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Ten-minute chat
  1. Alexander Stoll


Alexander Stoll is a third-year vet student at the Royal Veterinary College. He also plays jazz professionally, can order meals in a number of languages, keeps poultry and has a private pilot's licence.

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You intercalated in veterinary pathology. Why?

I am interested in the science behind medicine. I chose to apply for the veterinary pathology course as it promised to explore molecular pathology. However, the principal reason for my desire to intercalate was to experience the research environment and ‘do’ science. I was lucky enough to join Dr Bujdoso's prion group at Cambridge vet school. Although I had done a summer studentship the previous year, this allowed me to undertake an extended research project in a field I am interested in – transmissible spongiform encephalopathies.

Do you know what field of veterinary work you will go into?

I am attracted to the clinical side of veterinary medicine and would like to undertake a PhD and postgraduate training in neurology or pathology. Likewise, I am passionate about science, and a career in research is definitely on the cards. Another interest is public health and the importance of the veterinary profession in this regard. I am also very fond of camelids and poultry. I think a career in academia might suit me best – maybe as a camelid neurologist/neuropathologist?

You could fly a plane before you could drive. Did you have a career as a pilot in mind?

I have been obsessed with aircraft from a young age, and set my heart on becoming a pilot. It soon became clear that I would not be able to afford the training to become a commercial pilot. Then, for my 16th birthday, I was given a flying lesson, and I was hooked. I worked incredibly hard for a year to save up enough to pay for the training towards a private pilot's licence, but my dad used to have to drive me to my lessons. I flew solo for the first time in 2007.

Playing piano at a formal dinner, and (right) about to fly a Piper Cub (these aircraft were a familiar sight in the Second World War where they provided battleground reconnaissance, because of their ability to fly slowly and land in short fields)

Where did your interest in languages come from?

I am really interested in the evolution of language, and frequently annoy people with my obsession for etymology. It wasn't until I lived with a gifted linguist in Cambridge that I was inspired to study foreign languages properly. I already knew Italian, Spanish and a bit of French, so I have been working on becoming fluent. Fluency in German and Mandarin is another goal, and I have started studying another eight languages that I would like to be conversant in. I study languages in the same way as learning instruments.

What do you get out of being a jazz pianist?

I get such a kick out of playing the piano; sometimes I can play for hours at a time, but it feels like half an hour. The best gigs are those where I get to perform with other musicians and a responsive audience. It is a fantastic feeling to see people enjoying the music. I remember my first piano lesson when I was five; I have been fanatical about the piano ever since. If I had to give up everything except the piano, I would still be a happy person.

Studying languages, flying light aircraft, music … how do you fit in studying veterinary medicine?

I always ensure my studies come first, but generally don't find I am pushed for time. However, I also find I have very little free time. I would not change this though, as I hate having nothing to do. I use the piano to unwind in the evenings and write a lot of my own music, or read to clear my head. I also enjoy spending time with my friends, and it is brilliant when I get to share these activities with them too!

You were an extra in the Harry Potter films. Would we recognise you?

I can be seen in a few of them if the film is paused! In the fourth film I am on screen for a while when Dumbledore takes Harry's name from the goblet of fire. In the eighth film, I was an injured student after one of the battles, and a dead person in another scene. We often had to be on set very early in the morning to have our make-up done – although sometimes it was so early that I didn't require make-up to look like a dead person. I was lucky to meet many of the cast; I had a long chat with the late Richard Harris, and lunch with Robert Pattinson before he was famous.

What was your proudest moment?

My first concert, aged six, stands out, along with the first time I flew solo. My first ever successful incubation of my hens' eggs was a proud moment too. I named my first chick Terry Wogan; the other hens are named after my mum's friends.

… and your most embarrassing?

Probably the appearance of pictures of me wearing a mankini on Facebook after a fancy dress party.

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