Do you own a bike? Do you wear glasses? Welcome to Oxford!

School of Biomedical Sciences (SBMS) Honours student Jessica Traves reflects on her first week in Oxford. Jessica is one of three 2019 SBMS Oxford scholarship recipients undertaking their Honours research project within a leading biomedical research laboratory at one of the world's most respected universities.

The streets of Oxford

Well, hello to the city of dreaming spires! It is a particularly beautiful day in Oxford today: there is blue sky (which compared to the rather dreary alternative is quite lovely), people are out and about (this is no novelty however, ‘Oxfordians’ seem to be out and about rain or shine, whether the temperature be zero or sixteen degrees (cue shiver)), and an elderly couple just walked past holding a beautiful bouquet of flowers. So, a delightful day.

It’s taken not even a week, but I think I can quite confidently say that Oxford has well and truly captured my heart. I walk around with this silly smile on my face that only gets wider each time I pass a particularly beautiful, particularly old building, see a squirrel (the novelty never dies I’m afraid), or a group of tourists walk past and I remember that I get to call this place home for six months.

The flight over was, well, long; I can never quite shake the thought in an aeroplane that the only thing separating me from the ground is, well, a few thousand kilometres of air. Terrifying. I blame the resultant sleep deprivation for my comment soon after taking off from Singapore that we were currently passing over the Great Wall of China (hey, high school didn’t offer geography, it ain’t my fault).

My first week has been an amalgamation of lab orientation, admiring the pretty streets of Oxford (everything is within walking distance, I love it), taking my time exploring the museums (in Daniel, my professor's, words: ‘before your life becomes crazy’), and reading a book somewhere warm with a good cup of tea or coffee. On the last point, I can’t quite remember the last time I had time to just sit and enjoy a book – Honours is wonderful, I’d really recommend.

I’ve noticed (and loved) five things about Oxford over the past week:

  1. Travel by bicycle is the preferred mode of transport; so much so that every second fence has a ‘no bicycles please’ sign.
  2. I estimate that maybe half of the buildings are university buildings in Oxford; each equally beautiful and bursting with quite inspiring stories of past students and academics. For example, each day I walk past the sign indicating the building in which penicillin was first used to treat infection, as well as the houses of Robert Boyle and Robert Hooke. Fun fact #1, Hooke’s law is really the only physics equation I reliably remember day to day; after all, it is very important to know the relationship between a strain on a solid and how much that solid will compress or extend... right?
  3. Everything is very old.
  4. Something in the water here seems to be deteriorating people’s eyesight; everyone wears glasses.
  5. The city is beautiful in the sunshine; but it’s equally as interesting when it is cloudy (except not when the clouds result in rain, as the rain is icy and not very enjoyable – it rained while walking to lab on Wednesday; my face was so cold it went numb and my hands were turning a nice shade of frozen).

I’m quite the fan of a good museum, so this week I visited two – the History of Science museum and the Ashmolean. The science museum is housed in an old chemistry laboratory, and features (amongst many other things) flasks of penicillin grown in the Florey lab here in Oxford, as well as a blackboard of Albert Einstein’s very own handwriting from his second lecture on relativity in Oxford, 1931. The Ashmolean has a little bit of everything – a few mummies, many ceramic jars, a few rooms of European paintings (yes yes yes) and hallways of Roman and Greek statues and sculptures. It’s a common theme throughout European sculpture work that the male statues are missing a rather vital piece of anatomy (apparently the church back in the day thought it rather unsightly to have them on such display, and ordered for them all to be lopped off – off the statues, of course). Either that or they’ve just fallen off over the years – ancient Rome was a long time ago. Anyway, it was the same old story here in the Ashmolean; one man in front of me exclaimed rather loudly, ‘it’s been a while since I’ve seen a good knob’.

The colleges are at the very heart of Oxford. I’m a part of Trinity College, however we’re staying in offsite postgraduate accommodation in an old nunnery. I’ve had a bit of an explore of Trinity College; the library is wooden and two stories, with shelves of books and those cool library ladder things.

I also went for a walk around Exeter College; the home of J.R.R Tolkien while he studied and taught in Oxford. Exeter has a beautiful chapel, but I think my favourite part was the fact that while admiring the stained glass windows, the pianist transitioned from your more traditional church piano pieces to Bohemian Rhapsody. It was only slightly disconcerting, but I was all for it.

Balliol College was founded in 1263, and is hence one of the oldest colleges in Oxford. The grounds have the most beautiful flowers, and we saw two squirrels, so it’s a big yes from me.

As with every old town, but perhaps especially with Oxford, it is certainly hard to miss the good old architectural landmarks that have drawn people to the city for centuries. Firstly, the Sheldonian Theatre (from the outside, as I am yet to go in); the ceremonial hall of the university.

Tom Tower

Another is Christ Church College, which I am also yet to fully explore; but here is a rather nice photo of Tom Tower.

Fun fact #2: Tom Tower chimes 102 times at 9:05 pm every. single. night. This is to represent the first 102 students who were admitted to Christ Church College. And the 9:05? Well that is simply due to the fact that Oxford doesn’t know how to use a clock and hence ‘Oxford time’ is five minutes behind the rest of the world.

Then we come to Oxford’s very own Bridge of Sighs. Legend has it, the architects here in Oxford were rather jealous of the Venetian bridge of the same name, however the designs were quite literally lost in translation, and the end result was a bridge resembling more so the Rialto Bridge in Venice. It’s still very beautiful though, and connects the two sides of Hertford College.

No list of Oxford architectural feats would be complete without the Bodleian library, which spans a number of buildings throughout Oxford, each more beautiful and impressive than the last.

Next, we come to the beloved, well-photographed, Radcliffe Camera (or ‘Rad Cam’). Today, Sarah and I climbed to the top of the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, from which you are treated to a beautiful view of the whole of Oxford (and the surrounding Oxfordshire). There was a choir practice on at the same time, and they sounded divine. As you walk out and around the church, you pass by a door flanked by two fascinating looking creatures – said to be C.S Lewis’ inspiration for Mr Tumnus.

The author, Jess Traves and Sarah Shipard, another SBMS Oxford Scholarship recipient

So, there we have it, my first week in this beautiful city. Today I was sitting around the Rad Cam reading when someone asked me if I lived in Oxford – I confidently replied that I did, and he preceded to ask me for the exact location of a specific college. I was caught out (my directions have never been good as I’m sure many can attest to, so I have no chance after a mere seven days), and quickly pulled up the maps on my phone. Not quite a local yet. Also, if anyone is wondering, the cooking is going surprisingly well, and I think the spaghetti bolognaise that Sarah and I whipped up two nights ago was better than that of my parents.. Sorry mum and dad, love you.

Follow Jessica's Oxford and travel adventures at



For more stories from across the Faculty of Medicine, visit MayneStream, our content hub.