Students from Cranfield University will be put to the test by Jeremy Paxman when they appear on University Challenge next week (Monday 26 September).

Facing off against Royal Holloway, University of London, the four-person team will be representing Cranfield University on the BBC Two programme for the first time since 2003.

Team members include John-Joseph Stephenson, Jack Chivers, Raman Suri, Charlotte Keenan, and Richard Simpson, with representation from across all of Cranfield University’s different schools.

Both John and Richard are based at the Shrivenham site, while Charlotte is studying for her MSc in Safety and Human Factors in Aviation, Raman is on the MSc Waste Water Management programme, and Jack is a School of Management (SOM) student working towards his DBA focusing on Performance Management.

Team captain John-Joseph, aged 30, who is working towards his PhD in Metals in Extreme Environments, said the whole team was incredibly proud to have appeared on the popular BBC show.

“It was a fantastic experience and one we all hugely appreciated,” said John-Joseph. “The last time Cranfield appeared in 2003 they made it through to the final – so there is a lot to live up to!

“When it comes to University Challenge, a lot of it is down to ‘decoding’ the question. Trying to work out the answer gets you halfway there, but it becomes a race about who is fastest to the buzzer.

“Filming for it was done under Covid conditions so there was no audience present, and in theory no audience pressure, but it’s obviously high stakes when you’re answering the questions!

“Before you start filming you get to answer a series of ‘kickabout’ questions just to get you comfortable with the buzzers. I wasn’t quite with it at this point, but fortunately Charlotte was quick off the mark!

“The filming took about an hour in total including the retakes, and the producers do try to keep it flowing as much as possible which can be helpful when you get on a roll!”

John-Joseph said the process for being selected started when the Cranfield Students Association got in touch to gauge interest in how many students were interested in applying. Two initial heats followed using sample questions provided by the programme’s producers, and around 25 students initially applied.

John-Joseph came to be nominated as captain after achieving the highest score in the heats. Other applicants were then involved in a quiz night to help whittle down numbers to the final five. The team was then invited for interview.

“That interview was the first time we had all met up in person because of Covid but also because the entries were split between Cranfield and Shrivenham” said John-Joseph.

“It took place in London with the format including individual quiz questions followed by a team interview asking why we wanted to appear on University Challenge and what would be our dream bonus round.

“I went for questions on Preston Bus Station - once the second largest and only Grade 2 listed station in Europe – and also the only place to have hosted both a ‘Bus Ballet’ and an Easter Passion play. (A bus ballet event sees movement of vehicles choreographed to music)

“We found out that we had made it onto the programme a few weeks after that and only had about a month before filming was due to take place.

“From that point, we tried to do some practice ‘buzzer’ quizzes over MS Teams using old quiz books. I found a copy of the Official University Challenge Quiz Book, and we even found some errors in them that we were able to point out to the producers when we met for the filming!

“There was even a bit of drama before filming started as Richard Simpson messaged to say he had caught Covid. As he was unable to make it, Jack had to step up from the reserves bench.”

John-Joseph added: “It is certainly something I would recommend people give a go; I think a lot of people know a lot more than they think they do.”

You can find out how the team got on when the show is broadcast on BBC Two at 8.30pm on Monday September 26.

About Cranfield University

Cranfield University is a specialist postgraduate university that is a global leader for education and transformational research in technology and management.