SCIO is excited to be formally including STEM subjects into its programme from 2018 on, but in previous years it has in some instances been possible to arrange STEM tutorials on a case-by-case basis.  Here one alumni, Luke Arend, reflects on his time at Oxford with SCIO, where he took STEM tutorials on philosophy of psychology and neuroscience/philosophy of science, and quantum mechanics.

What did you find unique about studying STEM at Oxford and what was it like?

For many SCIO students, the most unique aspect of the Oxford experience is the tutorial system. As a STEM student, I not only wrote essays for the classic tutorial, but worked on problem sets under the guidance of an Oxford physicist. It was a joy to study quantum mechanics while also grappling with canonical problems in the philosophy of mind. There are subtle insights and a sort of academic maturity that come from deep immersion in several disciplines in parallel, and studying STEM at SCIO provides a rare opportunity to do so.

How did this contribute/complement your undergraduate study from your sending institution?

My experience at Oxford transformed me as a student and as a person. From essay-based tutorials, I learned to read texts more rapidly and critically, and my writing became more concise, punchy, and cogently argued. My STEM coursework changed the way I do physics: I’ve since viewed quantitative problem-solving not as mere number-crunching, but as argument-building–granted, using mathematics rather than written language. As a double major in physics and philosophy, my time at Oxford helped me realize that both disciplines rely on similar methods of critical thinking and argumentation.

How did your time at Oxford contribute to your time after graduating from your undergraduate programme?

I’m presently working as a neuroscience researcher at MIT’s Center for Brains, Minds and Machines. SCIO prepared me for a research career in three distinct ways. (i) My physics coursework provided exposure to a range of mathematical techniques and intuitions which I still use daily. (ii) In my philosophy coursework, I learned that careful reasoning and clear communication of ideas go hand in hand. This perspective translated to the way I analyze and articulate scientific arguments. (iii) I enjoyed the flexibility and freedom of the Oxford system, in which students work independently to study open-ended problems. This further oriented me towards a career in research.

Do you have anything to say to someone who might be considering SSO for STEM to study abroad?

One of my favorite aspects of SCIO is the diversity of disciplines represented among students in the program. My closest friends are currently pursuing graduate degrees in philosophy, archaeology, literature, and history. While many STEM programs neglect to encourage cross-pollination with the liberal arts, the SCIO program enables students to form lifelong connections across disciplinary boundaries. I cannot overstate the impact of the SCIO program on my development as a young academic and scientist.