Chemistry at Oxford
UCAS Personal Statement
The chemistry specification taught in classrooms leaves me full of curiosity, I
expand on my ideas by challenging new concepts and questioning statements that
only lead to more and more queries. I enjoy exploring further research material
outside of college to extend my knowledge such as the utility of NMR tree diagrams
when the neighbouring protons are not equivalent.
Undertaking the Chemistry Olympiad left me intrigued by the intricate and
imaginative ways of manipulating molecules to alter the functional group level,
not only reactions with oxidising/reducing agents, but also carbon nucleophilic
substitution. At the Cambridge Sutton Trust summer school, I enjoyed the seminar
discussing functional groups and their modes of classification. This broadened my
mind to new and creative thought processes, when joining the dots of what
synthetic routes a reaction has followed through and which groups of atoms act as
better leaving groups.
Additionally, I carried out a Nuffield Research Placement, studying how surfactants
affect the electrochemical behaviour of carbon nanotube (CNT) based electrodes,
receiving a Gold Crest Award. I will continue this life as a research student reading
through thought-provoking science journals. An interesting concept I came across
was chirality and I was shocked by how thalidomide’s enantiomers have such
drastic differences in their properties, one functioning as a mild sedative the other
causing birth defects. I was also surprised by a limitation of Markownikoff‘s rule
when there is stabilisation from a pair of electrons in the HOMO of an atom
adjacent to a positively charged carbon, which is more effective than sigma
conjugation from alkyl groups,
I am intrigued by the relationship between mathematics and chemistry: an
excellent example of this is where reaction mechanisms and calculus are entwined
with one another. Deriving the rate expressions for 1st and 2nd order processes, as
shown in Waddington’s ‘Mechanisms in Organic Chemistry: Case Studies’ of Sn1 and
Sn2 reactions was satisfying. I was introduced to the seemingly perplexing concept
of entropy at the UNIQ Oxford summer school. Encouraged, I discovered how
nature impressively overcomes the problem of having to undergo reactions that
have a positive Gibbs energy change: continuously coupling unfavourable
reactions, such as ATP formation, to favourable reactions is crucial to the
chemistry of life. For most organisms this can ultimately be traced back to
Throughout my gap year, I have been going through Chemistry and Maths Olympiad
papers to practise applying A Level Chemistry material in unique and obscure
situations, as well as exercising my mathematics. I have also been reading through
Oxford Chemistry Primers books, learning about concepts such as molecular orbital
theory, preparing myself for undergraduate study. Molecular orbital theory is
particularly satisfying as it finally explains why covalent bonds form, as electrons
occupying in bonding MOs is more favourable and lower in energy compared to the
electrons being occupied in the atoms‘ respective AOs. Interestingly for methane,
there is no correct arrangement where fully occupied carbon 2s and 2p AOs can
overlap with 1s hydrogen AOs to form 4 equal-energy 2c-2e bonds, so to describe
the stable tetrahedral shape the concept of HAOs is needed.
Overall, my extensive academic reading has helped me enhance my skills of
imagination and creativity when approaching challenging concepts. My
perseverance, picking myself up when I have failed, has given me vital practical
skills such as resilience and independence needed for a chemistry degree.
Behind the Statement
How did you make start on your personal statement or begin planning?
I just started writing down all the things that I am curious about in chemistry plus any things that I had done that showed that I was curious about chemistry. Then I cut it all down to be more concise and fit the 4000 characters.
I also made a bullet point list of possible topics that I might talk about and then proceeded to do research into these topics by using google, the book ‘Why chemical reactions happen?’, Oxford Chemistry Primers Books, 2nd Year A level content etc.
How did you decide what experiences to include in your personal statement? What did you cut out?
Well I kept everything that showed my inquisition, that showed I was wanting to study this subject for 40 hours plus each week - as ultimately this is one of the main things that the admissions tutor will be wanting to see.
From there I tried to make my points as concise as possible. I took out a lot of scientific deep explanation as I didn’t want to ever feel like I was teaching the academic tutor. What I did do was explained why this piece of chemistry was interesting to me - I made sure I was specific about exactly what type of chemistry interested me - and what I did afterwards in terms of further reading etc.
The benefit of being very specific shows that you have an understanding of the topic as a whole, such an understanding that your able to pick out the subtle points within these topics of chemistry.
The benefit of showing what you did after you came across something interesting, as in did you go onto look into this part of chemistry and continue your further reading, is that it shows I am interested enough to do independent research and study in topics of chemistry outside of the classroom.
For Oxbridge I was told by an Oxford admissions tutor to take out anything that was not to do with chemistry, she recommended me to take out my one line about my participation in county badminton even though I showed it gave me transferable skills. (I was able to have this person check my statement as I knew her from the UNIQ summer school and hence asked her to check it over etc etc.)
How did you get these experiences in the first place?
Summer schools, first year university readings (books) such as ones listed above, Olympiad practice papers for fun, maths Olympiad or any neighbouring related science Olympiad papers, Nuffield research project, gold crest award challenge, further reading content that I found online. I know lots of people who have done online courses too in various subjects including chemistry.
How did you structure your personal statement?
Sort of like a story - I explained an experience that I had during my expedition in my further readings in chemistry, and explained where that lead me. Each paragraph is the beginning of a new expedition for the search of truth in one particular area of chemistry.
How did you decide on an introduction for your personal statement?
Fundamental reason for why I truly enjoy studying chemistry.
How did you decide on a conclusion for your personal statement?
Fundamental reason for why I think I would continue to enjoy and would be good at studying chemistry at university.
What do you think are the strengths of your personal statement?
The amount of extra reading I did and demonstrating how much I had decided to teach myself by talking about such advance chemistry correctly. I think this showed that I really liked studying the subject in my own time - and was capable of understanding so much through independent learning.
There was the risk that the admissions tutor would think I didn’t understand these things well and that I just included these things in my statement to show off but I didn’t actually know what I was talking about. So i made sure my science was correct to the T - and that I was prepared to be asked about anything on my statement, or be prepared to be able to use the science in my statement in other situations. Both of these things I was able to do in my interview hence showing my comprehension of the science I wrote in my statement. (I wasn’t actually asked about my statement in my interview but the stuff that I researched into came up in my interview hence I was able to demonstrate my further reading.)
I got my personal statement checked with my chemistry teacher to make sure the science was perfect - I would do the same if I was you just to make sure.
Overall, I wouldn’t be afraid of talking about challenging concepts as long as you truly understand them and maybe even be able to apply those understandings to different types of problems - as the admissions tutors may ask you to do this during an interview.
Is there anything you wish you knew beforehand/advice?
Try to be authentic maybe? Truly ask yourself why do you really want to do this degree - and jot those reasons down. Hopefully then you can build something unique from those particular reasons.
And try to go really deep - as in write down all the different types of ways you find chemistry interesting. This could take time, but at least for me, this introspective method really gave me a wide range of ideas and reasons for why I wanted to study Chemistry - these ideas being the basis of my Personal Statement.
Also, if your applying for a science, look into how related to neighbouring disciplines is the degree your applying for relevant too. As for chemistry, writing about Quantum Mechanics or your passion for Calculus etc is very useful and relevant (especially the Quantum) as even though these topics seem at first to be less related to Chemistry - they are actually quite fundamental to the degree course. This checking of what’s in your course opens up all the different things you can talk about in your Personal Statement.