Jack Common

Jack is now studying for their PhD at the University of Exeter. Read about their journey from having completed their undergraduate degree with us at Oxford.

Why did you choose biology at Oxford?
The course has a really strong focus on the whole of biology, from genes to ecosystems, as well as linking everything together in the light of evolution. I knew I wanted a broad view of the field from my undergraduate degree, but also the opportunity to specialise on particular topics, which is exactly what the course provides in the third year. Oh and the field trips!

What did you enjoy most about your degree?
The people! My cohort had the most interesting and inspiring folk I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting, many of whom are still close friends and colleagues. Biology has a wonderful community, and i think that’s what makes the course so special.

What was your final project on?
I looked at how diversity of flowers influences bumblebee feeding behaviour, specifically testing the hypothesis that higher diversity would mean bees spend less time on individual flowers.

What skill sets did you gain during your degree that have equipped you for where you are today?
An appreciation and knowledge of the whole of biology has been really useful in tackling questions as part of my PhD, as I can draw on knowledge from apparently different organisms and systems. Tutorials have set me up really well to feel comfortable and confident defending and criticising my ideas, which is a constant part of postgraduate study. And learning how to take a statistical and computational approach to science has been enormously useful, both in my PhD and life in general.

What do you currently do, and what do you enjoy most about it?
My PhD is looking at how diversity of hosts and their pathogens interacts with other ecological factors, and ultimately how this influences their evolution. I use bacteria and their viruses as a model system, with a combination of experimental evolution experiments, phenotypic analysis, sequence data, and modern statistical approaches to answer fundamental about questions about disease spread and evolution. I really enjoy the cool science I get to do on a daily basis, the excitement of discovering new things, and the freedom to follow my ideas.

What advice do you have for prospective students looking to apply for biology at Oxford?
Don’t feel intimidated by the reputation of Oxford! I came from a state school and definitely felt like Oxford “wasn’t for me”. But Biology in particular is so welcoming, friendly and progressive that you’ll find a home here and make lifelong friends. It’s because of the people here that I was encouraged and supported to pursue my passion for science, and put me onto a career path which I truly love.

Get in touch with Jack: