Univ Dates: 2011-2015
Degree: MPhys Physics
Degree Level: Postgraduate
Occupation: MarsOne Shortlist, Astrophysics DPhil at Cambridge
Biography: Ryan is passionate about inspiring young people to take an interest in science. In 2014 he was awarded the MPLS Outreach Prize, given in recognition of extensive involvement in public outreach activities in the sciences. Whilst studying for his MPhys at Univ, Ryan became President of the Oxford University Space and Astronomy Society, opening up their talks to the public and running events in local primary schools. He was also President of the Univ Debating Society 2012-2013. He applied for the Mars One project, and is currently one of 100 people around the world being considered for astronaut training for a one-way mission to Mars. Ryan is now undertaking a PhD in Astronomy at the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge. He received a Tacchi-Fischer Vacation Bursary in 2011, a Univ Scholarship in 2012-2013, 2013-2014 and 2014-2015, and was awarded the Gibbs Prize Parts A & B in 2013 and 2014.
What made to want to go to Univ?
It’s the college that Hawking went to; that really was one of the factors that encouraged me. I first visited Univ on an open day and it was the college that I wanted to visit more than any other. It just completely blew me away when I saw it in reality because obviously you see all of the photographs online and it’s almost like a fairy tale in terms of the architecture, but when you go there and actually meet the people you see the human aspect as well. Every single person there is so passionate and absolutely in love with what they are doing and just the way that everyone is pursuing, fundamentally, the edges of human knowledge and trying to push that forward.
It lived up to expectations?
Coming from quite a disadvantaged background, if I wanted to talk about astrophysics or the nature of life and the universe I didn’t really have anyone to discuss that with. Suddenly I was in an environment where you are at the dinner table and talking about what colour the fur of an antimatter hamster might be or the merits of utilitarianism, for instance. Even if you are talking to people with completely different backgrounds from your own, everyone relishes knowledge and exchange and freedom of ideas.
I think it’s fair to say that Univ gave me an incredible impression even within a few hours of being there.
Who were your inspirations at Univ?
Dr Baird, who taught me Physics in my first year, really left a lasting impression because he actually interviewed me while I was applying to Univ. I remember in my interview we were talking about space and orbital mechanics and then beyond the interview he was saying he had this wonderful app on his iPad that showed you how to calculate orbits. Seeing my stereotype of an Oxford academic, someone with an aging bookcase behind them, bringing over an iPad was wonderful – here is the centre of human knowledge, but wielding modern technology in order to help and engage. Such a memorable image…
So, you enjoyed your interview?
It’s a really good sign when you enjoy your interview – my interview didn’t feel stressful once I started it. I really enjoyed it and we were joking all the time. I remember being asked ‘What sort of mathematics have you been doing recently?’ and I said ‘Integrals, and easy stuff like that.’ Dr Baird said, ‘Oh, they’re easy are they?’ and started throwing loads of them at me. It’s the character of the people that left an immediate impression with me. Dr Baird completely symbolises physics at Univ for me.
How do you see the importance of an event like this?
When people think of Oxford they often think about famous people who have gone there and accomplished something and have perhaps already peaked somehow. I really think this is an attempt to show that these are ambitious people with great potential still to come. This is potentially the next generation of great people that are bring produced and, because we are closer in age to people who may be applying to Univ, it shows that it’s more tangible – you could be like these people in just a few years’ time.