My Internship at Oxplore

I’m Sophie, a first year English Language and Literature student at Christ Church college, Oxford. As an English student, I love reading and writing, and working with Oxplore over the past week has allowed me to share my enthusiasm and work on new materials. As a naturally curious person, working with Oxplore has allowed me to explore big issues, as well as giving me wonderful insight into how outreach programmes work and how we can make a difference.

Sophie, Oxplore Intern

Coming from a state school that provides little information about applying to Oxbridge, outreach is incredibly important to me. I think it is crucial that all young people have information about applying to universities such as Oxford, and even more importantly, are able to flourish, explore big questions, and develop their critical thinking skills by engaging with academic issues and debates. Particularly with books, I really love that Oxplore runs a book club that allows young people to explore different genres and styles, and provides fun, interesting resources for them to learn through. Additionally, I love the curiosity that Oxplore promotes, and the wide range of topics covered in the Big Questions creates the perfect intellectual environment for young people who are eager to find out more. In my time working with Oxplore, I have been able to see first-hand how one creates important resources and engages with young people, and it has really highlighted to me the importance of outreach.

Sophie created new materials for the Oxplore Book Club.

After a year of online studying, I was not particularly fazed by the prospect of doing an internship online. Although I am aware that the atmosphere is very different online, I don’t think it hindered our communication or our work. I was working alongside two other interns, Ndidi and Giulia, and it was lovely to share ideas together and learn about each other a bit, as well as getting to know the lovely Oxplore team. Creating resources and having discussions online showed me several things: how we can work as a team to produce resources over the internet; how much we have adapted to using the internet to our advantage; and how important it is that digital outreach can reach a worldwide audience.

I was particularly exciting to be working with the Oxplore book club, which included planning and delivering a live event, discussing Malorie Blackman’s ‘Noughts and Crosses’. This was a really interesting book to discuss, touching on many topical issues, and it was really interesting to discuss some of these with guest speaker Chelsea Haith, as well as talking about dystopian fiction more widely. While I have attended online live events in the past, I have never hosted them, and planning and holding the live discussion was a fascinating experience for me. I think it really helped to develop my confidence with working with an online audience, and it was also great to see people engaging with the talk by asking their own questions.

Sophie worked with two fellow interns to plan and co-deliver a live book discussion for schools.

As well as working on this event, I developed some resources for the Oxplore book club’s autumn book: ‘Scythe’ by Neal Shusterman. This was a book I hadn’t read before, so it was fun to get stuck into it, and think about how I could best communicate my perspective and knowledge of the thriller and horror genres to a younger audience. I enjoyed being able to get feedback on my work, and working to improve it so that it is well-suited for the Oxplore website.

We also looked at planning storyboards for animations for some of Oxplore’s Big Questions, and I found this incredibly engaging and a good chance to use my own creativity. I was working on the question ‘Could we live on another planet?’, which dealt with subjects out of my comfort zone, but gave me a really interesting look at areas I haven’t considered before and widened my own knowledge. Working to plan a storyboard made me consider the different ways we can interpret and display information, and really challenged me to think outside the box.

Sophie drafted an animation storyboard for the question ‘Could we live on another planet?’

I was also challenged by the task of collaboratively planning a social media campaign for later in the year. However, it was enjoyable to think of the different ways we can engage with an audience, particularly making an approach interesting enough for younger viewers, and it again highlighted to me the many challenges and efforts of outreach work.

Working with Oxplore was an enlightening and enjoyable endeavour, and it didn’t even feel like doing hard work, but engaging with issues that I found interesting and thinking about how they could be shared with a young audience. After a year of academic work at Oxford, doing an internship with Oxplore was a refreshing way to start the summer: full of passion and curiosity, and hoping to inspire others to think about big issues. The Oxplore Team were lovely and incredibly helpful, supporting us in our tasks and overall, it was a real delight to have the opportunity to work with Oxplore.

Stay at Home: Stay Curious!

Whether you’re looking for a starter activity for an online lesson or inspiration for home schooling, Oxplore is here to make the young minds in your life curious. 

Our #OxploreAdventure series is back!

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be suggesting some quick-fire activities to help you use Oxplore with your students. Keep an eye on our social media channels to find out more @letsoxplore (TwitterFacebook and Instagram). 

In the meantime, here are some existing free resources plus a subject map of all the Big Questions on the site to help you find topics most useful to you. 

You can also sign up for Oxplore’s teachers’ newsletter to be the first to hear about our upcoming live events and competitions. 

The Big Oxplore Essay Competition Results… Part two

In this second post centred on the results of our recent ocean-themed essay competition, we’re delighted to share the winning and runner-up entries in the Year 10-13 category. Plus, the video messages our judges sent to the students which include some personalised feedback on their essays.

Again, a huge thank you to everyone who took the time to enter and share their creative takes on our competition titles.


Winning essay in Year 10-13 category:

Should we prioritise Ocean over Space exploration?

Curiosity is unique to the human species and it is understandable that we fuel our desire to question our world through exploration. It is the driving force of our civilizations and it is what allows us to incite change on society. Our constant eagerness to uncover the unknown is why we find such fascination in outer space; an endless, dark vacuum containing entities of incomprehensible size. Maybe the awe-striking nature and deep uncertainty of space is why we spend so much time questioning it. However, one thing is for certain, we have a vast area of uncharted territory of our own on planet Earth – The Global Ocean – so why is it that we spend much more time exploring space than we do our own oceans?

71% of the Earth’s surface is covered by the Global Ocean and a remarkable 80% of these oceans is still yet to be explored or even seen by humans. A quote by science writer Arthur C. Clarke describes this perfectly: “How inappropriate to call this planet Earth, when clearly it is Ocean.” [2]  The Global Ocean contains the largest and most diverse ecosystems on the planet, from life near the Poles to the stunning coral reefs in the Tropics. Its immense size means that it has a huge impact on the weather and temperature of the planet and these ecosystems also have a profound effect on the food supply of many organisms, including humans [1]. It is therefore very surprising that a larger percentage of the surfaces of Mars and the Moon have been mapped and studied than the ocean floor [1], especially considering that you would think that knowing more about the largest, least explored ecosystems on Earth would greatly benefit the human race.

Understanding the oceans would not only satisfy our natural curiosity, but it could also unlock new sources for medical drugs, food, and energy resources [3]. Deep-ocean exploration would also be key to gaining information vital to predicting earthquakes and tsunamis [3], allowing better preparation for the civilizations that would be put in danger by these natural disasters. Not only would this reduce damage to settlements and save money, but also save lives as well. The most relevant benefit is that it will help us to understand how changes in the Earth’s environment are affecting and being affected by humans [3]. In addition, the continuous discovery of new ‘alien-like’ marine species is both fascinating and useful – in understanding organisms that are adapted to surviving in the most extreme environments, which are what I believe to be the key to answering the questions about the origins of life on Earth. It is very likely that these organisms have remained unchanged for millions of years.

On the other hand, space exploration provides its own important benefits. We are able to better understand how the human body works by performing experiments in space – astronauts do not have to work as hard to move around while in space due to the weightlessness and so heart activity is greatly reduced, allowing the effects of a sedentary lifestyle to be further investigated [4]. We are also able to investigate plant physiology in the absence of gravity. This has helped us to better understand how plants grow and how trees form wood, providing potential routes into improving tree growth on a commercial scale [4]. Possibly the most influential benefit of space exploration is the development of new technologies for use in medicine such as the use of robots in neurosurgery [4].

The Space Race of the 20th Century has led to companies like NASA and Space-X having huge roles in the media in recent years and therefore in society. It is possible that this could be one of the reasons why there has been less focus on the benefits of ocean exploration over the past two decades – at least within the media. Furthermore, as of 2017, the NOAA’s annual budget is under $20 million [5]. In contrast, the NASA Curiosity rover Mars mission cost $2.5 billion alone [5]. This shows the striking difference in the funding between space and ocean exploration.

In conclusion, I believe that both ocean and space exploration are very important. Both provide unique research opportunities, and both are endlessly intriguing. However, it is undeniably true that we spend much more time on the latter than the former. I think that given the rapidly growing challenges caused by climate change, it is time that we shift our curiosity (and funding) towards our oceans. If not now, then when? It is time for change.

Written by Logan Heath

Sources & References


[2] Marine Biology: A Very Short Introduction, Philip V. Mladenov, Second edition published 2020 Oxford University Press




A message from one of competition judges, Natasha Gillies (Department of Zoology)

Runner-up entry in Year 10-13 category:

Should individuals take more responsibility for protecting our oceans?

Some of my first memories as a child are coastal welsh holidays. Photos of my siblings and I, sandy and windswept are scattered around our house. Another thing scattered around our house is plastic. We consider ourselves a fairly eco-friendly household, but in this day and age it often feels like plastic is inescapable. We try to buy sustainably, shopping for foods from smaller shops with our own containers and order from businesses that have sustainable packaging but our recycling and plastic waste bin is constantly overflowing. In this essay I will argue that the role of the individual is important when taking care of the ocean, but far too much blame is laid at the people’s feet, and not enough work is done towards stopping plastic pollution at a corporate level.

Whilst plastic might not be overtly dumped into the ocean by waste management systems, due to landfill sites around the world, tiny microplastics still find their way into our oceans via rain water, soil erosion, drainage systems and illegal waste disposal. Once in the ocean, plastics pollute our reefs, poison our fish and prevent our ecosystems from functioning as they should. When China, one of the UK’s primary waste processing locations, stopped taking plastic recycling in 2018, UK ‘recycling’ has been found in Malaysia in illegal landfill sites[1]. This begs the question of where else has our plastic ended up. The AAAS suggests that 4.8 to 12.7 million MT enters the ocean each year[2], and this is only set to increase unless serious change takes place in our waste management systems.

In his article, Peter Thomson aptly calls our situation a “plastic plague”[3]. Even before Covid-19, I would feel this is an accurate description but having lived through my own plague, I feel fully able to testify to the accuracy of this observation. Both are insidious, creeping in when you least expect it and seem impossible to escape from. However, just like at the time of writing, I feel there is a ‘vaccine’ to the disease of plastic, and it is not submitting the general public to guilt and blame when the problem lies farther up, at a more corporate level. In 2016, only 12% of waste was generated by households[4]. Of course, any reduction in waste is a good reduction, but with the UK producing 221.0 million tonnes[5] of waste in 2016, I question how much the general public reducing their waste will actually help with the 19 to 23 million metric tons of waste generated globally that entered aquatic ecosystems in 2016[6]. If all big businesses stopped using single use plastics in their packaging, or ensured their waste was responsibly recycled, it would be the beginnings of a vaccine for our planet. More work must still be done, but it would be a start.

It is important not to undermine the power of the public, however. As a collection of individuals, we have enormous influence over the way our country is governed, and as consumers we have similar power. Refusing a straw and recycling as much as you can may be tiny steps, and in the grand scheme of things insubstantial but together we have a power. So whilst huge corporations continue to act poorly, creating change only when the alternative is a significant drop in profits, I will continue to recycle my plastic waste, however futile this may be. I want my children to experience the beaches I love, the wildlife I treasure but with every day this feels less and less attainable. I would like to end this on a happy note, a hopeful end for a hopeful future but, perfectly honestly, words fail me.

Written by Josie Pratt-Walters


[1] Ross, Alice. “We Found UK Plastic Waste In Illegal Dump Sites In Malaysia.” Unearthed. N.p., 2018. Web. 1 Dec. 2020.

[2] Jambeck, Jenna et al “Plastic Waste Inputs From Land Into The Ocean.” American Association for the Advancement of Science. N.p., 2015. Web. 1 Dec. 2020.

[3] Thomson, Peter. “The Ocean Is in Trouble.” Horizons: Journal of International Relations and Sustainable Development, no. 14, 2019, pp. 158–167. JSTOR, Accessed 24 Nov. 2020.

[4] Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs. UK Statistics on Waste, York:Department for Environmental Food and Rural Affairs, 2020

[5] Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs. UK Statistics on Waste, York:Department for Environmental Food and Rural Affairs, 2020

[6] Borrelle, Stephanie et al. Science. “Predicted growth in plastic waste exceeds efforts to mitigate plastic pollution”. American association for the advancement of science, 2020

A message from one of our judges, Liam Saddington (School of Geography and the Environment)

The Big Oxplore Essay Competition Results… Part one

A BIG thank you to everyone who took part in our ocean-themed essay competition that we ran in November/December 2020. We were absolutely delighted by the number of entries we received. The judges were really impressed by the high quality of the essays and found it a tricky task selecting the winners.

We previously announced our winners on social media at the end of 2020 but we’re excited to be able to share our winning and runner -up entries on this blog for you to read. You can read these across two posts, starting with those in the Year 7-9 category. Plus, you can view the video messages our judges sent to the students which include personalised feedback on their essays.


Winner in the Year 7-9 category:

Should we prioritise ocean over space exploration?

Since we have been on this planet for about 200,000 years, we have the right to explore the ocean (more so than space). It is our responsibility to look after our planet because it is our only home and looking after our ocean is essential for the planet to survive. Oceanic exploration should be our primary concern more so than space exploration. Presently the balance is more in favour of space exploration.  

Despite the fact that our ocean plays a massive role in everything from the air which we breathe to the weather and climate patterns our oceans are being polluted by industry and human waste products especially plastic, this along with over fishing is depleting our fish stocks. To start with we have only discovered five percent of the ocean and yet we have discovered four percent of the known universe.

What we know about the ocean is mostly the shallows which is just the tip of the iceberg. More is known about the surface of the Moon, Mars and Mercury using satellite and radar technology, (scientists have even photographed black holes). But this technology cannot be used to research the surface of the Earth at the bottom of the ocean but this does not mean it cannot be mapped. When Malaysia Airlines flight disappeared in 2014 sonar was used to try to locate the airplane and although the plane was not discovered, what was discovered was extinct underwater volcanoes, ridges and trenches previously unknown. The technology is there but why is it not being used more?

The ocean does have its difficulties though when it comes to exploration. To start with the sea is extremely corrosive on equipment because there is a lot of salt in seawater and then there is the extreme pressure exerted on equipment at great depths. Extreme pressure is also very dangerous to humans wishing to dive to great depths. Another thing to consider is that machinery needed is very expensive. But as expensive as rockets to the moon?

The available funding for space exploration (NASA only) is $22.6 billion, and this does not include private ventures such as SpaceX. The space shuttle program cost $209 billion. Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) spends $219 million only on ocean, coastal and great lakes research. Something is definitely wrong with this, especially as a big proportion of oceanic research and exploration funding goes towards deep sea drilling for oil (which is in turn damaging to our planet in the form of global warming and acid rain).

Understanding the ocean can help us on land in many ways. Knowledge of oceanic ecosystems will reveal to us new medicines and food source and oceanic exploration can help us to predict underwater earthquakes and tsunamis and help us how we are affecting and being affected by changes in Earth’s environment.

Oceanic exploration is certainly not boring in comparison to space exploration. If more was known about the deep ocean then it would most probably be better looked after. At the moment it is being increasingly polluted at alarming speeds and this is resulting in the death of coral reefs and the needless deaths of countless species of marine wildlife. Many species are becoming extinct.

Ocean exploration can improve ocean literacy and inspire young people like myself. It will help us to seek corners in mathematics, technology, engineering and science. The ocean is critical to our human life and it produces fifty percent of the air we breathe. We believe that ocean exploration is more important than space exploration, yet we only receive about one hundredth as much funding. More than fifty percent of the ocean floor has never been explored or mapped to date.

After seeing David Attenborough’s documentaries, I feel really inspired by his voice and knowledge and we all should take a piece from what he is telling us to do and do it. Us children have a voice and this message has to be spread all around the world, that we need to research our oceans before it is too late. The ocean and creatures living in the depths are in urgent need of saving, just think if you were in their shoes you probably won’t like it so don’t do it to other people or creatures. Space can wait, it’s not going anywhere but our ocean is endangered, if we don’t act now it could be too late and the destruction of our oceans will impact greatly on the lives of everyone on our beautiful planet. Explore our oceans – then we can go to Mars.

Written by John Andre Rodrigues Nutting

A message from our competition judge Natasha Gillies (Department of Zoology)

Runner-up in the Year 7-9 category:

Should individuals take more responsibility for protecting the ocean?

I believe that individuals should take more responsibility for protecting the ocean. I think this because it is clearly an increasing issue that our ocean is suffocating in our waste. We have created a disaster and we must fix it. This is a complicated and layered issue that must be discussed. And in these next few paragraphs, we will begin to see there is not a simple yes or no answer.

I believe that this question involves two main types of people. Both can make a difference. Firstly, the lower income worker. Let’s call them person A. This worker may be interested in the environment and want to make a difference but doesn’t know how, possibly due to lack of education or possibly due to lack of belief that what they do will make a difference. They could also have no interest for the environment for the same reasons as the person with an interest.This first possibility, isn’t their failure. This is an issue that needs to be tackled by the people with the substantial knowledge on this subject. These people must share their findings if they want to make a difference! The second possibility can occasionally be true. But let’s focus on the beneficial factor for now. A study undertaken by Jonah Berger showed that people are psychologically inclined to follow the ‘trend’ or what their friends are doing. This means that when person A decides to use less plastic straws or buy produce with less plastic packaging, it can inspire others to step up, and if it transpires that person A  can no longer sustain a completely environmentally friendly lifestyle, due to lack of money, then the people who person A has inspired can step up.

The next person, let’s call them person B, has a high income. They have no interest in the environment, this could be because they also have not been educated enough on the issue. They also believe that if they take an interest in making a difference, that they will not help in the right way as this is such an unexplored issue. I believe this is an urgent obstacle that needs to be overcome as one of the problems with ocean conservation is lack of income for companies exploring these issues. These companies need to say if they need money or resources and create a way for these people to donate money to their companies. This is not entirely their responsibility though. These companies are likely to be low level companies that won’t have a very high platform to promote their research. When these establishments are discovered they need to be promoted by influencers because, as mentioned in the last paragraph, people are inspired by ‘trends’.

Let’s not forget the big production companies of course. A lot of these companies are heavily responsible for creating devastating amounts of waste that will often end up in the ocean. The main aim for these companies are quite often to make money and in reality, being environmental is not cheap. For example, in a study completed by The Sun on produce in popular supermarkets, loose produce was found to be as high as 44% more expensive than produce with packaging. This price difference is essentially an encouragement to buy less environmentally friendly products. Again though, these production companies aren’t entirely responsible. Even though many companies try to be more environmentally friendly, their main goal will always be to make enough money to get by. This means that if companies aren’t funded to solve this price difference, making a difference will be a painful struggle.

In conclusion, I believe that even though the responsibility is greater in some areas, each individual should take responsibility for looking after our ocean. In the final analysis, all of the times you picked up some litter, the overall sum of plastic in the ocean may only be marginally smaller but the point to focus on is that it will be smaller. This is a distributed responsibility that needs to be taken on by everyone. Some people won’t even have a whole number percentage in that responsibility but every single effort will count. We must remember that this is a global fight, we need to come together and struggle together to clean up our ocean.

Written by Isobel Burfitt

A message from one of our competition judges, Sean Phillips (History Faculty)

Intern-ing with Oxplore

Hear about the experiences of our two undergraduate interns who joined us in December 2020 for a week-long placement.

I’m Ellie, a second year Geography student at Teddy Hall. Access and outreach is so important to me, which is why I applied for an internship with Oxplore, and last month I completed an incredible week working on the project!

Ellie – Oxplore intern

Having attended a non-selective state school that saw infrequent acceptances to Oxbridge, I’m really passionate about the value of outreach projects which don’t only support applications but inspire students from a young age. Working with Oxplore as a Content Development Intern confirmed my belief in the power of digital outreach to reach students of all ages, all around the world, and set academic inspirations high.

Completing my internship didn’t really felt like work at all, but rather an endeavour into lots of different academic disciplines. I spent about half my week creating content for the Oxplore site, and really enjoyed curating a reading list for the ‘Could we end disease?’ Big Question, bringing my geographical passions to something which is normally viewed as scientific. I hope that I’ve been able to make my passion contagious through my reading list, bringing interdisciplinary views of epidemiology and pandemic science from geography, politics, and literature.

I spent the rest of the week working in close collaboration with another intern, Bianca to run a festive social media campaign on the Oxplore Instagram account. We ran a festive challenge and used stories to debate whether we should abolish Christmas, addressing varied perspectives. Using graphic design software brought me back to the creativity I’ve not been using for the past few years – we geographers really don’t colour in as much as you’d think – and I gained really valuable insights into how social media campaigns are managed and tailored to target audiences.

Remote working is now a friend of mine, having done a term of remote academic work between March and June last year and being semi-remote since October. I thought it would be a piece of cake, but ended up realising the value of constant communication, distraction management, and regular breaks in a professional environment.

Overall, I really enjoyed my internship with Oxplore. The team were so welcoming and supportive, and I will remember this experience and its value for a long time to come.

I’m Bianca, a 2nd Year Chemistry student at the University of Oxford. Although I study science, a lot of the time I find myself involved with writing and blending various sorts of ideas from books that I’ve read.

Bianca – Oxplore intern

I knew working for Oxplore for a while would be so much fun, because it would mean I’d get to research and write interesting things, something I really like doing on my own anyway. I could then classify that as work!

Whenever we have time outside of university work, my friends and I love to geek out about all the things we’ve been reading, the plays we’ve seen or the interesting stuff we’ve learned. I feel like the Oxplore website is a bit like a conversation with one of your nerdy friends— it pours out a lot of random, interesting perspectives and then asks you questions that make you think more deeply about the stuff.

It was the same thing working for the website: I spent my time delving into legendary worlds, creating a list of vanishing mythical places throughout time. I also got the chance to share just how fascinating Chemistry can be, in works of art and in culture, by creating a reading list for the ‘Are explosions always destructive?’ Big Question. And the most exciting thing was, I got to spend one day just reading about Tolkien’s universe, in order to write an article for the upcoming Oxplore Book Club! It felt both like revisiting my school days, when I’d dreamily lose myself in the various worlds I was reading about, and like my current, university days, which I mostly spend learning and reading things I’m interested in.

I initially started to work for Oxplore during March, so I was lucky enough to see the office, but only for one day. That also meant that I experienced the bustle and uncertainty that hit us all the next day, when it was announced that everybody would be working from home for a while. Nobody knew how long that would be. Choosing to postpone my internship for the Christmas break, I never would have imagined, back in March, that it would be an online internship. Despite all this, I feel like the experience of working remotely taught me something, too: I was better able to organize my day and I could even take my laptop with me in the library, one of my favourite places to work in my college in Oxford! The other intern, Ellie, a part of the Oxplore team, and I even had a very wholesome festive lunch over Zoom, where we got to share the interesting Christmas facts we’ve been learning throughout our internship week.

Working for Oxplore never got boring for me, because I was never losing myself in just one task. Being at Oxford taught me to take advantage of all the things you could be doing— all the talks you could attend, the societies you could join and the new things you’ve never thought about trying out. It’s very important to see beyond your work and even explore how it relates to your other passions. Then it stops feeling like work and it becomes just another one of the things you enjoy doing. And Oxplore is just the place where things that might fascinate you come together and make you ask yourself what other new links you could make and what other interesting things are hiding out there… right before your nose.

Dive into the Big Oxplore Essay Competition!

We are delighted to announce that we have launched an ocean-themed essay competition for secondary school students in Wales and the South West of England. Here is a downloadable competition poster you can display in your school.

We are inviting students in years 7-13 to write a 750 word response to one of the following essay titles:

  • Was an ‘Age of Exploration’ a positive development in world history?
  • Should we prioritise ocean over space exploration?
  • Should individuals take more responsibility for protecting the ocean?

All entries should be emailed to by 12 noon GMT on 1 December 2020. Please include your name, the name of your school and your school year.

Entries will be reviewed by our expert judging panel; find out more about them below. There will be two age categories: years 7-9 and 10-13. The winners will receive £100 in Amazon vouchers and the runners-up will receive an ocean-themed goody bag.

To help you get started, here is some guidance on the kinds of topics you could include in your response – plus see our FAQs at the bottom of the page:

Was an ‘Age of Exploration’ a positive development in world history?

From 1490, there was a great increase in the numbers of Europeans who made long-distance oceanic voyages to parts of the world with which they had previously little or no direct contact, such as North and South America, Asia and Oceania. This was a period which some historians have called the ‘Age of Discovery’ or the ‘Age of Exploration’. Did these voyages represent a positive development in world history or is there another side to the story? To find out more about some of the motivations behind these voyages, watch this short video.

In your response you may wish to…

  • discuss who these oceanic voyages affected and how. What positive and/or negative changes did the voyages bring?
  • analyse some of the political, economic, cultural or environmental impacts or a variety of these.
  • consider the impact of these events at the time, but you are also welcome to write about the impact of these events up to the present day.

Should we prioritise ocean over space exploration?

It’s often said that we know more about space than our oceans; while this might not be strictly true, we certainly have spent much more time exploring space. More people have been to the moon than the Mariana trench in the Pacific Ocean.

In your response, you may wish to consider:

  • how much funding is available for ocean versus space exploration.
  • the reasons why ocean exploration isn’t currently a priority – is it just too difficult, or are we simply not interested?
  • how understanding the deep ocean can help us on land.
  • whether ocean exploration matters?

Should individuals take more responsibility for protecting the ocean?

It has been increasingly clear in recent years that the health of our ocean is threatened. Campaigners have focused on the action that individuals can take to protect our ocean, for instance, refusing a plastic straw. But given the vast scale of our ocean, can individuals make a difference?

In your response you may wish to consider…

  • the degree to which an individual action like refusing a plastic straw can help to protect the ocean? 
  • the limits to individual action. Do families on low-income have much choice on whether they purchase goods wrapped in plastic?
  • if we can only protect the ocean through large structural changes from governments or large corporations? Could individuals bring about change by only voting for parties that prioritise ocean issues? Can consumers put pressure on corporations, such as oil companies, to act more responsibly?
  • whether the ocean is a global common cause which requires countries to work together? 

Our Judges

Liam Saddington

Liam Saddington

Liam is a doctoral researcher working in the Oxford School of Geography and the Environment. His research focuses on the geopolitics of climate change concerning small island states and rising sea levels. His work explores how the relationship between sovereignty, territory and statehood is being reimagined in low-lying atoll states at risk from rising sea levels. It examines how space and time shape understandings of climate change and the implications for critical geopolitics, adaptation and diplomacy.

gillies n

Natasha Gillies

Natasha is a doctoral researcher in the Department of Zoology. She researches the breeding patterns of the sea birds, Manx Shearwaters at island colonies around the UK (including Skomer Island, Wales). She uses a variety of precision biotelemetry devices including GPS trackers, geolocators, and accelerometers. She aims to find out the at-sea behaviour of individuals and, in combination with traditional fieldwork techniques and observational analyses, relate this to the decisions made by parents during reproduction.

Photograph of Sean Phillips, DPhil candidate at Nuffield College, Oxford

Sean Phillips

Sean is a doctoral researcher based in the History Faculty at the University of Oxford. His research explores the history of regionalism in the Pacific from the mid nineteenth to mid twentieth century and its influence upon geopolitics, commerce, nation-building and the development of region-based international organisations.


What areas are considered to be in the ‘South West of England’?

The ‘South West of England’ refers to the following locations: Bath and North East Somerset, Bournemouth, Bristol, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, North Somerset, Plymouth, Poole, Somerset, South Gloucestershire, Swindon, Torbay, Wiltshire, Worcestershire.

How do I submit my essay?

We are quite flexible about how you can submit your essay as long as they reach us at We accept Microsoft Word and Apple page documents. Sending us a Google docs link is also fine, provided you’ve made sure that we have permission to download your file and can forward it to our judges.

Do I need to include a references list/footnotes and will this be included in the overall word count?

Although it’s not essential, it’s generally considered good practice to include a list of your sources. This is certainly something you will be required to do when writing essays at university. As the word count is quite tight (750 words max.), we’ve decided that footnotes and references won’t count towards it. This way you will have more space to make your points. We realise that different referencing systems are taught at different schools, so we haven’t specified that you use a particular one. As long as your sources are clearly marked, we advise you to use the referencing system that you feel most comfortable with.

If you have any other questions about the competition or in general, please feel free to send them to

That just leaves us to say…good luck and we can’t wait to read your entries!

Oxplore with our interns…

Oxford undergraduates, Jack and Aura spent a week with the Oxplore team (remotely); hear about how they found the experience…

“I’m Aura, a third year Human Sciences student at St John’s College. I’ve just finished a fantastic week working as a remote Content Development Intern for Oxplore.”

When I first encountered Oxplore when applying for this internship I was struck by how exciting and useful a resource it is. When applying to university I selected Human Sciences primarily because of its interdisciplinary nature. I loved the idea of thinking about issues facing humanity from a holistic perspective drawing on lots of approaches. The Oxplore website would have been invaluable to me before my university application process.

Aura, Oxplore Intern

Over the past week I have created glossaries of complicated terms in the Big Questions ‘Do we see colour the same?’ and ‘Can Money Buy Happiness?’ I really enjoyed this task as it got me to think precisely about what certain terms like ‘objectivity’ mean. Examining concepts that I often take as given when writing an essay was both a stretching and satisfying intellectual endeavour.

I also produced a list-style article ‘Tales of an underwater world…’ for the ‘Should we put our Ocean first?’ Big Question. It was wonderful to delve back into my love of literature for this piece. I have always thought that literature can provide powerful insights into areas often delegated to “science”, such as the ocean. This task in particular reminded me of how much I relished my unusual combination of A level subjects: English literature, History and Biology. As much of the Oxplore website attests, these disciplines can go together much better than you might expect.

Along with a varied social media campaign, another piece of work I particularly enjoyed producing was a student reading list relating for the question ‘Can We End Poverty?’. Whilst I haven’t explicitly studied this topic in my degree, economic inequality seems to permeate many of the societal issues that I have grappled with. It was delightful to reflect on what made certain works on this topic so compelling and to share their merit with Oxplore’s readership.

Despite the challenges of this internship happening remotely, the Oxplore team made the virtual office environment a pleasure to work in. There was a general atmosphere of friendliness that made asking for help and feedback an ease. The regular communication and catch-ups each day really helped me feel like I was working as a part of team rather than on my own at home.

I hope that Oxplore’s reach continues to grow in the future. Now that more and more outreach events will have to move online, Oxplore is an even more important resource than ever. Getting people as young as age 11 to think about complex important ideas in a nuanced way is a stellar achievement. The young people engaging with the Big Questions will be primed for not only university study at a place like Oxford, but for doing good in the world afterwards.

Aura created a new resource for Oxplore’s upcoming Big Question on the ocean which looked at the representation of the sea in literature and film.

I’m Jack – a student of History and Economics at St Hilda’s College, just about to start my second year. Last week I was lucky to have the opportunity to work with the team at Oxplore as a Content Development Micro-Intern. I got to produce a whole range of content for social media and the Oxplore website, working in the are of access and outreach which I really care about”.

As someone who remembers attending an Oxplore outreach session at the Seren Network Conference in December 2017, I was excited to get to work with Oxplore and learn how they create their content on this micro-internship. After the long vacation away from the university, it was also a nice way to get back into thinking academically and researching. I learnt a lot about how to work remotely, and how so many people are still doing that even as schools and universities reopen.

Jack, Oxplore Intern

I was really welcomed by the team at Oxplore, and they told me a lot about their own work as well as what I needed to be doing. Producing content for Oxplore is a really fun process, but at the same time a lot goes into it. I was really impressed by how content for the website is linked to areas where academics are doing interdisciplinary research, and how much the articles for Oxplore are informed by the thinking of academics.

In creating a set of social media posts to promote a future big question, I think I learnt a lot about how careful social media planning is to be aware of differences between platforms, target audiences and the context online. It was also quite a creative experience. Making glossaries and a reading list for existing big questions was probably the most fun activity, because I had to think about what would be suitable for pupils aged 11 to 18 and what I used to enjoy reading. Making a video of my response to a big question was a very different challenge, and something I am not really used to, but it was really fun to plan how to set it up and how to respond to the topic.

Over the course of the remote micro internship, I learnt lots about working remotely, like the importance of time away from the desk, of posture and of continuous communications. Given that university will be more remote next term and some of the working changes after coronavirus look like lasting a long time, this was all very useful to me. Although the remote micro internship worked very well, and much better that I expected, I still think I would have preferred to have worked in person this week were it not for coronavirus.

To take a peek at Jack and Aura’s reading lists click here and here.

Oxplore in a Box!

Calling all teachers, we have a gift for you! Since we can’t bring our Big Question workshops into schools right now, we’ve created ‘Oxplore in a box’ – everything you need to deliver your own #oxplore session in one easy download. Click here for a workshop presentation plus worksheets and resource cards: If you are a parent or student reading this, we have also included guidance in the presentation notes on how you can adapt the activities to support learning at home.
Wrapped present

Would you like to join us for an #OxploreAdventure?

In the next few weeks, the Oxplore team will be posting mini-challenges for 11-18 year olds to complete using Each activity will give students the opportunity to practise key skills used in university study  such as building an argument, summarising information, and producing a creative response to a source.

To be in with a chance to win a personalised video response to a Big Question from an Oxford academic, we’ll be encouraging students to send in a photo of their completed work via @letsoxplore (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) or

Keep an eye out on this blog and our social media channels for details of our #OxploreAdventure challenges…

Homeschooling? Tips on how to get started with Oxplore!

Are you looking to stretch and challenge the curious young minds in your life? In need of homeschooling inspiration? Then Oxplore is here for you!

We’ve made a handy activity sheet that will help you get started with Oxplore. All of our content is free and informed by the latest research from the University of Oxford. Click the link to download:

Below are the ideas included in the activity sheet with a bit more contextual information. For example, each of the short tasks are designed to help children practise learning and research skills which are valued in a range of subjects. Look out for the ‘Good practice for’ sections below for more specific details about this.

  1. Watch your big ideas get bigger!

Visit and find a Big Question that intrigues you. Draw a thought bubble and write the question inside.

Around your thought bubble, jot down your first impressions. This could include:

  • what you already know about this topic
  • your opinion on the question
  • other views that could be taken

Look at the Big Question materials and add to your ideas. What have you learnt? Did anything surprise you? What would you like to learn more about? Could there be an interesting subject to study which is related to this topic? (Check out the ‘Take this further’ resource in the ‘Read more’ section for subject ideas).

Good practice for: summarising existing and new knowledge; considering multiple perspectives; challenging preconceptions; forming a balanced opinion.

  1. Cooking up a Big Question

Take a look through two or three of Oxplore’s Big Questions.

Create an ingredients list for a ‘perfect’ Big Question. If you’re feeling particularly creative you could write this in the style of a recipe e.g.

‘First stir in a range of ideas from different subjects… Next, spoon in a dollop of…’.

Once you’ve done this, try thinking up your own Big Question. Is there a topic that has always interested you? If you could ask a professor at a university like Oxford anything, what would you say? Look back at your recipe to make sure your question is suitably BIG! Click to send us your ideas.

Struggling for ideas, have a look at our word clouds and sample question formats to gain some inspiration.

To take this further, try completing our planning sheet to help you devise how you would go about finding answers to your Big Question:

Planning sheet

Good practice for: Identifying the codes and convention of a text; evaluating what makes a text effective; being playful and creative with language; identifying personal interests; suggesting new ideas adopting an existing format; creating a research plan.

  1. Sending Big Questions with love

Select a Big Question and learn more about a topic that interests you.

Take a postcard-size piece of paper. On one side, write down some of the key points made in the question and what it has made you think e.g.

‘Dear…, today I learnt about…. Some people argue that… while others suggest… Something that surprised me is… Overall, I think that…

Postcards are short texts, so make your points as concisely as you can.

On the other side, create an artistic representation of the question. You could write down the question itself or add drawings which relate to the topics covered. Get creative!

Maybe you could send your postcard to a friend. Remember to include our url – – so they know where to look!

Good practice for: Summarising ideas; writing concisely; adopting the codes and conventions of a particular text (i.e. a postcard); expressing ideas artistically and through a different medium.

  1. What’s the BIG idea?

While browsing the homepage, you may have noticed that we’ve grouped our Big Questions into themes. To do this activity you’ll need to close your eyes to this! No peeping!

Scroll past the first 3 sections of the homepage until the Big Questions appear randomly in grids that look like this:


Try to categorise the Big Questions you see using your own themes. Aim for 5-8 themes in total. Were there any questions that sat in more than one group or were really tricky to sort? Jot down your findings.

Good practice for: Making connections between ideas; categorising content; recording and explaining observations.

Keeping in touch

We’d love to hear how you’re using our resources and engaging with our Big Questions.

Stay in touch via @Letsoxplore on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Ask us a question: