Oxford student uses impressive juggling skills to help explain cancer research

Oxford student Hira Javaid is quite the juggler.

The 24-year-old uses her juggling skills to help her while she studies oncology – the study and treatment of tumours – at the University of Oxford.

She has a particular interest in DNA methylation – a biological process affecting the functions and expressions of genes – which she helps to describe using juggling.

Hira decided to do something different from the usual slideshow when asked to present her findings via video due to the coronavirus pandemic.

She learned to juggle with her sister several years prior but had forgotten about it until spotting a fellow student’s tricks on campus.

So Hira decided to combine her love of science and juggling – and has since become a social media star.

Known as ‘The Oxford Juggler’, Hira’s videos have been viewed more than a million times.

Hira said: ‘It was so unexpected! So many people commented. It means the world to me, my little videos, bringing happiness to people.

‘I woke up to 100,000 views. That was in a single night. It was really surreal. I even got recognised on the street the other day!

‘My supervisor, Professor Tim Humphrey, has always been incredibly encouraging.

‘He knows how much I enjoy it.’

Pakistani-born Hira did her undergraduate degree at Queen Mary University of London and her master’s at University College London.

She is now affiliated with St John’s College at the University of Oxford – where she rediscovered her love of juggling.

Hira learned the skill by watching online videos around seven years ago but hadn’t kept it up.

The quick-learner picked up the talent in a matter of days.

She added: ‘I didn’t know at that point that you could just learn it all by yourself. So I obsessively tried to juggle for a week.

‘I then hadn’t done it much until I saw someone doing it outdoors to classical music [at university]. He looked like he was having so much fun.

‘It’s quite linked to my Oxford experience now.

‘But I think that’s why do many people enjoy my videos – I also look like I’m having fun.’

Aspiring scientist Hira decided to combine juggling and her research after being told a presentation could be less formal due to the outbreak of COVID-19.

She said: ‘I had always wanted to use juggling as a way to communicate. I thought that the visual aspect could help break down the cancer stuff.

‘There was a competition, where we had to show our research.

‘I thought: “Why don’t I try and explain different changes in patterns by using different juggling patterns?”

‘I wanted to use juggling to actually improve the quality of the presentation.’

Hira said she usually uses a tripod to film herself, although will get friends to help if necessary.

And she often keeps clips of her dropping the ball in the final edit as she thinks it’s a good lesson for life.

She said: ‘I want to show people that you don’t have to be perfect, and it’s about having fun. It’s actually helped me learn about failure.’

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