A Student’s Perspective: Oxford Interview Experience at St Catz

By now you should be all clued-up about how the whole Oxford interview experience works.  I actually arrived 5 minutes late because I underestimated how much time was required to get to St Catz from Queen’s – however, I think I was lucky because the interviewers were 10 minutes late!

Don’t risk it haha…



Professor Susannah Speller and Professor Richard Todd – both absolutely lovely.  I had no problems with them looking bored or anything (unlike last time)!

Why Materials Science?

Obvious question – usual schpiel.

Draw the Stress/Strain Curve of the Rubber Band.

This was basically the same question as the one I got at Queen’s.

What happens if you keep stretching the rubber band? Why the hysteresis loop shape?

They then proceeded to ask a couple more questions on my personal statement.  They didn’t seem to expect me to fully explain everything I put on there, which was nice.

If you’re preparing for your interview, I would suggest you know your personal statement inside and out and do some reading around the concepts that you put in there.

Why Do You Need Superconductors for MRI?

Picking up from my personal statement, they asked me why superconductors.  I said that they have no resistance so they can provide a high enough current to generate a large enough magnetic field for MRI.

How Would You Make A Superconducting Filament for MRI?

They showed me a wire of niobium-titanium superconductor filament and said that it was just a section of wire that could be up to several kilometres long. I explained that since metals are ductile, you can just apply a tensile force and the wire can stretch.

How Would You Coat It In Copper?

The filaments are coated in copper so I said they could do it by copper plating, but it would be quite expensive.  I then said I have no idea…

I then speculated a bit.  Maybe wrap the niobium-titanium in copper before and then stretch them by pulling them all together if they have similar mechanical properties.  This turned out to be the right answer!

A Bit of Maths…

Then they asked me if the radius of a wire was 1mm and it contained 10,000 filaments inside, what is the distance between the filaments?  This was simple as I just found the area of the wire, divided it by 10,000 to find the area of the filaments + copper, then found the radius.


Hand Warmer

They gave me a hand warmer, which they said contained iron, and asked me how it worked.

I said probably an exothermic reaction occurred that oxidised the iron and released energy.  I did a moles calculation (how much energy released if hand warmer has 10g iron).

How Would You Make It Last 10 Hours?

I started by saying they could change the chemicals inside, by getting rid of the catalyst etc. but my interviewers didn’t want to change the chemical composition.

I got a bit stuck, so I just said that I was thinking of ways to affect the rate of reaction.  This was what the interviewers were looking for, so they asked me how might I affect the rate of reaction. I soon got the answers!

Any Questions?

They gave me the opportunity to ask them questions – I didn’t know which fields they specialised in so I didn’t know what questions to ask them!  So instead I asked them about the course and whether there was any fluid dynamics.


All in all, it was quite an experience in Oxford!  The interviews were a little stressful, but I enjoyed talking to the interviewers.  They’re not trying to trip you up, they’re trying to see how much you will suit the tutorial system and how you think.

They don’t really care about how much you know; instead, they want to know how you deal with unforeseen questions, uncomfortable problems and new information.

If you’re going to do an interview in Oxford, I recommend sorting everything out as soon as you hear from them (including travel arrangements, clothing etc.) so that you can relax on the big days.

Also, definitely speak to people and explore Oxford – it’s a nice way to relax and immerse yourself!  Even if you’re not picked, it will be well worth it.

How were your application experiences? Do you have any tips? Let me know in the comments!


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