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Oxford success for Read duo

Jubilation was in plentiful supply at Read School, Drax this weekend. Whilst people across the world will remember Saturday 6th May 2023 as being the day of King Charles III’s Coronation, two very special members of the Read School community were enjoying their own prestigious ceremony.

Annette Oliver (Head of Classics and Deputy Head of Sixth Form) and her son, Robbie Oliver (Head Boy 2013-2014) graduated from Oxford University in the same ceremony. This double celebration for the Olivers is a monumental occasion – and an incredibly proud moment for Read School, Drax. The ceremony, which took place at the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford saw Annette, 62, receive her MSt in Literature and Arts, whilst Robbie, 26, was awarded his DPhil in Condensed Matter Physics.

Read School were fortunate to speak to both Robbie and Annette regarding their academic successes, following their graduation ceremony at the weekend.

Robbie is the epitome of the academic success that Read inspires in its students. Robbie attended Read School for 15 years, having started at the school’s nursery in 1999. During this time, Robbie was known for his passion not just for the Sciences, but also French, Mathematics and Sport. In the Sixth Form Draxonian, Robbie has previously praised Read for the “unrivalled access to teachers” recalling the benefits of open discussions on academic subjects rather than being told what is correct.

Upon leaving Read in 2014, Robbie read Physics at Corpus Christi College, Oxford where he was awarded a scholarship in 2016 for his first-class performance in university examinations. Robbie graduated with a 1st Class MPhys in Physics and subsequently was awarded a place to study his DPhil in the Photovoltaic and Optoelectronic Device & THz Photonics groups, led Prof Henry Snaith FRS and Prof Michael Johnston respectively.  During his doctoral studies, Robbie studies metal halide perovskite materials for photovoltaic applications. During his DPhil, Robbie was awarded a Graduate Development Scholarship in 2019 by St Anne’s College, Oxford, and the internationally competitive Graduate Student Award by the Materials Research Society in 2022.

During his time at Oxford, Robbie was also college tutor at St Anne’s College, where he taught undergraduate physics students and was an admissions tutor for three years whilst also conducting postgraduate research. 

In Oct 2023, Robbie will start his independent academic career as a lecturer in Sustainable Materials at the University of Sheffield. Robbie’s research focus is on the development of the next generation of defect-tolerant semi-conductors for opto-electronic applications including better solar cells and LEDs.

Robbie’s academic research has seen him publish numerous articles on his specialisms, and work with world-renowned physicists. When reflecting on his journey from Read School to Oxford, Robbie stated, 
“I believe the key to academic success stems from intellectual curiosity and enthusiasm. Once you have those, the possibilities are endless."

For Annette, however the journey to Oxford was perhaps a more unconventional one. As an accomplished and well-loved teacher, it could easily be argued that Annette was busy and established enough in her career without taking on the embarking on a new venture at this stage in her life. However, after seeing an advert for the MSt in Literature and Arts on Facebook, Annette’s interest in returning to academia was piqued. The interdisciplinary course, which covered several humanities subjects such as English Literature, British History, and the Material Arts, and aimed to give those “studying in a broad and multi-faceted picture of the past”. Despite having no undergraduate experience in these subjects, Annette was successful in gaining a place on the two-year course – shortly before Covid-19 hit.

Annette was, like students across the world, forced to study online for a large proportion of her MSt degree. Despite this Annette spoke fondly of her studies, describing not only the life-long friendships formed with fellow students – but also opportunities provided for professional development along the way. In the forty years since studying BA (Hons) Latin at the University of Leeds, the insight into being a student again proved incredibly valuable in her role as Deputy Head of Sixth Form at Read.

Annette commented “The interdisciplinary nature of the MSt degree really transformed my teaching style, and it was good to be a student again: to build the degree of resilience needed when deadlines loom, and everything feels too much. What you learn the most when you push yourself out of your comfort zone, is about yourself. It is important to have a good support network, but you must take responsibility for it – no one is going to do it for you.”

When asked about how it feels to be graduating in the same ceremony as her son, Annette remarked: “graduating with a master’s from the University of Oxford is exciting enough, but to be sharing the same degree ceremony as my son Robbie makes it better than I could have ever imagined. It makes all the long working hours and hard work more than worthwhile.”

Ruth Ainley, Head of Read School, commented:

“We are extremely proud of Mrs Oliver and Robbie on the joyous occasion of their double graduation which auspiciously falls on the day of the Coronation.   Both are tremendous role models for all of us – not only in terms of academic achievement but also their zest for continuous learning and progression.  It seems only yesterday that Robbie was Head Boy at Read, and I am sure that he will continue to inspire our pupils as he moves onto this exciting next stage of his career.   Meanwhile, no one embodies the ‘Carpe Diem’ spirit like Mrs Oliver who has pursued her dream to achieve her Oxford master’s degree while working full time.  What talented teachers and pupils we have at Read School, Drax”.

The Read School community would like to express their most heartfelt congratulations to both Robbie and Annette for their academic achievements.