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The Queen’s Access Podcast: a new outreach project featuring Queen’s undergraduates

12 October 2020

Kyla Thomas, a second-year studying Chemistry, has created a podcast aimed at school-aged students who would like to find out more about life at Queen’s College, and Oxford University more widely. In each of the ten episodes, Kyla chooses a different topic and speaks to fellow undergraduates about it. The podcast is available on the Queen’s YouTube channel and will also be made available on other platforms soon.

We spoke to Kyla to find out more about the podcast and her advice for potential applicants.

How did the idea for the podcast come about?

When it was announced that the UK was going into lockdown, my role of Access and Outreach Rep for the JCR (Junior Common Room, the undergraduate student body at Queen’s) suddenly had far fewer responsibilities attached to it, so I thought that it was my duty to try to come up with alternative projects that could be launched in the time of COVID.

I was thinking about when I was a Year 12 and I realised that one of the main reasons I felt comfortable applying to university was that I had seen students in person and watched them interact. They had gone from being fictional people so far removed from my own reality to people who I could envisage as my peers. I think online profiles and chats with students are a great resource, but I still felt like prospective students needed to see us interact as friends, to help them to realise how normal we all are!

I figured that apart from starting a YouTube channel that I would probably regret later, a podcast might be the best way to do this. Thankfully, my dad was producing a podcast as part of a work project, so we had access to a microphone, so then it was just a case of coming up with the content!

Had you ever done anything like this before? Did it pose any particular challenges, especially making episodes during lockdown?

I’ve never done anything like this before! I have quite a lot of public speaking and presentation experience, but I’ve never interviewed anybody before and I’m not super technical, so I was a bit daunted at the prospect of microphones and recording and lots of wires! The episodes took a while to organise, which was probably the biggest challenge – I decided to record all of the episodes in one week which meant I had a bit of a hectic time. Everybody I interviewed was brilliant though and they were all really communicative about their availability, which made the process much smoother than it could’ve been. As predicted, there was the occasional technical difficulty, but we made it through!

What’s your background, and did you choose Queen’s?

I came to Queen’s from a state grammar school on the Wirral, which is near Liverpool and, as you’ll find out in the podcast, I’m a second-year Chemistry student. I chose Queen’s for a multitude of reasons, but the primary one was that everybody I met there was so friendly and it was just somewhere that I could really see myself fitting in. I initially decided to look at Queen’s for a few reasons:

  • I’m really passionate about music and Queen’s has the oldest music society in Oxford (the Eglesfield Musical Society), for which I’m now the treasurer!
  • Queen’s currently accommodates undergraduates for all four years of your degree if you’re doing a fourth year. As chemistry is a four-year course and I didn’t want the hassle of privately renting at any point in my degree, this was a big factor for me.
  • The library is STUNNING (plus it’s ranked on BuzzFeed’s ‘10 libraries to see before you die’)!
  • The College has a very central location, so you really get to feel like you’re living in a city. The bus that goes to London stops directly outside the College and as someone who saw London as the ultimate trip, this excited me so much!

Why is access and outreach important to you, and what else do you do in your role as JCR Access and Outreach Rep?

Frankly, I may not be at Oxford at all if it wasn’t for access initiatives. I had this idea that I would never fit in here and that the University would be so elitist and I’d be way out of my depth. It was access work that showed me that I couldn’t have been more wrong. I’m a recipient of the Crankstart Scholarship; I had a Schools Liaison Officer visit my school and it was the work of the student ambassadors on the Open Day that convinced me that Oxford wasn’t some impossible dream. I’m a firm believer in ‘pay it forward’, so I feel like it’s up to me to carry on the access work that led me here.

In a normal, COVID-free year, I would help to run the open day and interviews, I would coordinate school group tours and I would run a roadshow to Cumbria, which is a Queen’s link region. Some of that may not be happening any more, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still have responsibilities! I run my own initiatives, like this podcast; I manage the Humans of Queen’s Facebook page; I act as an ambassador on The Access Platform and I’m the first point of contact for any access charities.

Who have you interviewed for the podcast and what areas have you covered?

When I started planning for the podcast, I came up with ten key topics that I wanted to cover. Nine of these were what I considered to be the most important aspects of student life (food, student leadership, tutorials, social life, welfare, domestic life, access and outreach, sport and music) and one was an episode on medicine, as this is a course that is taught quite differently at Oxford to how it is taught at other universities. For some of the episodes, I asked for specific guests, such as people who hold certain positions in the JCR that made them qualified to talk about certain topics (such as interviewing the female welfare rep for the welfare episode). For some, I asked for volunteers, as I wanted people who felt like they could talk really enthusiastically about their chosen topic! I learned a lot about the many different experiences people have regarding application, such as learning about what an open offer is and how it works. It was also so interesting to gain a more in-depth view of people’s subjects and timetables, as this isn’t always something that comes up in casual conversation.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of applying to Oxford?

Make sure that you prepare, but don’t worry if this preparation isn’t super formal – you don’t need to have been tutored for it or have had ten mock interviews, just make sure that you know your subject and let your passion shine through. Also, if you get an interview, speak through your whole thought process out loud, even if you’re just clarifying specifically why something doesn’t make sense to you. Remember that this is not an exam, it’s a teaching experience! My last piece of advice would be that, if you’re unsure as to whether you should apply or not, go for it, because our community would be lucky to have you!

What do you hope that potential applicants to Queen’s or to Oxford will take away from listening to your podcast?

I hope that they can get a sense of what it’s really like to be a student here, rather than relying on common myths or films and TV shows. I hope they see that we’re all just normal people who are incredibly passionate about what we study and I hope they can see how inclusive our community is and how easily they would fit in.

Listen to the Queen's Access Podcast.