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‘Gliding’ is this Turkish researcher’s favourite pastime at the University of Oxford

Yusuf Oldac is an active member of the Oxford University Gliding Club, as one of his favourite past times include gliding. Source: Yusuf Oldac

You’d think one of the perks of flying is getting from place to place, but for Yusuf Oldac, it’s the gliders. He enjoys streaming through wind thermals like an eagle soaring towards the sunset whilst miles and miles high up in the sky. For him, it’s like therapy to watch the beautiful countryside beneath the plane, and sometimes joined by curious real-life birds in the air. 

“I have been actively participating in the Oxford University Gliding Club, for which I was a committee member in the second year of my doctoral study,” Oldac says. He’s now 27 years old and pursuing his PhD in Higher Education at the University of Oxford under a full scholarship. 

On a flight to chase after his big dream of a career in the University of Oxford, he tells us what’s it like to be a student at one of the most elite universities in the world, what the application process was like, what British traditions he’s experienced and more about his unique pastime:

Understandably, getting into the University of Oxford is not an easy feat. Tell us about yourself and the application process to study abroad.

I love working hard to advance my understanding about certain things in life, being in a highly-regarded institution was an attraction point for me. The University of Oxford has some of the best minds in the world, and it was a dream for me to be able to get in. 

Yusof Oldac is currently completing his PhD in Student-Self Formation in International Higher Education at the University of Oxford. Source: Yusuf Oldac

The application process was not easy, I had to compete with some of the smartest people which made it an exciting challenge that I’d like to talk more about. Firstly, it was important in my case to get in touch with potential professors early on, and one of them encouraged me to apply because we had similar research interests and I was experienced enough to work with her in a doctoral project. 

After getting this encouragement, I began developing a research proposal — always crucial when getting an offer for a PhD in a university in the UK. When I sent it over to my potential PhD advisor, she told me that while it was good, it would still need to pass the departments’ evaluation. Soon after, I was invited for an online interview and a few weeks from then, I was offered an official place for doctoral study at the University of Oxford!

What made you fall in love with gliding? Tell us more about it.

Joining the gliding team at Oxford has been full of joyful memories. Some of the other gliders come from different lines of work and not all of them are Oxford University students. Also, finishing a day full of flying at the airfield common room, conversing with fellow pilots about the memorable things we were able to see up above, close to the clouds is really great

Is there a particular reason why you chose England as your study abroad destination?

I chose England because it’s a country rich in history. Especially in Oxford, where you can experience this alongside beautiful British traditions in your daily life. The ancient libraries used for studies, the traditional formal dinners at famous university halls, and the fantastic Oxford balls, are some of the examples of this magnificent British culture. 

Another reason to add to why I chose England, is the quality of higher education. Being a higher education scholar myself, I know that the UK’s education system performs very highly internationally. The quality of education especially at the top-level universities such as the University of Oxford is very good which is also reflected in the global university rankings as well. 

“Student Self-Formation” sounds very complex. Can you tell us a bit more about it?

I study Student Self-Formation in International Higher Education, which is a novel perspective to understand how students develop in higher education. For this approach, international students are the strong agents who steer the course of their own lives under circumstances they don’t control. 

An aspect of this approach that I like is that it proposes a different perspective to look at higher education beyond human capital approach. The human capital approach has prevailed in the education literature since the 1960s, but in my perspective, it does not show the full student development. 

By contrast, self-formation in higher education is a modernist idea that goes beyond the perspectives that currently dominate mainstream psychology and economics. It upholds the important role of agency and holistic development in higher education. 

England is quite the contrast to Turkey, although both countries drink lots of tea. What do you enjoy most about England? Give us some examples!

I love the tradition of afternoon tea here! Every now and then, some friends and I head to a nice cafe to enjoy a cup of tea accompanied with sandwiches, scones, and cakes. It is such a great way to enjoy your afternoon with friends and have a great conversation. 

In addition, I also enjoy the traditional formal dinners at Oxford, I have some unforgettable memories here. This is a great opportunity to socialise with other students and professors.  

Obviously the international student lifestyle has sat with you nicely! What advice do you have for international students looking to go to England? 

England is a great place to study in my opinion. Planning the application process early on, and being patient is very important. Get in touch with professors from the institution as early as you can.

I recommend also, if you plan to apply for a university in the UK, to start thinking about funding early on. Unlike the US, doctorates are not seen as paid workers in the UK, so not all PhD scholarship students are funded. 

What are your plans post-PhD? 

I plan to continue working on the Student Self-Formation Theory. My plan is to advance our understanding of how student agency works in international higher education using the Self-Formation Theory. 

I believe that the focus on student agency gains even further importance as students face uncertainty especially during the current COVID-19 circumstances. There is a limited scope for social interactions and reduced immersion experience. 

I would like to be able to contribute the expertise I accumulate on higher education into use at the Turkish Higher Education System with my future publications. Currently, I have recently obtained an international evaluator position at the Turkish Higher Education Quality Council, which is the governmental organisation that is responsible for ensuring the quality of higher education in Turkey. 

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