A 50-year reunion for Oxford Biology students
A group of alumni recently organised a reunion to mark 50 years since their matriculation. Tim (who gathered the group) and Neil wrote their reflections on the day.
There are certain times in your life when I think it is helpful and instructive to reflect on the past and draw lessons for the future. One such time is when you hit the 50th anniversary of an important and significant event in your life.
Going to University is one such event. Whether you loved it or hated it, it inevitably will have had a seminal impact on your life: the skills you learnt, the environment around you, the people you met, the first time away from home, the transition from learning to ‘doing’ and ‘finding yourself’.
In mid 2021 I thought it could be fascinating to meet up with those that who had shared a common experience between 1971 and 1974. We had never met before, but suddenly, for 3 years we were pushed together – living in a sort of goldfish bowl at the Zoology Department, working together in labs, going to lectures, sharing Oxford experiences. Although we all had bases in our respective colleges, and established networks around our college contacts, for us, the nitty gritty of our life in Oxford panned out in the Dept of Zoology.
Maybe the most remarkable element to emerge from the Reunion was the extent to which the personalities, idiosyncrasies, voices, gestures, seemed to have remained virtually unchanged 50 years on. Even though everyone had taken different paths, somehow everyone was recognisable. It was almost as though you could pick up a long-forgotten conversation. An elemental bond uniting us all was still very much alive.
As the first cohort to occupy what came to be called the Tinbergen building, it seemed fitting to return to mark the end of its larval stage as it pupates into the new Life and Mind building.
Fitting though our return might have been, buildings – however much time we or the students that have followed may have spent in them – are not what makes a degree. It is the long hours struggling to understand a research paper and arguing its significance with your tutor. It is thinking about and discussing ideas with an intensity that you will probably never again attain during your subsequent career, whatever direction that might take. It is the forging of your thought processes and the people around you that make a degree. Once forged, it is those thought processes that mean you can do anything – and these experiences will always endure for students.
One of the notable things that came from our reunion was hearing the incredible diversity of career paths in our group – from professors and teachers to filmmakers and management consultants. Tim became an EU Ambassador, and I went from researching determination and differentiation in Drosophila imaginal discs to translating the Mauritanian legal code. You really can do anything. It’s the thought that counts.