Benjamin took part in one of our Summer School programmes back in 2009. From growing up on a dairy farm to his current career as a data scientist – Benjamin has come a long way since his Sutton Trust programme.

We caught up with Benjamin to hear more about his current career, and what he remembers of his time on the programme.

Can you tell us about your background?

“I grew up on my parents’ dairy farm in West Wales, and went to the local comprehensive school. It was probably growing up on the farm that got me interested in engineering and later physics. Neither of my parents went to university, but they’ve always encouraged me to try hard at school and follow the things I enjoy.

I attended the 2009 Sutton Trust summer school in Oxford, and soon afterwards applied to study physics at Brasenose College, Oxford. I found the first year tough, and was quite behind other students from the start. With encouragement from friends and tutors I stuck at it, though, and things got easier. I ended up graduating with a first, and went on to study for a PhD in particle physics at the University of Cambridge. My PhD work was based around the ATLAS experiment at the LHC, specifically searches for exotic physics (microscopic black holes and supersymmetry). My first job after graduating took me back closer to my roots, working in the field of agritech as a data scientist for a small start-up. Over two years we took a device (a milk analyser) through its first prototypes and into farm tests.

In 2020, my partner got a new job in the humanitarian sector, and so we moved to Geneva. Since January 2021 I’ve been working as a data scientist for Terapet, a medtech start-up developing devices for use during proton therapy (for cancer treatment).

What do you remember about your Sutton Trust programme?

“It was an intense week at the summer school, with lectures, practicals, social activities and excursions. I found the small-group “tutorial” teaching intimidating at first – it’s certainly very different to a class of 30 in school – but it was one of the most special parts of the summer school (and probably what pushed me to apply to Oxford).

Did you know what you wanted to do before your Summer School programme?

“I didn’t have a very clear idea of what I wanted to do before university, beyond an interest in science and engineering. The summer school really helped in my decision to study physics at university, and to apply to some of the top universities. At that stage I wasn’t confident of getting in, but the summer school convinced me that it was a world I would like to be a part of. At school there were a lot of misconceptions about going to university, particularly when it came to finances and “fitting in” at the best universities.

The summer school was useful not just for the practical facts (the student finance process, the availability of grants, etc), but also for getting a feel for university culture. While there certainly were aspects to live in Oxford that seemed strange at first, it was always welcoming and never exclusionary. I feel that the summer school did a very good job of giving a taste of university life.”

Any other memories you’d like to share?

“The slightly absurd experience of being packed into a minibus, driven by a lovely yet eccentric Emeritus Professor across Oxford on a visit to the John Radcliffe hospital. And especially his somewhat destructive manoeuvring to get around (/ through) a misbehaving parking barrier in the hospital car park!”

If, like Benjamin, you’d like to share your story with us – just get in touch with the alumni team via [email protected].