What brought you to St Hilda’s?
I knew from the beginning of sixth form that I wanted to study English Literature. I had no idea whether or not I'd get into Oxford, but worked and worked towards it. I actually applied to another college, and ended up having several interviews: the last being at St Hilda's. It was my favourite of all of them (I left the interview room buzzing) and I'm so grateful that it's the college I ended up at.
How did your experience compare to your expectations?
Inevitably, it was hugely different to what I thought it might be. I had certain preconceptions about Oxford (both good and bad) that I had to shift and recalibrate when I got here. Hilda’s doesn't look like some of the more ‘traditional’ colleges – something I hadn't quite expected but that I ultimately ended up really appreciating. Over time you realize how much of a difference it just makes to have lots of portraits of women on the walls!
Experience-wise, I didn't always have an easy time – it certainly wasn't plain sailing throughout. However, it was also very special three years full of experiences, places and people I just couldn't have imagined before I got there. Part of brushing away those expectations was about learning to navigate Oxford in the way that was best for me, rather than according to any formula of how it ‘should’ be done.
Are there any particularly pivotal moments that you can share?
Possibly my second term at Oxford. I adored the authors I got to study (Virginia Woolf! T.S. Eliot! Sylvia Plath! Angela Carter!), and reached the point of feeling like I could work with a little more faith in my own abilities. It was also the term where I properly realised how much I relished spending hours on end in the library chasing up books and ideas.
Can you describe your experience of tutorials? Have any of your tutors particularly stuck in your mind?
Tutorials were nerve-wracking at first, and then hugely rewarding over time. Being required to deliberate, respond quickly, verbalise my thoughts and defend my arguments taught me an awful lot - not least how to think on my feet and be confident in my words (as well as, occasionally, how to bluff an answer!) I had some fabulous tutors who really pushed me to do my best.
How did your time at St Hilda’s influence your future direction?
I was perhaps in the slightly unusual position of arriving at university with a clear future direction laid out: having already started work as a writer for various magazines and websites, as well as being commissioned to work on a book ('Notes On Being Teenage', which was published the summer after my final year exams). But my time at St Hilda's certainly helped to shape and develop the skills that I now use all the time in my work - offering up an intellectual toolbox that I now draw on whenever I'm reading/ writing/ researching/ speaking at events.
What would you say to anyone considering applying to St Hilda’s?
I really don’t know, because it’s different for everyone according to their subject/ interests/ strengths. Perhaps I might say that it’s helpful to read widely, read continually, and read with judgment – it’s good to be continually asking yourself what works, what doesn't, and why. Would you be able to articulate it, and argue your point out loud?
What advice would you give to your undergraduate self?
I'd say that it's ok to find things a challenge. Also that perfection is not expected, asking for help shows strength rather than weakness, sleep is important, and having fun is even more important. But then again, I learnt that all through a process of trial and error: I think a big part of uni is working it all out along the way.