose flat I was crashing at. I'm looking forward to continuing performing magic for a very long time (and, if you'd like me to perform at your event, please do get in touch!)
Hertford will always be like a home to me. I'll always cherish my memories, and I’m hugely grateful to those who donate to give so many people the chance to fulfil their potential and study in such a beautiful place.
Catherine is the Access and Outreach Fellow at Hertford, and is a specialist in eighteenth and nineteenth-century English literature. She spends half her time on academic research and the other half working with potential applicants.
I came to Oxford as an undergraduate in 2003, having benefitted greatly from the University’s outreach work. The previous year, while taking my A-levels at my local sixth-form college, I had spent a week in Oxford on the University’s access summer school programme – an early precursor of the current UNIQ scheme. Despite my worries about fitting in (I was a rather nervous little Goth at the time!), I was able to see that there were people from my social background at Oxford and that this is a great place to study whoever you are. Neither of my parents had been to university, and we certainly didn’t know anyone who’d been to Oxford, but I soon felt at home and could imagine myself as a student here.
After taking my BA in English literature at Oxford, I went to Bristol for my MA and PhD before returning to Oxford as a lecturer in Romantic and Victorian literature. While the black hair and facial piercings are now in my distant past (although I’m still quite partial to The Cure), I retain a strong interest in access work and in 2015 was appointed as Hertford’s second Access and Outreach Fellow. I see my Access and Outreach work as a way of ‘paying it forward’ – helping out the next generation of potential Oxford applicants from less-privileged backgrounds, just as fourteen years ago people gave up their time to help me. My research, which is on early nineteenth-century apocalyptic literature, feeds into my outreach work, and I enjoy offering academic taster sessions on Mary Shelley and Lord Byron to the school groups that visit us.
I’m proud to work at Hertford. We don’t just pay lip service to access work – we’re really committed to taking the best and brightest students, whatever their background. It’s always great to be able to tell potential applicants about our generous bursary scheme, which makes a real difference for students from lower-income backgrounds. I particularly enjoy hosting school visits into Hertford; such visits allow school students to forget about the myths and stereotypes and to see what it’s really like to study here. I remember being completely taken aback by how much amazing stuff was going on in Oxford on my first visit here: all the lectures, plays, concerts, societies. It seemed like another world. It makes me happy when I see the participants on our Taster Days and Summer School reacting in the same way; it’s that moment when it all clicks and they think ‘Oxford’s for people like me, and it’s the place I want to be’.
Emily originally thought of reading Fine Art at Oxford, but soon changed her mind and came to Hertford to study Biological Sciences. Following a PhD in Cambridge, she has embarked on an academic career as a Palaeontologist, and now works around the world in this field. She is also dedicated to promoting diversity in the scientific community.
I originally encountered Oxford when I decided I wanted to be an artist and study at the Ruskin School of Art. Over the next year or so my interest in studying art at higher level waned, but my curiosity with Oxford did not. My interest was further peaked by a lower-sixth visit with a school physics teacher and three of my peers to the Oxford Science open day. I settled on applying to study Biological Sciences, and duly did my research, eagerly awaiting the arrival of official and unofficial college prospectuses in the post. I didn’t need to be so diligent. The Hertford prospectus stated that the college were interested in female applicants from northern state schools who would like to study science. At that point my mind was made up. I can still recall the moment I opened what would be the offer letter from Hertford, and the floods of tears that followed. I could sense that this was going to be a big deal.
We were told back in the early 90s that biotechnology was the next big thing for biosciences, and at the time I supposed that my degree in Biological Sciences would in some way set me up for a career in this area. Lectures, courses, and practical sessions on vertebrate evolution and anatomy, however, fostered my latent interest in whole organism biology and the biology of extinct animals – palaeontology. Post-graduation and after a brief stint as a mildly incompetent and frequently hungover research technician, I began a PhD in palaeontology at the University of Cambridge.
Palaeontology is not the dry and dusty subject it was once perceived to be. My research career has focused on bringing new technologies to the palaeontological sciences; the use of X-ray technologies to image the internal anatomy of fossils and using engineering analysis to reconstruct extinct animal function and evolutionary history. After completing my PhD and flipping between postdoctoral positions and fellowships in Oxford, Cambridge and the Natural History Museum London, I arrived at the University of Bristol in late 2005. I was awarded my professorship in 2014 and managed to slip out a couple of children along the way.
Hertford opened my eyes to the possibilities offered by academic study. The sheer fact that academia was a potential career path was previously beyond comprehension. In a full turn of circle from these early days, an artistic image derived from my research will soon grace the front cover of the new edition of the vertebrate biology core textbook we poured over in our lectures. New technologies allow us to revisit old ideas, and one of my current research projects tests theories on the origin of mammals proposed and championed by our former lecturer. Such things do require an occasional pause for thought. Would my former 19-year- old self ever believed I’d be in such a position 20 odd years later?
My work takes me around the world, to exotic locations, exciting fossils and interesting people. It’s now my job now to engage future generations of earth scientists and palaeontologists in my role as lecturer, supervisor and mentor. I also serve on the councils and executive committees of learned societies and help steer their diversity agenda. The percentage of ethnic minorities, individuals from lower socioeconomic groups and those who identify as disabled reaching the upper echelons of academia in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects has yet to reach double figures. The percentage of female Earth Sciences professors has only recently reached the double-digit mark; the situation is worse in other physical sciences. All figures except gender diversity have remained depressingly static over the last ten years. There is clearly much more that needs to be done to encourage and foster diversity within the sciences. It’s a privilege and a challenge to be in a position to strive for change and fight for others to have the opportunities I was offered at the start of my university career.
Richard read Economics & Management at Hertford and now advises disruptive technology companies. He is an independent member of the college’s endowment investment committee and has been supporting Hertford for a number of years.
Hertford has been transformational for me. I learnt so much from Roger van Noorden and Dr Steve New, who were my tutors for Economics and Management respectively. Much of what I do now can be traced back to them.
I run my own company, which advises disruptive technology companies on strategy, fundraising and M&A. We work with founders and CEOs of medium sized businesses helping them to position their story with investors and take their companies to the next level, as well as sometimes working for the investors looking to deploy funds. Our clients are based in the ‘golden triangle’ of Oxford, Cambridge and London.
Thanks to the quality of the teaching at Hertford, I was lucky enough to get a good degree [Richard got a top first] and that also opened the door to me to start lecturing at London Business School on Advanced Corporate Finance programmes, which I’ve been doing for the last decade.
So much of who I am today results from my Hertford experience: my friends, my client work, my investment committee role, my LBS teaching. I look back at my days as a student with fond memories. I built so many friendships, and benefited so much from college activities including music and sport. I still feel very involved in college life, and am excited by all the initiatives and energy emanating from Will Hutton and the wider team.
Hertford to me is like a big family and I would encourage people to give back in whatever way they can to help future generations of students receive the same step-up in life that I, and so many of my generation, have received.
The Reverend Mia Smith (College Chaplain)
Mia joined Hertford as college chaplain in September 2016. She is responsible for the life of the chapel and has a role in pastoral care as part of the college's welfare team.
I joined the Church of England as an undergraduate. I went along to a service with my housemates: Evensong from the Book of Common Prayer, and it was quite dull but for some reason I kept going back. It was a great place to meet people, with generous hospitality - lots of suppers. If someone had told me I would end up as a priest, I would have laughed – with good reason, as the legislation to admit women into the priesthood was still a couple of years off. Now I am chaplain at Hertford, which is an amazing job. My aim is to do all I can to ensure that everyone in our college community (students, staff, and fellows) has the opportunity to thrive as human beings. I thought Oxford colleges would be stuffy and intimidating but Hertford has been a very warm and caring community from the start. At my interview, I was particularly struck by the sight of Kenny, our SCR Butler, taking Simpkin IV for a walk on a lead to get him some fresh air during his final days. Having been brought up in the Salvation Army, I have a great admiration for Catherine and William Booth, its founders. Catherine was an amazing social reformer and preacher, and together they refused to accept that women were somehow less called by God than men to preach. I think Catherine would have chosen Hertford had she had the opportunity – our history of social inclusion and gender equality would have matched her own values.
If you were to ask me what my perfect day in Hertford would be like: it would start with prayer. Every day I say the Daily Offices on behalf of the college community, praying for our needs, for the sick, stressed, bereaved, for our working relationships and families we all represent. I then grab a coffee from the SCR – it’s good stuff. I love wandering around college chatting to people, you can learn so much from one another. Confessions of a priest: I also like to stand on the Bridge of Sighs and photobomb. My perfect day would end with Choral Evensong, which our wonderful choir sing at 5:45pm on Sundays. Sitting back in the beautiful surroundings of our chapel and letting their music wash over you injects some serenity into a busy week. We have some great guest speakers, and if I could invite anyone to preach, it would be the Holocaust survivor Eva Moses Kor. Her message of forgiveness is humbling and inspiring. I cried when I watched the news footage of her embracing Oskar Groning during his trial. And, of course, the finale would be formal hall. Our catering staff is amazing, and to call eating their delicious creations “work” is such a blessing.
Sam visited Hertford in 2012 as part of the college's Access and Outreach programme. He is now in the second year of his BA studying Jurisprudence.
There was always a vague idea in my head that I’d go to university and study something, but I somehow managed to strategically procrastinate thinking about my future. Oxford wasn’t something that even crossed my mind until I visited and was told I should think about applying. It seemed some faraway ethereal concept full of super-genius prodigies who certainly didn’t leave planning a very important part of their future for the last minute. It didn’t seem like a possibility when we had school trips to Hertford, or when I put it on my UCAS application, or when I went there for interviews, or when I was offered a place, or when I got my grades and confirmed my place, or even when I arrived with all my bags for my first term.
One of the main reasons behind that is just the reputation of the place. Even when my pre-conceived notions were dispelled, it was hard to shake my view of Oxford and Hertford as this place where lots of famous people went and where students probably wore bowties everywhere and drank champagne from golden goblets. I thought it would be more expensive than other universities (it isn’t), I thought everyone would be uptight, posh and unfriendly and I’d be the lone common scoundrel (they’re not and I’m not), and I thought the work would be absolutely brutal and I’d never have any free time again (it’s only a little brutal). My biggest worry was that everyone would be these perfect essay-producing cyborgs who never stress or leave work to the last minute and that I’d be the only one that did. Perhaps unfortunately, we’re all pretty normal as far as things go. Besides, there’s nothing like a 3am library bonding session on occasion.
Brittany studied for an MSc in Nature, Society and Environmental Policy and now works as a Policy Specialist for Facebook in California.
Hertford worked out wonderfully for me, I loved my experience and some of the people I met within the college are still my best friends today. It was very beautiful and academically challenging; the people were incredible. One of my favourite memories was eating ice cream in the MCR common room with my friend Will (whom I met at Hertford and still eat ice cream with now).
My 16-year-old self would probably be pretty stoked if they could see me now but also surprised I'm not yet married with children (I wasn't very progressive at 16). Oxford definitely helped me get where I am and helps with my work now, which involves managing product policies at Facebook. I don't quote Foucault much in my day-to-day, but the analytical thinking and practice I learned whilst studying definitely guides me in my work.
My perfect day in Oxford would be punting and tea plus a vegan beetroot brownie from Alpha Bar. I'd also walk on the grass because I enjoy small sips of rebellion!
If I could share any advice with applicants or current students, I would say, honestly, don't stress too much about the academics. If you're going to Oxford this is probably not going to be advice you're likely to take, but my biggest regret was that I worried too much about my readings and classes and not enough about enjoying Oxford and having fun.
Katie read Medieval & Modern Languages at Hertford, but felt her true calling in life was as a musician. Now based in Hong Kong, she combines a life of music-making in Asia with working with the Chinese Miss Universe training team, and as an etiquette tutor.
My father gave me the middle name ‘Emma’ after his Cambridge college, Emmanuel; when I wrote to the college asking if my five Scottish Highers would be accepted there, I received a disheartening response. As the dream of following in my father’s footsteps faded away, Hertford opened the door to my own unique university experience at Oxford, the ‘other one’. I appreciated Hertford’s welcoming attitude to diversity, which was also palpable on day one as a fresher. There is no ‘typical’ Oxford student at Hertford; just real people from all walks of life.
My passion for studying languages didn’t equip me with a clear sense of vocation. My career path became clearer when I was offered the opportunity to sing and play my harp in Washington DC, an invitation I initially decline as I was also preparing for my finals. However, my parents advised me to call back, and the rest is history.
My next break came after graduating, when I was spotted singing and playing at Stirling Castle and was invited to perform in Nanning, China, by an embassy official. I subsequently learned Mandarin, made easy by my Hertford training, and I am now based in Hong Kong. It turns out that there aren’t so many harpists from Scotland singing in Chinese across Asia, and so I found my professional niche, providing a cultural link for ‘East meets West’. I have performed at many governmental, diplomatic and British royal events and given solo concerts to thousands of people in China.
One performance I will always treasure will be the Centenary Celebrations of Hertford Bridge. The college invited me to give a concert before the black tie dinner celebrations. It was a huge privilege to let the echoes of my voice and harp fill the wooden walled room in OB quad, blending memories of a student Oxford with my professional life. The following day’s performance in the marquee ended up with dancing alongside Will Hutton, Hertford tutors, staff, supporters and friends - surreal and wonderful all at the same time.
Recently I added another string to my bow, certainly boosted by my credentials of an Oxford education. Four years ago, I was approached by a television director after a music performance in Shanghai. She asked me to coach the Miss Universe China candidates in performance skills on the show. Gradually a new career emerged for me and now I am also a fully-fledged British etiquette tutor in China.
John remembers what Hertford was like in the 30s and has seen how the college has evolved over the decades.
I’m told I’m the oldest donor to Hertford and have been giving annually since 1990; I was just 97 on August 3rd this year. I went up to Hertford in 1938 from Wellington School in Somerset and in those days Hertford had no tutor for Modern Languages so my French Tutor was at Merton and my German tutor, Reginald Maxse, was at Brasenose. In his youth Reginald had been a concert pianist to the Tsars in St. Petersburg. Such was the range of European culture in Oxford. And, I well remember a concert by Sergei Rachmaninov in the Sheldonian in 1938.
So why give? Hertford has been and is one of the path-breaking colleges at Oxford, among the first men’s colleges to admit women, and now extending the reach of admissions for bright secondary school students. That’s why money for scholarships and bursaries and other forms of student support is so necessary. That’s where my money goes. And I hope it can become an encouragement to other to do likewise.
Not only is Alison an alumna, but she is Professor of Public Law and a tutorial fellow here at Hertford.
I came to Hertford in 1993 as a graduate studying for the BCL. Confused by college choices I made an open application. Clearly the computer out-performed the Hogwart’s sorting hat by allocating me to Hertford! I stayed on for my DPhil, which offered opportunities to teach law, followed by a three-year college position teaching law at Balliol College. I returned to Hertford in September 2000 as a Tutorial Fellow in Law, being made a Professor of Public law in 2016.
In the 1980s you did not get many kids from council estates thinking about going to University, let alone working at one! I just knew that I wanted, if possible, to have more opportunities than appeared to be on offer. None of my parents had gone to University, but my older cousins had. I did not see why people from my background should not also have the same opportunities if they worked hard enough. For me, that meant leaving school to pursue A levels at a Further Education college, hoping it would lead to the chance to apply for University.
When I arrived at Oxford, I did so suspecting that it was not really the place for me. I expected to be looked down upon because I’d not done my undergraduate degree here and because I was ‘from the North’ and (probably defiantly) working class. When I arrived I realised that I was definitely not the only working class Northerner here! I was part of an incredibly mixed community, encompassing a range of national, ethical, racial, social and class backgrounds. The only one who seemed to think it might be a problem to be a working class Northerner was me! Now Hertford feels like home. I’ve been able not only to make friends, but also to enjoy the privilege of seeing studying here transform so many people from a wide range of backgrounds.
I also know how lucky and privileged I have been. I’m old enough to remember when you did not have to pay fees and when maintenance grants existed. I would not have been able to come here without funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Sadly, this option is no longer open for the BCL and research grants for those wanting to pursue a DPhil are becoming more and more scarce. I don’t think I’d have taken the risk to study beyond my undergraduate degree if I’d already had to rely on bursaries and student loans. I’m not even sure I would have considered a degree in the first place. I’d not have wanted my parents to feel they had to support me when I knew money was already scarce. If Hertford is to continue to ensure anyone with the ability can come to Oxford, we need to raise as much as we can for graduate and undergraduate bursaries.
Athol studied for an MPhil in Political Theory, focusing on the responsibilities that economic institutions have to promote social justice, especially in societies with the enduring effects of historical injustices. He now dedicates his life to fighting social and economic injustice, and has founded Read to Rise, a charity providing educational opportunities for children.
For the first 24 years of my life I lived in poverty under Apartheid in South Africa, a system of complete race-based oppression, enforced violently and supported by its beneficiaries. But I found freedom in books. I read whatever I could find, with encyclopaedias and dictionaries my favourite because of the range of topics they covered. And I dreamed that I would study at the best universities in the world, a wild fantasy considering that I was receiving an education designed for manual labourers and that my high school was shut for months at a time owing to political unrest.
I acted upon this dream and persevered relentlessly. When I got accepted to study at MIT in the US, I begged for money just to get a flight to the US. Knowing no-one, and without money, I lived homeless in Boston until I managed to convince the university to create a scholarship for me. In addition to MIT, I went on to earn masters degrees from Harvard, LSE, London Business School and Oxford. In my autobiography, Pushing Boulders: Oppressed to Inspired I describe how, knowing of my dream to study at Oxford, my younger brother bought me a university jacket. I vowed that I would only wear the jacket once I was an Oxford student, and I held onto that jacket for 17 years before I could finally wear it in 2015. In every possible way, coming to Oxford and Hertford has been a life-long dream come true.
After a successful international business career, I retired from business at 40 to dedicate my remaining years to social justice and economic development in South Africa. Just as books and education had set me free I set out to offer disadvantaged children a similar opportunity. I founded Read to Rise which distributes new books to children and delivers a programme that seeks to inspire them to read. I believe that inspiration is a vital element of education because an inspired person can rise above their obstacles. I know this first-hand. To date we have worked with over 50,000 children.
While at Hertford my political theory studies have focused on the role that corporations ought to play in promoting social justice. This pursuit will form an important component of my teaching, advisory work and writing. I have published 8 books and use my writing to further my work towards an inspired, more harmonious world. During my time at Hertford I was awarded 4 poetry prizes, 3 in South Africa and 1 at Oxford.
Having done his undergraduate degree in History at Hertford, James went on to do a Masters in Politics before entering the classroom again as an English teacher in West London.
If my sixteen year old self were to see me now, he probably wouldn't recognise me - a lot of that has to do with my time at Hertford. The experience at Hertford gave me a confidence in my academic ability and more importantly my character that I had never felt before university. As the only student in my year to go to Oxford from a state school in greater Manchester, I had been apprehensive. But my fears about fitting in were misguided. To anyone who is considering applying but harbouring those same apprehensions, I would urge them to trust their own abilities and embrace the opportunity. You will have unique qualities to share at Hertford and a lot to learn from other people.
As JCR president I was particularly proud of the efforts that we put into access work. We set up a student ambassador scheme with money that I raised from alumni, commissioned an alternative prospectus from the Guardian, pushed for a new college bursary scheme, and campaigned doggedly against the hike in tuition fees. These interests are sustained in my current work with the Parliamentary Education Service on curriculum reforms, which I am leading alongside an ESRC-funded PhD in Parliamentary Politics. My experiences at Hertford have and will continue to shape what I do.
Since 2014, Lisa has been our Admissions Officer and helping out with outreach work & school visits. She also is now 'master cookie baker', making the Admissions Office all the more appealing to visit...
I’ve always been driven by a love of music. I studied for a degree in Music at Canterbury, focusing on performance and composition in the hope I would become either a composer of film music or a session musician. I play the guitar (not so well nowadays) and unfortunately, the lure of a regular pay packet was far too strong and I began an administrative career at Trinity College of Music. Being in a musical environment was always very important to me; it felt like home, and I loved the sound of musicians practicing, which constantly flooded the quod. I worked my way up from filing clerk to Admissions Manager, leaving in 2004 to move to Oxford.
On arrival in Oxford, I landed the role of Senior Tutor in Arts at Oxford Brookes University, where I stayed for ten years. I loved working with the students, watching them from their first visit as nervous applicants right the way to attending graduation ceremonies, seeing them leave with new found confidence, independence and a degree under their arm.
I started working as Admissions Officer at Hertford in 2014. I was attracted to Hertford because I was aware of its reputation as a progressive, open access college. I have found Hertford to be one of the friendliest colleges in Oxford and the wonderful student body never cease to amaze me with their enthusiasm for getting involved in access work. Although the busiest period, my favourite time of year is the admissions round, when hundreds of nervous candidates descend on us for interviews. The teams of student helpers and co-coordinators give so much back to the college during those busy weeks. I am always in awe of them.
On top of my work at Hertford, I also run a small business making cookies and tray bakes. My lovely colleagues have been very supportive of me, and have often tasted new recipes as part of my ‘market research’ (they are so selfless!). I have several events coming up this year, including Countryfile Live at Blenheim. You can see more on my website: www.tessbrilliantbiscuits.com
Brooke’s DPhil examines the links between environmental change and the development of complex life on Earth. Her research into an important episode of environmental change during the Early Jurassic has implication for modern climate change.
There are many bright students who will not get the chance to fulfill their potential because the cost of education is beyond their means. I know those feelings of frustration and despondency all too well. I had been told from a young age that I would never be a geologist and lacked the ability to study at a higher level. I was told “people like you don’t go to Oxbridge”, I have a first class degree and an ongoing DPhil at Hertford that proves otherwise.
My research concentrates on reconstructing environmental conditions at the boundary between the Cambrian and Ordovician periods, 500-480 million years ago. I aim to test the hypothesis that unstable redox conditions – that is the rapid switching between oxygenated and euxinic (oxygen depleted with high sulphide concentration) marine waters – created a barrier to the development of complex life during the Cambro-Ordovician. These studies are relevant to modern concerns such as climate change and energy security. Unstable redox is a consequence of rapid global warming and these conditions in turn promote the deposition of oil rich source rocks. Understanding how life responds to unstable redox will be vital to understanding how modern marine ecologies will respond to the spread of oceanic ‘Dead Zones’ such as those in the Gulf of Mexico, an area where fishing is a major industry and food source.
As a mature student who worked full time to fund my undergrad degree, I understand all too well the help that even small amounts of funding can make. A basic call-centre salary does not leave a lot of room for error and working 13 hours, 6 days a week does not leave a lot of time for study or rest. Without the generosity and support of donors, I would never have been able to complete my thesis research or my degree, which ultimately changed my life. Graduate funding at Hertford would make it possible for more people to fulfil that potential.
For a long time, Oxford wasn't on the cards for me. I didn't consider myself good enough or the 'Oxford type'. But I took a look at the course (just to be nosy, really) and I began to wonder if it was worth taking a punt. Wanting a college that was old, had a cat and a nicely coloured scarf, Hertford was the clear choice on paper - and it didn't disappoint in person!
Now that I'm here, I can categorically say that there is no 'Oxford type'. There's an Oxford underneath the aura that gets projected, and it's a brilliant mosaic of personalities: full of mostly normal people who enjoy their subject, who have the chance to indulge in sports and hobbies in a gorgeous city, and who will happily talk your ear off about any topic under the sun over either a cup of tea or a ‘Pango’. Nowhere shows that better than Hertford, and it has always struck me as being good at creating a community full of varied individuals.
Some of my favourite memories have been indulging in those quintessentially Oxford-y things. I often feel like a lucky tourist that's been given a 3-year VIP pass to Oxford. Having the chance to go to college balls (wearing those special Hertford cufflinks), staring through a beery haze at Magdalen Tower for some 6am madrigals (the high culture quickly offset by a McDonald's breakfast), or accidentally punting through the set of Endeavour are things that wouldn't happen anywhere else. Amongst all of this, Hertford always feels down-to-earth, so I only ever meet the really Oxford-y things on my own terms. In the city of dreaming spires, something to keep your feet on the ground is such a valued commodity.
Kerensa read Modern Languages at Hertford before forging a diverse and successful career working for BBC and HRH Duke of York, as well as publishing her own poetry and novels.
Going up to Hertford was the most intimidating thing I had ever done. Neither of my parents – or anyone else in my family - had A Levels or gone to university. So when I made it, we all took a little while to get used to the idea.
I can hardly believe how life has unfolded since then. I’m an author, a professor, a strategist, a TV producer and an executive coach. I credit my time at Hertford for so much of what I have gone on to achieve. I was already a very hard working, dedicated person. But my time as a student opened my eyes to the wonder of the world. The value of giving people a chance. How precious it can be to light a spark in someone, to ignite their potential. The importance of diversity. And it fostered my lifelong love of literature.
I read Modern Languages and crucially, the texts I devoured inspired my flourishing passion for poetry. I was particularly intrigued and touched by the works of Rainer Maria Rilke. Indeed, my fascination for his work features heavily in my recently published debut novel, a psychological thriller called ‘Seas of Snow’. Likewise, my thesis - ‘Persecution and Revenge of the Innocents’ - a psychoanalytical study of Grimms’ fairy tales. My interest in archetypes and themes of good and evil was cultivated at Hertford and again, this is the silver thread that runs through my novel.
Career highlights include being Programme Editor of Breakfast with Frost; the BBC’s Election Results Editor; and the BBC’s Head of Strategic Delivery. I now work at Buckingham Palace as Director, Office of HRH The Duke of York.
If I could have a word with my nervous, anxious, insecure eighteen-year-old self, walking into OB Quad for the first time, I would give her a big smile and a hug. And I would tell her life would be full of challenges and difficulties, but also untold opportunities. I’d tell her she would be ok. And I would quote Rilke: “Life has not forgotten you… it will not let you fall.”
Carolyn Hitt is a television and radio producer, award-winning newspaper columnist, and co-founder of the independent production company Parasol Media.
It was never my idea to apply to Oxford. But it was the best idea I never had.
I’d grown up in the Rhondda valley instilled with the notion that education was sacrosanct. My grandparents, miners whose lives were cut short by this brutal industry before I was born, saw education as the escape shaft. My father was the first in his family to go to university, studying English and becoming a headmaster, and my mother became a nurse and then a lecturer.
Although it was a given I would go on to further education, Oxford seemed, a step too far. It didn’t help that my perceptions of the place had been somewhat skewed by the lavish television adaptation of Brideshead Revisited in the early 80s – complete with Hertford locations.
But my wonderful English teacher Stella Pellard wasn’t going to let my prejudices and lack of confidence hold me back. She suggested Hertford and reassured me the college was inclusive and mindful of the anxieties state school students might have.
The memory of my late mother’s tears of joy on learning I’d achieved a place is one I still cherish. Thirty years on, the recollections of the three years that followed are similarly vivid.
I remember the myriad opportunities for extra-curricular fun. My coxing career was short-lived thanks to a near miss with a pleasure boat, but the college choir, orchestra and women’s cricket XI proved more lasting forms of recreation – as did providing cartoons for the college magazine Simpkin. My early broadcasting ambitions were also realised as I made my first student radio reports on BBC Oxford.
What I gained most was the experience of being immersed in the subject I loved with guidance from the greatest intellects, and access to the riches of the Bodleian. Words have been my thing ever since and I use the skills I learned every day, from scripting a show to crafting a newspaper column.
I have taken the lesson of getting into Hertford through life. Ability has to be backed up with belief, and now I’m attempting to pay it forward by becoming a Seren Ambassador - a Welsh government project to increase the low numbers of Welsh pupils attaining Oxbridge places. The project provides a network of regional hubs designed to support pupils in developing their academic potential and gaining access to the top universities.
It has been hugely rewarding to talk to talented young people and tell them: “Of course Oxford – and Hertford in particular - is for you.” Just last week a mum got in touch to say her daughter had not considered applying but I’d given her the confidence to do so and now she has her place. I hope it turns out to be the best idea she never had too.
Wanda is Executive Director of The Equality Trust -the national charity that campaigns to reduce social and economic inequality for a fairer society.
I was lucky to have been mentored by Professor Norman Davies at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, London, where I gained a first class honours degree in Polish Studies. He recommended I apply to Hertford for the Starun Senior scholarship, but as for so many before me and since, it was really Simpkin who clinched it for me. As an historian, I was drawn to the beautiful buildings and sense of place, grand, yet not grandiose.
During my first year studying for a Master of Studies in Research I enjoyed the various social events organised by the MCR and exchange dinners, which naturally I had to attend as the Bar Steward. Hertford’s close proximity to my beloved Duke Humphrey’s Library, the Old Congregation House café, and the KA, ensured a balance of work, rest and play. In the summer of 1998, when I awaited the outcome of my grant application to embark on my D Phil, I realized that I would have been devastated had I not continued with my studies here at Hertford.
I look back on my time at the college with fondness, as a time when I relished the time and space to focus on an intellectual challenge, enjoyed the companionship of fellow scholars and was inspired by High Table conversations. Professor Roy Foster called me ‘the witchcraft woman’ and indeed, I continue to speak about witchcraft and fiction writing not only at literary events but also as part of campaigns to save public libraries.
Hertford gave me the confidence and intellectual rigour, which I frequently call upon, as a leader, whether in media interviews, during debates, talking to local and national politicians or creating new networks and projects to tackle inequality. I visit Hertford regularly, now with my young son. Another generation, another Simpkin.
Katie read Medieval & Modern Languages at Hertford, but felt her true calling in life was as a musician. Now based in Hong Kong, she combines a life of music-making in Asia with working with the Chinese Miss Universe training team, and as an etiquette tutor.