A Day in the Life: Rhodes Scholar

5:45 am: The winding streets of Oxford are quiet as I make my usual morning trek: down St. Cross Road, across the Magdalen Bridge, around the roundabout, and up Iffley Road to catch the bus to the boathouse. I put in my earbuds and enjoy the peaceful ride to Wallingford, where the Oxford University Women’s Boat Club trains on the Thames. Upon arrival, my crewmates and I warm up, settle into our eight-person boat, and push off the dock. In my crew alone, England, Wales, Australia, America, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa are represented. Women from around the world come to Oxford to compete in the historic Boat Race, an annual 4.5 mile race against Cambridge that has been contested since the 1800s.

9am: While we were enjoying a paddle on the Thames, silent save for the sounds of our blades cutting through the water and the coxswain’s calls, Oxford has come alive. The sun is out now (if mostly hidden by clouds). The streets are full of cyclists who weave around cars in traffic (believe it or not, Oxford does have a rush hour). Time to head to the lab. I do my research in the Neurobiology and Experimental Therapeutics group at the Warneford Hospital. It’s a long cycle up a steep hill that connects Oxford and Headington, where Oxford’s hospitals and biomedical research facilities are located. We students in the biomedical sciences often commiserate over our sore legs and sweaty clothes.

11am: The lab buzzes with the sounds of centrifuges, shakers, and a radio that plays top-40 tunes. My supervisor bops in and out to check on my progress. I prepare my samples in neat rows and columns, hopeful that a novel discovery is waiting for me in those tubes.

The transition from undergrad to graduate school has been challenging – within my program, there are no classes, and no exams or assessments to mark progress. My work is largely self-directed. But dealing with discomfort is an important part of the fellowship experience. I’m learning to embrace rather than fear the uncertainty, both in my scientific research and in the day-to-day trials of living abroad.

1pm: I join a Rhodes Scholar from South Africa in the common room for lunch and tea. We are joined by some of our colleagues in the psychiatry department, and we chat about which colleges have the best formal dinners and how we can get our hands on the Amarulo (a South African cream liqueur) that has been sitting in the kitchen for ages. You know, important stuff.  

4pm: Back to Iffley for a land training session at the gym. Preparing for the Boat Race means practicing twice a day, six days a week.

6:50pm: I head to Hall at Brasenose College for formal dinner with a fellow Rhodes Scholar from New Zealand. Every college has formal dinners, and they feature centrally in Oxford social life. Dress codes vary, but at Brasenose College, we don our sub fusc (the Harry Potter-esque gowns worn for exams, matriculation, graduation and other Oxonian formal events).

When I head home in the evening, the streets are quiet again. I take the moment to be still and take in my surroundings. When you walk through the streets of Oxford, the sturdy millennia-old structures consume you in an overwhelming and wonderful way. You feel quite small passing by lecture halls from the twelfth century and colleges that produced minds like Adam Smith, John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, and Oscar Wilde. In comparison, though, life’s daily challenges suddenly seem thoroughly insignificant.

 

 

 

 


Jenna Hebert (C'16) is a Rhodes Scholar reading for a DPhil in Psychiatry at the University of Oxford. She is currently researching the involvement of the gut microbiome and the immune system in the development of neuropsychiatric disorders and neurodegenerative disease.

 

The views expressed in contributed blog posts belong solely to the indicated author and do not necessarily respresent those of the Center for Undergraduate Research & Fellowships or those of the University of Pennsylvania.