"My maths education in Sheffield has prepared me very well for conducting research"

Will Oxley
Will Oxley
PhD student, University of Cambridge
MMath Mathematics
As an undergraduate maths student, will took part in a series of research projects that led to four publications in academic journals. He's now working on a PhD at the University of Cambridge.

How does PhD life compare to undergraduate life?

PhD life is of course more demanding and the main difference is having to manage my time more efficiently. Although, this is mainly because I have taken on quite a lot of responsibilities including supervising first year undergraduates and taking masters level modules alongside my research. I feel the transition hasn’t been too hard, which is probably because I spent a significant portion of my time working on research work alongside my studies during the last two years of my undergraduate degree.

How does living in Cambridge compare to living in Sheffield?

During these unprecedented times [of the COVID-19 pandemic], it's hard to compare living in the two cities, as I haven’t had a lot of chance to get out and "see" Cambridge. But of course, it is a beautiful city with its historic buildings and scenery. I am from close to Sheffield, so I love the city, and with it being so close to the peak district it is a great place to live. I cannot say which is better, and I would recommend both.

How does your maths education in Sheffield relate to your PhD work?

I feel my maths education in Sheffield has prepared me very well for conducting research. During my time at Sheffield I took a number of fluids-related courses and this breadth of material means I am confident I can tackle whatever is thrown my way while working in the fluids group at Cambridge. Other courses I took, along with my undergraduate research and masters project, have provided a wider view on the subject. Many of the courses I took at Sheffield have been extremely useful already, especially as I plan to help with teaching undergraduate students in a variety of subjects.

Any suggestions or recommendations to Sheffield students who are thinking of pursuing a PhD?

Try and get involved with the summer projects (eg, SURE), as the experience will probably let you know if it is the right move for you. I often think people are put off, thinking that you have to be ‘top of the class’ to do a PhD, when in actual fact if you have got to the end of the MMath degree, you are very capable. The only other necessary components are enthusiasm, a good work ethic and a passion for it! There are a number of students who did the MMath degree alongside me who I tried to encourage to continue to a PhD, and I felt that the mathematics community would have benefitted from their continuation to a PhD. Hopefully some of those students will return to do a PhD in future.

Find out more about the research Will published as an undergraduate:

A world-class university – a unique student experience

Sheffield is a research university with a global reputation for excellence. We're a member of the Russell Group: one of the 24 leading UK universities for research and teaching.