When 2019 ACG Founders’ Scholarship recipient Sidhaarth Kumar left New Zealand to begin his new life at the University of Oxford, he was eager, excited, and understandably a little anxious. However, now midway through the second year of his Master of Physics (MPhys) programme at Balliol College, the ACG Parnell College alumnus is clearly thriving.
Not only has he found his niche, with an active social calendar and a wide group of friends, but his exceptional 2020-2021 academic results saw the high achieving undergrad recognised as the strongest student at Balliol College in his year. In fact, his overall ranking within the entire Year 1 cohort placed him fourteenth from 190 students, putting him close to the top of the Oxford year.
Described by his tutors as “extremely focused, talented and motivated”, Sidhaarth confirmed in a recent interview that his time in Oxford has been very challenging but very rewarding. He has shared some of his highlights and experiences below.
What were your first impressions of the University of Oxford?
Arriving in the UK in late 2020 was a completely surreal experience due to the pandemic. So much of what I had come to expect with ‘normal’ life had entirely disappeared. Despite this, the university was no less exciting. The grand and historic buildings scattered around the city told their own story of the university’s academic prowess and reputation.
Now you’ve had a chance to settle in, how are you finding life at Balliol College?
I wanted to be intellectually stimulated and enjoy my extracurricular life, and, in these respects, the university has exceeded my expectations. I was also extremely pleased to receive a distinction for my first-year exams and be awarded first place in the university for the computing and practical component.
What are you enjoying the most?
The new friends I have made along the way are the best part of my university experience. Oxford is by design a high-pressure environment, and having friends to help alleviate some of the stress has been very important.
And what are you finding the most challenging?
The workload is definitely the most challenging aspect of university life, and I am finding it increasingly more important to schedule my time effectively.
How do you feel ACG Parnell College helped prepare you for tertiary study?
My teachers at ACG Parnell presented me with many chances to enrich my education. This included representing New Zealand in the International Young Physicists Tournament in Poland as well as taking a maths paper at the University of Auckland while in Year 13. These opportunities helped me develop the ability to study independently with little to no pre-set structure, an invaluable tool as a university student.
Additionally, doing Cambridge exams was particularly useful for transitioning to university study in the UK. The interview process was well suited to students with a solid foundation in the relevant A-Levels, and I felt that I was on a level playing field with local students.
Do you have any specific goals for your current academic year?
I would like to maintain my performance from last year, and I have applied to various summer internships in different fields of physics and maths in Europe and the US, which I would be thrilled to be a part of.
How has receiving the 2019 ACG Founders’ Scholarship affected your studies?
The financial assistance from the scholarship [valued at up to $75,000 over three years] has given me the freedom to apply to summer programmes based solely on my academic interests. This is important to me as I believe the qualities of a good physics student extend beyond passing exams, and these opportunities give me exposure to them.
So what does the future hold in terms of your career aspirations after graduation?
I am interested in pursuing a career in theoretical physics. My ideal job is to be a postdoctoral researcher at a university or company interested in physics-based technologies.
Do you have any advice for students hoping to attend Oxford or other world-renowned universities?
An obvious but understated piece of advice is to show interest in the subject you apply for. Academic curiosity is the single most important trait to succeeding in your educational goals. This could mean taking on large projects to demonstrate your passion or simply reading lots about the subject in your free time.