Earth Sciences at Oxford
UCAS Personal Statement
We live on a planet which has the ability to sustain life but also the power to destroy it.
Understanding the processes behind such events fascinates me and fuels my desire to learn
more about the planet we inhabit. For example, after examining a case study of Mount St
Helens’ eruption, I was curious to study the different impacts of Yellowstone Supervolcano
with 2000 times the force. Therefore, I decided to carry out my Welsh Baccalaureate
individual project on these effects. This provided me with experience in data handling and
critical thinking, skills that are essential for university and research projects.
During the University of Oxford’s study day, I was intrigued by Professor Mac Niocaill’s
lecture on the Earth’s magnetic field when learning that the poles can migrate due to
variations in electric current and can actually reverse. This led me to read Plate Tectonics by
Peter Molnar, from which I deduced that lava is magnetised in the direction of the Earth’s
magnetic field when it cools and solidifies; this phenomenon can be seen at the mid-Atlantic
ridge. I realised that this is very strong evidence for sea-floor spreading. The concept of
palaeomagnetism excites me and the idea that Earth’s history can be preserved in rock
layers opened my eyes to a new topic – Stratigraphy.
Using the knowledge of stratigraphy I obtained from visiting the Grand Canyon, I was able to
ascertain that the grainy composition of the rock at Woodeaton Quarry, which also
contained brachiopods, was due to deposition in shallow water. Furthermore, the large
disruption in rock strata was due to the compression of the landscape during the formation
of the Alps. This compression led to the resultant splitting of the rock strata further up from
the major compression zone. This field trip with UNIQ Summer School gave me a good
insight into the skills needed for field trips at university level and confirmed that Geology is
the subject for me. During UNIQ I also relished the opportunity to take part in a tutorial
where I discussed one of my key interests – volcanoes.
Fascinated by volcanology, I climbed and studied Mount Etna on a geology trip. I noticed
that rock near the crater was grainier and less dense than rock from an ancient lava flow.
This led me to consider lava composition; I applied my skills from chemistry to understand
why lava from the same volcano had different properties. I noticed that the older rocks
were red in colour. After reading ‘This Is Planet Earth’ by the New Scientist, I was able to
establish that the rocks must have contained iron which had oxidised over time. I was
amazed by this finding and concluded that the older rock must have had a higher
concentration of iron oxide than that of the younger rock hence the difference in density.
Using my knowledge of Earth processes and further reading around the subject to create my
own theory has thrilled me and proved to me that I truly do have a passion for Earth
During a residential at Cambridge I attended a lecture by Dr Maria Kettle. She discussed how
we could use instruments to detect different types of waves from P and S waves from
earthquakes to sound waves from volcanoes. This led me to watch Volcano Expedition on
the BBC where Volcanologist, Jeffrey Johnson’s devices recorded the infrasound given out
by the volcano enabling him to detect the rise and fall of lava in the magma chamber.
Research into producing devices to monitor volcanoes and earthquakes is something which
appeals to me as a future career as this equipment helps to minimise human casualties. This
is pertinent when considering the destruction caused by Kilauea’s recent eruption.
My skills in problem solving, analytical thinking, adaptability and the ability to work under
pressure have developed in my role of Head Girl, as part of the Seren Network, as an Army
Cadet and by completing my Bronze DofE. I will apply these skills to studying Earth Sciences
in university and in my future career.
Behind the Statement
How did you make start on your personal statement or begin planning?
I just wrote everything that I'd done related to my degree and what I'd obtained from those experiences. Then I began cutting out more irrelevant parts and adding in more scientific knowledge.
How did you decide what experiences to include in your personal statement? What did you cut out?
I decided to add in the experiences which encompassed the most useful skills needed for my degree i.e. being able to make observations and come up with intelligent interpretations was something I did whilst looking at rocks on Mt Etna. This is a desirable skill for my degree so I kept that section in. I cut out stuff that was long-winded or that seemed good but was unneeded.
How did you get these experiences in the first place?
I went on various residentials to Oxford and Cambridge (UNIQ), study days and taster sessions. I went on holiday to places like the Grand Canyon and Mt Etna from which I was able to discuss the geological observations I made. I was able to write an extended project on Yellowstone Volcano because I was doing the Welsh baccalaureate qualification.
How did you structure your personal statement?
85% Supercurriculars and 15% extracurriculars
How did you decide on an introduction for your personal statement?
I came up with my intro when I was considering the affects on the planet if Yellowstone Supervolcano erupted. I realised that the planet has the ability to sustain life but also the shear power to completely destroy such as a very large eruption from Yellowstone.
How did you decide on a conclusion for your personal statement?
I wanted to say how the skills I'd obtained from doing my extrcurriculars would be useful for uni - so I did.
What do you think are the strengths of your personal statement?
It's succinct. It covers a lot of ground and shows that I've considered different topics and explored different ways of obtaining the information. I always tried to link back to why - what ever I was talking about - made me good for studying at uni.
Is there anything you wish you knew beforehand/advice?
Work experience isn't required for any of the sciences In Oxford.