There may be many major events for Nicole in her future, but none as rewarding as the one she received recently. An offer from Oxford was not initially on her radar, but working with Wellington College’s university guidance team over the last several years has made the dream a reality.
As an international school in Tianjin, Wellington College International Tianjin offers British education for students aged 2 to 18 based upon the British National Curriculum, it includes the kindergarten, middle school, high school, IGCSE and A-Level programmes. Starting in year 3 at Wellington College, Nicole enjoyed her education right from the start, participating in music, theatre, drama, and of course, maths and the sciences. With the support of her family, Nicole has worked tirelessly to achieve a remarkable result. We talked with Nicole to hear her thoughts and garner some insights for the next generation of Wellingtonians.
Speaking of the amazing offer from Oxford University, Nicole said that in the days leading up to the offer, she tried to stay as calm as possible. She felt that her first interview went well, but the second interview didn’t seem to go as well. She was very nervous while waiting for the email from the university to come through, so when she saw a line in her preview email that read, “I am pleased…” she and her family jumped up and down with excitement. She says that it still seems quite surreal, and she won’t truly believe it until she arrives in the UK with her suitcase in hand, readly to start her university life.
Somerville College was founded in 1879 as Somerville Hall, one of its first two women’s colleges. Among its alumnae have been Margaret Thatcher Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1979-1990), Indira Gandhi Prime Minister of India (1966-1977) and Dorothy L. Sayers English scholar and writer. Somerville College became co-educational in 1994 and is ranked 2nd in the QS world university rankings.
A. Somerville College, Oxford is home to one of the largest libraries in Oxford
B. The College is named in honour of the Scottish mathematician and scientist, Mary Somerville
C. It is one of the few colleges in Oxford that allow students to walk on its grass
D. The college was one of the first to abandon the policy on locking its front gates at night to stop students from staying out late.
Describing her life at Wellington College, Nicole said that she has spent more than half of her life there. At first, after she and her family moved from Korea, it was new and yet scary all at the same time. She said that it has been a long but fulfilling journey, and she has learned and grown so much. She was able to participate in many extracurricular activities such as music, sports and singing, which gave her an outlet from her study and made her a better all-round person.
For most of the experiences she has had, Wellington has been at the foundation. She feels that being around people from different backgrounds has given her a much broader perspective on the world.
She believes that this is what helped her during her interviews, and that being able to be open-minded and to know and understand different cultures has prepared her for the world beyond Wellington.
When she was in years 10 and 11, Nicole studied a range of subjects in her IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education) courses, which gave her a good grounding in the core subjects and enabled her to see what she was passionate about and wanted to pursue. Asked why she has chosen the field of biochemistry, she explained that during lockdown, she was exposed to the news media, scientists, and medical professionals giving opinions and information on how to overcome the coronavirus and create vaccines, and was greatly inspired by people working together from around the world to help humanity. It was during this time that she started looking into biochemistry, as this subject would allow her to explore the field of science in more depth.
Nicole summarises her thoughts about this choice in one sentence: The beauty of biochemistry lies in the endless exploration of the unknown amidst the known. This, she believes, is a very powerful sentence and formed the basis of her personal statement in her university application. In her opinion, theoretical understanding is not enough; she is also interested in expressing her passion for scientific inquiry and discovery.
Nicole also completed an Extended Project Qualification (EPQ), which cemented her focus, gave her a foundation, and provided structure in her thought process when formulating her personal statement. The EPQ project was truly inspiring, and gave her the research experience she needed, which ultimately helped her in her Oxford interview.
What is the Extended Project Qualification?
The Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) is a programme that is strongly recommended by The UK Department for Education and Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). ASDAN has been approved by the Office of the Qualifications and Examinations Regulator of UK (Ofqual), as the board eligible to launch the EPQ programme worldwide.
The programme requires learners to identify a topic they are interested in with their school supervisor. Candidates then need to conduct independent research in the form of either a dissertation (no more than 5,000 words) or an artefact with a report (no less than 1000 words).
Excerpt From Nicole’s Personal Statement
One of my driving curiosities in biochemistry is around our capacity to dissect the system of human disease through the lens of genetics. While exploring the chemical activities behind the mechanism of CRISPR-Cas9 and its application in CAR-T cell immunotherapy for my EPQ, it was riveting to find simplicity in what first seemed like complex biological processes. For example, Watson-Crick base pairing is the underlying principle directing the double-stranded DNA cleavage. To me, it has underscored that importance lies not in the discovery itself but what we do to harness its potential and ingenuity for the greater good. As I delve deeper into research, I notice that every discovery leads to a new set of questions, which excites me. I also learnt that some findings present ethical and social dilemmas, a valuable lesson before I embark upon deeper investigations. For me, the beauty of biochemistry lies in the endless exploration of the unknown amidst the known.
My initial encounter with CRISPR-Cas9 was in year 10 while watching a TED Talks video “How CRISPR lets us edit our DNA” delivered by Jennifer Doudna. As a young girl wanting to pursue a career in STEM, it was inspiring to witness a group led by two female scientists, Doudna and Charpentier, make groundbreaking discoveries in the field of biochemistry. “Language of the Genes” by Steve Jones was particularly eye-opening, as it provided me with an insight into how our understanding of genetics has evolved. It was illuminating to realise how evolution was, in essence, an accumulation of mutations in an inherited message over time, and that was what determined our individuality.
Completing an EPQ alongside the academic rigour of 5 A levels was not easy. It challenged me to be self-disciplined and taught me to cope and work under pressure. Meeting deadlines required thorough planning, prioritising, and time management, which I achieved by breaking down the work into smaller, manageable milestones. This process confirmed my desire to pursue further studies and a career in biochemistry, which requires perseverance and extensive research.
Describing how the teachers and the university team had helped her, Nicole said that Wellington College has an accelerated learning programme, and this helped her a great deal. It was an intense programme with lots of discussions, reading and debating. Students were challenged regarding their theories and knowledge, and this helped her grow in her formulation of theories and how best to interpret content into her presentations. She feels that the accelerated learning programme really helped her hone her skill set.
Explaining what drives her, Nicole acknowledges that she is quite ambitious and will always strive more and more to be successful. She always tries to picture herself 10 years into the future, to think about where she wants to be and what she wants to have achieved by then. She feels that having a goal or a clear vision in mind helps her focus and keeps her on track.
She is also motivated by her parents, who always told her that if you have a dream, it has to be a verb, not a noun; your dream can’t be to become a doctor, because what if you then do become a doctor? What do you do after that? So she thinks a dream should be an action – not what do you want to become, but what will you do after you achieve it.
Nicole feels that going to Oxford will certainly open up new opportunities for her, but her goal is to focus on the present. She believes that science has to be her priority, as scientists are always trying to find something new or prove something based on what they already know or what they think they know.
“She sums it up thus: “That was what I meant by the beauty of biochemistry or science in general, we are always driven to know something more and something that could help others. But this comes from the foundation that we have built over the years and the knowledge that we have. I think that’s really, really strong.”
Wish Nicole every success in the next steps of her journey.
Company Name: Wellington College International Tianjin
Contact Person: Admission Department
Email: Send Email
Phone: (+86-22) 8758-7199 ext. 6027
Address:No.1 Yide Dao, Hong Qiao District