"My four-year-old still talks about the muntjac": a postgrad's view on studying with a family

Meet MPhil graduate, Caleb Deck

Caleb Deck headshot

“One of our best memories at Wolfson was a shared dinner we had with the other families in the family flats around Christmas 2020. It was just a great moment of community," reflects MPhil Graduate, Caleb Deck.

Caleb Deck headshot

Caleb Deck is a mechanical engineer from Oklahoma City, USA, who specialises in sustainability. He had been working as a licensed engineer for four years in Oklahoma before deciding that he needed some additional education to aid the development of his new software tool: a tool that would help building owners make smarter, more sustainable choices for their existing buildings.

“The MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development ticked all the boxes of my wish list,” Caleb explains. “I applied and was accepted to the programme to work on the theory and output of the tool as a dissertation.”

In September 2020, Caleb made the enormous decision to move across the world with his almost two-year-old son and wife to start his Wolfson journey. Here, he shares both the challenges and the joys of living at Wolfson during the pandemic with his family.

What was your experience of living in the family flats at Wolfson?

I will be the first to admit that we had a unique experience at Wolfson due to the effects of Covid. We moved in during the first summer of Covid when cases had dipped and everyone anticipated it fading quickly. We quickly saw a spike in the cases which drove us to various lockdowns throughout our time in England.

Despite those circumstances, I think each individual in our family would still rank our time at Wolfson as one of the greatest experiences of our lives.

How would you describe the College environment?

The College atmosphere is almost startlingly inclusive and engaging. With a group of students from such diverse countries and cultures, there is a real openness and hunger to share knowledge and to create relationships that is very welcoming. Being a slightly older student (28 when I started my programme), I also appreciated the fact that Wolfson is a mature college, as it was easier to engage in social activities with students closer to my age and stage of life.

Is there anything you wish you'd known before coming to Wolfson to help with the transition?

As far as what I wish we'd known before coming, this was again heavily shadowed by our Covid experience. Upon moving in, we couldn't leave our flat for 14 days, so some of the starting basics that are probably no big deal normally were more complicated to get (phone sim cards, dishware/furniture, groceries). In our case, the porters were vital to keeping us alive (literally!) and we couldn't have appreciated their help more.

Coming from the US, living quarters were a bit different than we were used to, but those things settled after just a few days. Knowing how to get phones working, that there is a ZipCar in the parking lot and that we can get a zipcar membership through the University, and knowing about the amazing bakery down the street (Maison Clement!) earlier would have been nice, but everyone figures it out in their own way!

Another element that people brought up before we moved was the distance to the city centre. It's about a 15-20 min walk, but it took about five days to forget that distance and it seemed like nothing. Plus walking meditation is seen as one of the greatest ways to enhance thinking! We miss the walk every day now, so it's not as bad as people make it out to be!

What did you get involved in during your time at Wolfson? What advice would you give to prospective students with families?

It was a bit difficult to balance returning to student life while maintaining family life. I chose to just get involved in two activities to ensure I gave my all to the things I participated in. I tried rowing but found the schedule did not mesh well with our family schedule, so I ended up joining the football club.

I also joined the Sustainability and Conservation Hub in its initial year and assisted with the start-up of that programme. There are so many activities and groups to get involved in, I would strongly suggest evaluating your priorities to see how much time you can give each, then trying several to see what fits best!

Do you have a favourite moment from you time as a master’s student at Wolfson?

Wolfson is a great place, and the family flats were an amazing experience for us. We probably played hundreds of hours of football in the family garden during various lockdowns. My four-year-old son still talks weekly about the muntjac we saw during the first week we moved into Wolfson two years ago now. So sweet.

One of our best memories was a shared dinner we had with the other families in the family flats around Christmas 2020. We all brought food and drinks from our countries and shared a meal and watched the kids run around and play, all jabbering in mixes of three languages, and it was just a great moment of community.

We absolutely loved our time at Wolfson and talk almost every day about how much we miss it. We're returning to celebrate my degree this spring and can't wait to say hello and just walk the streets again!

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Visit our Students with Families page for information about family finance, accommodation, and University-wide support networks. 

You can also read more about Caleb's research: "The mechanical engineer reshaping buildings for the future"