Josh Thomas

Josh has just completed his undergraduate degree with us here at Oxford, and is now undertaking his DPhil on the “Social behaviour of Staphylococcus aureuscells causing infection in human hosts”.

Why did you choose biology at Oxford? 

I fell in love with Oxford on my year 10 school trip, and there was no looking back. After researching into several courses at countless universities, biology at Oxford was the real stand out for me. The course structure is excellent: the broad teachings of first year form an essential basis of biological understanding. From there, students have the choice to specialise in diverse areas of biology, from animal cognition, to genome evolution, to species conservation. Most importantly, you should choose the degree subject you are eager to study every single day. If undecided, try to envisage your future self and ask: what subject would awaken me from bed on a cold Monday morning for my 9am lectures? Biology at Oxford was the answer for me. 

What did you enjoy most about your degree? 

The best thing about an Oxford degree is undoubtedly the people. This is true in both an academic and social sense. Discussing areas of biology with world leading experts pushes you to develop both as a scientist and, more generally, as a communicator. Of equal importance are the constant discussions had with fellow students, both biologists and non-biologists alike. Being surrounded by passionate, like-minded individuals has driven me to develop new ideas and opinions in areas I had never even previously considered. During the past few years I have met some true friends for life, undeniably aided by Oxford’s collegiate system and the opportunity to interact with my entire cohort of biologists during lab practicals. Oxford fosters a fantastic sense of community and togetherness that I will cherish forever. 

What was your final project on?

Project title: “Social effects on growth, reproduction, and the expression of a green revolution gene in Arabidopsis thaliana”. My project focused on whether plants are able to cooperate to increase their reproduction and survival. More specifically, I tested whether plants would cooperate more with relatives than non-relatives, as predicted by kin selection theory. Overall, my results provided evidence that competition was more important than cooperation in affecting plant traits, however it generated new ideas for ways to test plant cooperation. Moreover, I found preliminary evidence for a previously unknown role of GA5 (a ‘Green Revolution’ gene) in mediating plant competition. 

What skill sets did you gain during your degree that have equipped you for where you are today? 

I believe almost all aspects of the degree have prepared me to begin my PhD research position. Writing a weekly tutorial essay has exponentially increased my scientific writing and critical thinking skills. Moreover, having to explain and defend my essays in tutorials has enhanced my ability to communicate and discuss ideas effectively. The ‘quantitative methods’ course in second year also allows students to develop skills in statistics and computer coding, crucial for successful scientific research. The skills learned during my undergraduate project are directly applicable to my PhD research. The project deepened my infatuation with social evolution, and I will now be applying social evolutionary theory to microorganisms. The opportunity to conduct extensive research in an area of choice developed my independent research skills, time management, and critical thinking, all essential for PhD research. 

What did you do after Oxford?

After completing my undergraduate degree at Oxford this summer, I am returning in October to begin my DPhil (PhD) in Zoology. Generally, I will be researching evolutionary biology and genetics in microorganisms. More specifically, I will be researching social evolution and the underlying genetics of social traits in the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus.At heart I am an evolutionary biologist, who is particularly interested in social evolution and how cooperation can evolve between organisms. My PhD research also has important practical applications, as I am working with natural populations of Staphylococcus aureuscausing infection in humans hosts with cystic fibrosis. A further understanding of bacterial social traits is essential if we are to prevent the rise of antibiotic resistance. Without a doubt, studying biology at Oxford inspired me to begin my journey in scientific research. 

What advice do you have for prospective students looking to apply for biology at Oxford?

Just take the first step and apply. It was undoubtedly the best decision I’ve ever made. Being from a Welsh comprehensive school, I was repeatedly told that Oxford wouldn’t be for me. However, within days of arriving at Oxford, any alleged negative stereotypes were completely abolished from my mind. Oxford is a friendly, welcoming environment that simultaneously nurtures and pushes its students to achieve their maximum potential. So much so that I will be returning to Oxford, straight from my undergraduate degree, to begin my PhD. 

Get in touch with Josh: