GG Star to study physics at Oxford 7th September 2017

Gagan Khurana is a former Generating Genius student who will begin studying physics at St Anne’s College, University of Oxford next month after achieving an outstanding 4 A*s. We spoke to Gagan to find out what he did to gain a place at one of the world’s most prestigious universities.

GG: Tell us a bit about you and your background

Gagan: Much of our family moved from Afghanistan to the UK, due to risk of persecution. I’ve been here since about 2001. I’m an 18 year old Sikh boy who grew up on a council estate in Kingston upon Thames and attended a non-selective state school. A few of us who did well in SATs were encouraged to apply for GG and I know that all of us that got a place on the programme are doing well for ourselves now. Growing up, I didn’t have much exposure to university, given that nobody in my family has ever been to university. GG offered me to the chance to meet people as passionate about a subject as I was and learn more about a subject I liked a lot. That’s how I realised that university was for me, and now I’m going to Oxford!

GG: When did you realise that you wanted to pursue STEM?

Gagan: There are two things that encouraged me down the STEM path. In year 6, I really enjoyed writing and was thinking of becoming a writer or do something literature-based. Generating Genius had a big impact along with my school environment in making me realise that creativity was not only limited to the humanities, and it was also important in STEM subjects.

GG: What impact did GG have on you?

Gagan: GG got me thinking about where I wanted to go after school and A-Levels. The biggest thing that helped me personally was getting the exposure to university education and putting the idea of going to university in my head, and thinking about applying to a top university. GG is delivered in such a way that we have the opportunity to access lots of different areas of STEM, and see the bigger picture.

GG: What was your highlight with GG?

Gagan: We went on a trip focused on finance and engineering at City University London. On the third day, we made our own products, then pitched them to everyone else there. We made products using newspapers rolled tightly, which then became suitable for constructing things. As a group we decided to make a small shoe cabinet. It didn’t work in the slightest, but because we were able to pitch it effectively, we won a prize for our presentation. A part of the product even broke off during the pitch, but we still managed to carry it out successfully until the end, despite not everything going to plan!

Taking part helped me to get a better understanding of what I could do after university, what I needed to do to get myself in a position to apply to work in places like BNY Mellon and taught me how to prepare for these opportunities. The trip also taught me that STEM is very important in the financial sector, which is a field I aspire to be part of. The idea was that rather than just learning about the subject, STEM teaches you how to approach questions and reason through things logically. This is something that has stayed with me from GG. It really made sense to me; this was definitely a route I could pursue.

GG: What motivated you to apply to Oxford?

Gagan: My school has only ever sent one person to Oxford; that was last year and he’s a good friend of mine, now studying Maths at Oxford. Knowing someone so well who attended Oxford was one of the main reasons I decided to apply, alongside the opportunity to learn in a world class environment. I got a place on their UNIQ summer school; which helped confirm for me that Oxford was the university I most wanted to attend, and led to me applying there.

GG: How did you find the Oxbridge application process?

Gagan: It was absolutely terrifying. The most daunting part was the admissions exam! Even after having gone through the process, I feel that the exam isn’t the most friendly to state school pupils or to people who don’t know someone who has been through it before. Thanks to advice from my friend, who’s been through it, I began thinking about the admission exams quite early on, and I knew what to expect and was able to prepare myself in advance. I had been thinking about the admissions exam for over a year before I had to take it, which gave me plenty of time to learn all of the material and prepare accordingly.

GG: What was the interview like? Would you have liked more help?

Gagan: I was initially relieved at having passed the admissions test, but really worried about the interviews. Although they were difficult, I actually found them very enjoyable. There were 3 half-hour sessions discussing your subject with someone who knows it very well. The questions were tough, but structured in such a way that allows them to pick your brain and see how you think. Dealing with someone who knows that you haven’t yet had the same exposure as independent schools, the interviewers have a much better understanding of your situation and what to expect from you. The interview is fine-tuned so that they get the best out of you; they adapt them to the individual circumstances of the applicant.

GG: Would you have liked to have more help throughout the application process?

Gagan: A big part of my application being successful in my opinion was thanks to my physics teacher, who spent many, many evenings with me, trying to perfect my knowledge and providing a sounding board for all my ideas (especially the bad ones!). Although my school hasn’t got much experience with the Oxbridge admissions process, they did everything they could, and it turned out well in the end!

GG: Do you have any worries about going? Eg making friends, costs, academic challenge)

Gagan: If I hadn’t attended the summer school, I think I would have been a lot more worried than I am now. They gave me a really good idea of what university life was like, so I was prepared and less confused by the application process. I was really well prepared about the student finance aspect through talks at my school, so I’d say overall I have a relatively good understanding of what it will be like. That being said, I’m anxious about all the normal stuff – moving away, making new friends, and the big academic step up.

GG: What would you like to do after your graduate?

Gagan: I’m not entirely sure at the moment – ideally I’d like to work in a field where I’m able to use my degree in scenarios that involve working with other people, as I really enjoy working in teams to solve problems where different people contribute varying skills.

GG: What would you say to other young people who are considering joining Generating Genius? Would you recommend the programme?

Gagan: Without a doubt. I’d say especially if you haven’t had much access to information about university or higher education at home, it’s definitely worth applying to GG, because it gives you that exposure to the university and academic life. People underestimate the importance of exposure from a young age. Sometimes that’s all that matters and it can make a world of difference.

GG: What advice would you give a young person aspiring to a career in STEM / going to a top uni?

Gagan: Do make sure that the subject that you want to study is one that you really enjoy. Once you realise what subject that is, read around it as much as possible. Once you do this, you will pick up little bits of knowledge, which – even though not always directly relevant to your A-Levels – will help you consolidate your knowledge for a better understanding of the subject, which will help you further down the line. I think trying to learn as much as possible about as many different things as possible is a good mindset to keep throughout your studies.