Sarah Marr, writer and co-founder of SENS Research Foundation
Perhaps that was the greatest gift of being at Exeter: seeing the breadth of knowledge in the world and being given the opportunity to widen my own horizons.
I joined Exeter in 1988, which seems both a lifetime ago and only yesterday. My original subject was physics, but I quickly found that I knew little beyond the world of science and, wanting to fix that, changed to law. Perhaps that was the greatest gift of being at Exeter: seeing the breadth of knowledge in the world and being given the opportunity to widen my own horizons.
I always wanted to write, but somehow took the route of least resistance: management consultancy. It wasn’t fulfilling, so I earned an MA in social anthropology before returning to a reliable consulting income, but realised that I missed physics and still wanted to understand the universe. I then gained my BSc and PhD in Theoretical Physics.
Alas, the PhD was not the best of times: I don’t regret it for a moment, but couldn’t carry on in academia. Instead I became Head of Operations for a political think-tank and then – still wanting to write, but not doing – co-founded a biotechnology non-profit in California. I worked here for a few years, splitting time between London and San Francisco. This was an exciting period: making contacts, writing speeches, setting up a laboratory, and funding work across America and Europe.
Eventually though, I stepped back from a full-time position and began writing. My first novel, All the Perverse Angels, was published in early 2018. It has little to do with my prior experience: no physics, anthropology, or law, but a lot of art and literary history. Half of it is, however, set in nineteenth century Oxford (and Exeter gets a mention). It’s doing fine for ‘literary fiction’, and earned me an agent for the next book. I also got to wander into Shakespeare & Company and buy a copy from the shelves, which was a highlight of life to date.
So, that’s it: law, business, social anthropology, physics, think-tank, biotechnology, novel. I’m not sure I could have done any of it without Exeter. It gave me an environment to build the skills I needed; not just for academic work, but for social interactions, critical thinking and communication. It gave me confidence without, I hope, arrogance. Like any place of study, it was not perfect; but though it was demanding and rigorous, it was free from elitism and harsh judgement. Like the brochure said at the time — and probably still does — it was small and friendly. And now I’m writing another novel, and wondering what comes next.