Professor Lesley Smith is excited by the process of finding talent

Crumbs. Another don’s diary in Quad Talk and another depressed (male) don complaining about academic life.

Just before Christmas, one was complaining about admissions. Oh, the hardship of having to choose between a large number of talented young people. Gosh, the strain of it.

I’m a don, female, and have just finished doing admissions, too... and I’ve done them for rather more years than my younger colleague without getting disheartened.

It’s wonderful to see how much our applicants have already done, and it’s marvellous how many still find time for music, for volunteering and sports – as well as reading books. Interviewing colleagues and I all agree we would never get in.

In fact, none of the people I regularly interview with each year did go to Oxford. We’re not the classic came-as-an-undergraduate-and-never-left caricature. I think there are fewer of those around, in fact: Oxford is a pretty international and varied place nowadays – among the dons at least.

This is one of the reasons why it’s wrong to think that we’re all just trying to reproduce ourselves at admissions – with the unspoken idea that this means white public school kids.

In my case, cloning would mean taking a working-class comprehensive girl from the North-East, and I admit, I’d love to take her... but she just doesn’t apply.

That must be partly Oxford’s fault, and the image that the rest of the country has of us; but it’s also that lots of North-Easterners just don’t want to come down south.

There are good universities at Durham and Newcastle, and should you want to go south, then York is OK too.

I can’t say they’re wrong about the universities; I’d only argue that it would be good for Oxford if they wanted to get in.

All dons selfishly want to teach the cleverest possible students, regardless of gender, race, or school; we just don’t want to be bored. The difficulty is looking beyond the well-coached and well-presented. But that’s a social division that happens long before we read a UCAS admissions form.

As long as UK primary and secondary education is so stratified, and so dependent on buying advantage, it can’t be down to universities to put right the problems caused at least 13 years before. Oxford dons can’t kid ourselves that we aren’t biased, or that we always get it right. But we can’t be blamed for not being able to right the wrongs of the rest of the education system.

What Oxford – and, studies show, humans as a whole – isn’t always good at, is judging risk. Dare we take that sparky girl without three As? Can we believe the lad who told us those GCSEs were a blip and he’s pulled himself together now? Can she keep up the pace? Has he only got those grades because he’s been so well taught by that school?

We’re a scarce resource with a responsibility for how we use public funds: isn’t it safer to go with the tried-and-tested? Well, as we close off another admissions round, I hope the answer isn’t always yes, and, unlike my young colleague, I still think it’s exciting to find out.