Stories| Josef Hazi

Student Josef Hazi: At the beginning there was a dream, which then became reality.

What inspired you to go to Oxford?
Among other things, I competed in Mathematics and Physics Olympiads at high school. That brought me to the International Young Physicists’ Tournament, which we won three times in a row. I had an opportunity to see Beijing, Vienna and Tehran as a result. I met many talented and passionate students at my first international competition in Beijing. The Slovak team’s captain, who had already been admitted to Oxford, interested me the most. It was a completely unbelievable idea for me at the time, but not so unbelievable that I didn’t try it myself. So I spent the two following years doing my very best to improve my chances of admission.

Both of your parents are mathematicians. Did this influence your focus?
It certainly did. I had been focusing on math since starting grammar school. The Mathematics Olympiad problems were always a nice challenge. You had to exert a fair amount of effort to solve them, and your reward was a personal feeling of victory. It was like a sport, except that you were primarily trying to outperform yourself.

Did you consider your future professional career when choosing your major?
I always try to think ahead a bit. I wanted a science discipline with a strong practical element. And studying materials is just crucial for today’s modern technologies. Nuclear reactors are a good example - we understand them quite well in theory, but in practice they still entail many engineering pitfalls. My research today focuses on the sintering of nanocrystalline powders of tungsten, chromium, nickel and aluminum. This is a new method for producing objects that requires much lower temperatures and less time than other methods. Applications depend on the specific materials. For example, nickel and its alloys can be used for jet engine turbines.

How difficult was it to obtain a grant?
I found out about the opportunity to obtain a grant from The Kellner Family Foundation myself. I was looking for grants on the Internet while at grammar school. I had a real chance at getting accepted because, as I said, I had been trying to make myself eligible for a grant like this for several years.

The university of your choice has an exquisite reputation around the world. The competition to get in must have been enormous...
Obviously, I realized how prestigious the school was and that getting in would not be easy. But I did not feel any rivalry among the students during the interviews. Actually, it felt like we were all encouraging each other, both the local and international applicants.

Then, while you were studying there, could you tell a difference between international and local students?
Oxford is a typical British university. International students make up just 14 percent of the students, with the rest being Brits. You could tell that international students often stuck together and communicated less with the British. I tried to be different and not limit myself just to socializing with other international students. Then again, international students have often lived more interesting stories and are more active in sports and clubs. They simply have to put in more effort.

What was the most difficult thing when you first came to the university?
Language was the most difficult thing for me. Although I had the IELTS certificate, I couldn’t understand accented English well. Also idioms and colloquialisms were a hurdle for me at first. I certainly recommend everyone to try to improve their colloquial English before going to university. Speaking fluently is essential for building friendships.

Have you got plans for what to do once you graduate?
I have not decided exactly yet. I guess I’ll try to work for a year and apply for a doctoral program at the University of California, where I was an intern last summer. Then, if I get a good idea, I’d like to form my own company and focus on what I’m interested in.

Does this mean you want to combine science and business in your future occupation?
I still don’t have a specific plan. There are still too many things I am interested in. In a way I hope that, in my master’s research this year, I’ll find some technology intriguing enough to try and find an application for it outside of the lab.

Would you say that getting where you are now was your dream? Or, on the contrary, is it that success opens up more opportunities and goals to achieve?
Both. At the beginning there is an idea, a big dream that motivates you. But it is true that success breeds more success. For now, I hope my successes will push me forward and perhaps even open some doors. I know students my age who have already been offered jobs at big and successful firms such as Dropbox in San Francisco.

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