Human Sciences Interviews

The best place to start is Oxford's official information on preparing for interviews. But after you've looked there, read on to hear some students talk about their Human Sciences interviews.

At Hertford College, I was first asked - 'why human sciences?'. I said I was 'interested in nearly everything and didn't want to narrow down.' They then asked 'what doesn't human sciences cover?' I replied 'probably the ins and outs of nuclear/atomic physics?' to which they asked 'How could a human scientist help a atomic physicist?'. I was stumped but I tried to come up with something about researching and investing in education in poor countries so as to increase the number of minds and potential physics geniuses! Felt like bullshit at the time, and still does.

I was then asked, 'Why do humans give to strangers knowing they won't receive anything in return?' I started off talking about altruism, but that was dismissed, and then I was confused. I umm-ed and ahhh-ed for a long time, but they didn't seem to mind - in fact I think they like to see you thinking. The answer, they later described to me, was that we evolved the tendency to give when in small nomadic groups, and now this is applied to strangers in the modern world. The last questions were based on two bags from Borneo or somewhere remote. I had to compare them and say how certain materials had gone into making one and also which would be more useful in the jungle. I liked this one because many different approaches and answers seemed adequate.

At St John's College I was asked to define Anthropology. I said the study of humans and their behaviour. He then showed me four diagrams of different houses and buildings from different cultures and tribes. I was asked what they were made of, how that relates to the environment, and what they show about the culture which made them. It seemed very abstract and vague but I managed to come up with something by noting the different sizes and shapes, that they will be made out of materials that are readily available. He then asked me to adapt my definition - I added 'and their interaction with the environment'. I think he was looking for a willingness to take on new ideas, information and relate them to previous topics.

I was then talked through a series of relatively simple probability questions. I was asked what assumptions had to be made when using probability about how likely two people are to receive a 1st at Oxford. The answers were they must be mutually exclusive (unaffected by association e.g. two friends may be friends because they are clever and therefore both more likely to get a first.) We also had to assume that the two people are of equal talent or something, and both are equally likely to get a 1st.

The last interviewer asked me to elaborate on a point in my personal statement - 'Human evolution is both biological and communal'. I quickly regretted my use of the word communal but managed to explain I meant that our strong social structures allow psychology of groups and interactions to shape our evolution, as well as biological means such as faster running. I would recommend, before interviews, to select every assumption you make in your personal statement and question it thoroughly!

Ava, Hertford, student from 2015

First interview had two interviewers. Personal statement based - tell me about this project etc. Why human sciences? Showed two graphs - look at the scales!

Second interview also had a prompt, this time a genetic-based map. Some other questions, such as "Why justify spending time at art galleries?"

Beth, New, student from 2013

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