Golfer, chorister, genius… Ochoa, the 23-year-old Oxford PhD student who committed suicide


Twenty-three-year-old Rafael Ochoa was a PhD student when he committed suicide in April 2016, and an inquest into his death has revealed that intense pressures from his Computer Science degree and upcoming sporting competition forced him to jump in front of a moving train.

Ochoa was studying intensively and training hard for a tournament with the university golf team when he started to suffer from anxiety.

Who exactly was Rafael Ochoa?


Ochoa was from Bilbao in Spain. At 17 years, he secured admission to study engineering at the University of Cambridge, graduating with a First Class in 2015.

The same year, he proceeded to the Oxford University for his master’s degree. He also graduated with distinction in Computer Science.

In 2016, Ochoa began his PhD in Computer Science and was expected to complete the programme in 2021, aged 27.

Unfortunately, he committed suicide in the first year of his PhD, ending a brilliant academic journey that many students could only dream of.

Stephen Faulkner, the Dean at Keble College in Oxford where Ochoa was studying, described him as an excelling student who earned “very positive reports and was actively involved in the university golf club”.


Ochoa was not just an excellent student, he was a devout sportsman and an active choir member.

He was a captain of the Divots team, the men’s second team, of the Oxford University Golf Club. The challenge of preparing for the golf tournament, in addition to academic pressure, were the cause of his suicide.

He was a cox at the Sommerville Boat Club in Oxford. When he was an undergraduate at Cambridge, he was a member of Emmanuel boat club.

Ochoa also loved to sing. He was a member of the Hertford College Chapel Choir. At Cambridge, he was a member of Emmanuel Music Society.


Narrating how Ochoa committed suicide, a report by the Telegraph said he jumped into a moving train.

In the early evening of April 26, 2016, he was pictured on CCTV standing on a platform at Appleford railway station.

At 20.24pm, he jumped in front of an oncoming train passing the station at 25 to 30mph and died instantly from traumatic injuries to the base of his skull.

The driver, James Scholes, said he had seen a young man with dark hair stand very close to the edge of the platform as the three-carriage train was approaching the station.

“I sounded the horn, and when I saw him jump I hit the brakes,” Scholes said. “I can affirm the man’s actions were intentional.”

Later that day, officers from Thames Valley Police entered Ochoa’s flat and found a number of letters in his room that suggested he was going to commit suicide.

“Rafael Ochoa came to Oxford University in 2015 to study towards a DPhil in computer science following a successful undergraduate career at Cambridge,” Jonathan Phillips, Warden of Keble College, said in a tribute said.

“He studied first at Somerville College, then moved to Keble College in 2016 after he won a scholarship here. His supervisors reported his research was going well and he also engaged in a wide range of activities outside academic work.

“The university, the Department of Computer Science and the colleges to which Rafael belonged are all deeply saddened by the loss of a very talented and engaging student. We extend our deepest sympathies to his family.”


Ochoa had told his doctor that he was having anxiety over his academic deadline and sporting competition but he promised his doctor that he would not commit suicide.

The doctor, therefore, prescribed diazepam, a drug that reduces anxiety problem.

He had a history of mental health problems, having previously suffered from anxiety in 2011 when he was undergraduate in Cambridge and reported similar symptoms.

Unfortunately, this drug could not save him, although its traces were found on him after an autopsy was conducted.


A report by the Times notes that suicide among college students in the UK has been increasing over the years, the number of deaths by suicide in England and Wales increasing by 50 per cent in the past decade.

    Universities across the UK are also recording a 50 per cent rise in demand for mental health services.

    In April, a third-year student at Bristol University became the fifth current student thought to have committed suicide in only six months. Last year, the University of York had five student suicides in a year.

    It has also been disclosed that half of all call-outs to ambulances at universities were to attend cases of self-harm or suicide attempts.

    The ONS, in figures that were published last year, found that more than 100 students a year had taken their own lives between 2009 and 2015. In 2015, a total of 134 students killed themselves, the highest number since records began.

    Chikezie can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @KezieOmeje

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