Oli Buxton on joining the Johnian Society Committee
Oli Buxton (2003) is one of the newest members of the Johnian Society Committee, having joined earlier this month. Oli studied engineering at St. John’s and is now an academic within the Aeronautics Department at Imperial College London. Since September 2021 he has been a Reader in experimental fluid mechanics. Here he tells us a bit about himself and shares some memories from his time at St John’s.
You played rugby for the College and the University, captaining the College team to a ‘triple double’ in the 2006 – 7 season. How important was team sport to your Cambridge experience?
I would say that my fondest memories of my time at Cambridge, and St. John’s in particular, are of the various rugby teams that I played for. My university rugby career was really like a microcosm of my career to date too. I arrived at University with much to prove, and starting from the bottom had to get a foot in the door in order to make an impact. Once I started being selected for the various teams, I had to make the most of every opportunity before ultimately finding success. I endured some twists and turns along the way, including missing important games because of injury, which is also characteristic of my wider career. Successes are almost always preceded by (multiple) failures, and often these are not your own fault! I also learned the value of teamwork as nothing is possible on a rugby pitch without surrounding yourself with talented teammates and trusting them to do their jobs to help the team become successful. Finally, and most importantly, we had a bloody good time doing it – I would say my off-field experiences were every bit as important as our on-field successes.
Describe your fantasy Johnian dinner party; who’s there, what are you discussing and what’s on the menu?
This is easy. In my second year at Cambridge I lived at 69 Bridge Street, now a hairdresser I believe, with 11 other guys. We nicknamed it “the Frat house” and we had the time of our lives; in fact a few of our scrapes made it into Prof. Linehan’s history of the College including one house party where we hired bouncers that blocked him from entering. We are all still in regular touch and have a Christmas dinner every year – we just enjoyed our last one on 10th December 2021. I would invite all 11 of them, ideally we’d have it in the 69 Bridge Street dining room again and we would be reminiscing about old times. One of the inhabitants spent the whole year deep fat frying various objects, mainly ducks if I remember, so that would have to go on the menu.
Following the completion of your MEng at the University of Cambridge in 2007, you have pursued an academic career at institutions including the University of Texas at Austin and Imperial College London. Do you have any advice for current St John’s students making decisions about where to pursue further study?
This advice will not be for everybody, but moving around has been such a valuable experience for me that I would recommend it to anyone: don’t just think your horizons are constrained by what goes on in Cambridge, even if you ultimately want to end up in Cambridge. I have gained so much by moving around. At each of the universities I have been at I have learned something new and seen a new perspective on things. Even in something that seems as niche as fluid mechanics (although this is an extremely broad topic to those of us in the field) each of the universities has had a different focus. The chance to live and work abroad was also a fantastic opportunity that I will remember forever. I have had a whale of a time in Cambridge, London, and Austin!
What do you hope to contribute to the alumni network through your involvement with the Johnian Society Committee?
I would like to try and reach out to current Johnians and let them know about the merits of an academic career and the various routes that exist to them, hopefully encouraging a few of them to travel about a bit as I have. I hope that coming from an alumnus this will resonate. Aside from that I am looking forward to re-connecting with old friends and trying to give something back.
If you’re interested in becoming a member of the Johnian Society Committee, please contact the Development Office, the staff of which can facilitate an introduction to the Chair, Claire Griffiths, and the Honorary Secretary, Zip Jilla.