MMath (Hons) Mathematics, Tuesday 29 June 2021
Principal’s Medallist

Tom Conti-Leslie playing a ukelele
Tom, from Dijon, France / Wellington, New Zealand, is pictured at home in France.

What attracted you to St Andrews in the first place?

I’d fallen in love with the town when I visited for an open day. But academically, I chose St Andrews over higher education in my home country of France because I wanted control over my module choices, and because I wanted the opportunity to join societies and sports clubs in my free time.

What are your favourite memories of being a student here?

Going to any and all student-organised events in the evenings: fundraisers, balls, garden parties, concerts, musicals—there’s a huge amount of talent and motivation in this town and there’s always something to do. I also have fond memories of all the times I contributed to those events, from the ukulele concerts I organised with Ukelear Fusion to the Mario Kart tournament I organised in John Burnet Hall in my second year.

When you reflect on your time in St Andrews, how do you think it has changed you?

Thanks to all the maths modules I’ve taken, I think I’ve developed a more analytical view of the world. Thanks to the organisations I’ve been involved in, I think I’ve become a more sensitive person: I’ve learnt how to listen to my peers, to my friends, and to myself. I hope the academic and extracurricular changes balance each other out somewhat.

Where have you spent your time since the outbreak of Covid-19? What was the experience of virtual life, teaching and playing for you?

During the first lockdown, and during the most recent semester, I spent all of my time with my family in Dijon, France. I was very fortunate to be in a supportive household with my own space where I could work—my desk became a very central location as a tool not only for learning, but also for entertainment, socialising and attending events.

How do you think events of 2020/1 (coronavirus, lockdown life, BLM) have shaped the graduating Class of 2021?

Naturally we’re all tech whizzes now and have had to make our peace with online work, which I’m sure must be attractive to employers. But on a personal level, since we’ve all had to spend a lot of time in isolation, I think we’re graduating knowing a lot more about ourselves—I certainly am. What we miss most from pre-pandemic university times can tell us a lot about our likes and dislikes, and I think we are ready to maturely handle the return to normality we all hope for.

What was it like finishing your studies towards the end of the pandemic?

Revision and exam time this year were very strange and isolating, and I think the online exam format is both a blessing and a curse. Since I was away from St Andrews for my final exams, I missed out on May Dip and my soaking, and it’s definitely harder to feel part of a community and feel a clear transition out of my studies from a distance. However, that hasn’t prevented me from virtually meeting up with friends to celebrate.

What are your hopes and plans for the future (both for yourself personally and the world at large)?

I’ve spent a lot of time at university volunteering for St Andrews Nightline, an active listening service, and next year I am beginning full-time work for a similar organisation in Paris. My biggest hope with this job on the horizon is to improve the world’s understanding of and appreciation for mental health. The pandemic has taken a toll of lots of people’s mental health—mine included—and as we hope to be leaving the worst of the health crisis behind us, I think we all deserve some time to heal emotionally.

Tom Conti-Leslie

What will you miss most about ‘the bubble’ of St Andrews?

The same as many of my peers I’m sure: seeing streets full of familiar faces. Bumping into friends every time you go somewhere in town is a quintessential St Andrews experience, and really helps you feel like you belong to a friendly, welcoming place.

What are your plans for your own virtual conferral day?

I’m hoping to save the big celebrations for an in-person rescheduled ceremony, but I will definitely be sitting back with family and enjoying the virtual event.

How do you feel now that we are beginning to see the light at the end of this pandemic?

To be honest, I’m still finding it hard to see the light, because I am aware that there is still work to be done before we can really speak about the “end” of the pandemic. Nevertheless, the new elements of life that seem here to stay—online events, physical distancing, face masks—have been around for long enough that I think people are starting to take them in their stride. The light I can see comes from the world realising that we will need to settle on a middle ground between our pre-pandemic and our lockdown lives, and that middle ground might just be bearable—who knows.

And finally, do you hope to come back in 2022 to graduate in person?