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Blog by: Katie

Swanmore, Hampshire. Studying Natural Sciences. Read more

Garden Party Tickets!!!

One of the most well known weeks at Cambridge is ‘May Week’ – a week after exams spend going to posh balls, eating fancy food, and probably drinking far too much Champagne. However, although many College’s have slightly excessive and overpriced balls, Murray Edwards offers a much more relaxed garden party at the end of May Week – the perfect event to relax and enjoy the beautiful weather with friends. With this year’s theme of “Castle Hill Carnival” it is sure to be an exciting and colourful event.

However, it is also one of the more popular garden parties, and with tickets selling out within hours last year I know it would be important to get in there early to book my place! However, I was due to be spending that particular Monday in London (see my previous post on my BP Ultimate Field Trip Final adventure) and knew it would be unlikely that any tickets would be left when I returned late that evening. Luckily, we are allowed to book up to three additional guest tickets – so I recruited one of my friends to the task.

Now, as the proud owner of a Murray Edwards College Garden Party 2014 ticket, I am beginning my search for the perfect carnival-themed outfit! I’ll keep you updated!

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New Responsibilities

Having enjoyed a wide variety of extracurricular activities since starting at Cambridge in October, I wanted to give something back and help support those societies I really enjoyed being a part of, as well as having more of a say in how they are run and what they do.

I therefore decided to run for various committee positions – and am now the elected Junior Treasurer and Computing Officer for the Murray Edwards College Boat Club and the President of the Franklin Society – our College Science Society. I am also the College’s new LGBT+ rep, sitting on the Welfare committee of our JCR (College Student Union).

It’s fantastic that Cambridge offers students the opportunity to take on additional responsibilities and get involved in organising and running societies in their first year at university – a key benefit of the collegiate system. I am really looking forward to having a more active role within the societies I have really enjoyed being a member of – and of course looking forward to being able to organise fun events and bake lots of cake!

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Lent Bumps!!!

One of the most well known Oxbridge rowing events in May Bumps – which take place at the end of our summer term. However, there is an equally awesome version held at the end of Lent term – ‘Lent Bumps’!

I cox for my college’s W2 team – which basically means I just have to steer the boat and yell at (ahem, motivate…) the rowers to go faster!

The rules of bumps are very simple – everyone lines up along the length of the river, a cannon is fired, and the aim is to hit the boat in front of you before getting ‘bumped’ from behind.

Despite having a rather disappointing first few days (involving crashing into the bank and being chased by a top W1 boat on the second day), we finally managed to bump on the very last day! To celebrate our success, as well as make it clear to everyone else just how awesome Murray Edwards’ W2 are, we adorned ourselves with an excess of greenery before our victory parade back to the boat house. I managed to end up with what appeared to be half a tree balanced on my head, but apparently it’s Cambridge tradition!

Upon arrival back at the boat house, we were met with chocolate brownies, cake and biscuits along with the fantastic news that all three Murray Edwards boats had managed to bump!

To celebrate the end of a term of hard work, early morning training and tough erg sessions, we had the college Boat Club Dinner after the last day of bumps – involving lots of excellent food, speeches, socialising and possibly a slight excess of drink…

All in all, despite river closures and bad weather earlier in the term we’ve had a very successful Lent Bumps and have thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

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Orchestra on the Hill Lent term concert

Having learnt to play the flute at secondary school and participated in a few school and local orchestras and ensembles, I was keen to keep up my musical interests despite doing a science degree at Cambridge.

The Orchestra on the Hill is a very relaxed orchestra which meets for a few hours each week and generally has one concert a term. This term, we performed in the Murray Edwards College Dome – playing Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony, Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto on E flat major, and the Academic Festival Overture by Brahms.

For me, this was fairly challenging repertoire and I had to do a fair amount of practice in my college music practice rooms as well as attending the weekly rehearsals. However, all the hard work really paid off and the concert was very successful.

I was very pleased that my parents decided to come up to Cambridge to see the concert, and it was great to be able to show them what a fantastic time I am having in Cambridge and how well I feel I am settling in.

I am really looking forward to future rehearsals and concerts with the orchestra, as it is a really great way to have a break from studying and socialise a bit!

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Sunsail Yacht Racing Final

Having recently been invited to join the Cambridge University Yacht Racing Team (with very little experience other than a few yachting holidays and previous dinghy racing), my first event was the Sunsail Final a couple of weekends ago.

Taking place on Sunsail F40 yachts, this event is the culmination of an exciting 9 round racing series – having been delayed due to bad weather last November.

Although the weekend started off with beautiful weather and a nice breeze, it quickly became much windier and it was to my greatest relief (after a few near misses on the first day…) when the race organisers chose to ban spinnakers (a large sail used when sailing away from the wind) due to safety concerns. This left my main job being to keep a lookout, help to balance the boat, and pull various ropes as requested by the rest of the crew.

After a tough day of racing, during which the wind picked up enough for several races to be cancelled, I was absolutely exhausted. Official results have not yet been announced, but we probably finished around the lower end of mid-fleet, very respectable for a fairly new team racing against some excellent competition.

Sailing at Cambridge is one of the most inclusive and friendly sports – everyone is very relaxed and friendly, with a very welcoming social scene. It is also very good value for money, compared with sailing outside of university, and I have recently taken the opportunity to study for my Yachtmaster Theory exams with the Cambridge University Yacht Club at a considerably discounted price. I am really looking forward to future events, including the Varsity Race in a couple of weeks time followed by the BUSA Championships.

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BP Ultimate Field Trip Final

As a BP STEM Scholar (see my earlier post on money), I have the opportunity to attend a wide variety of BP events throughout the year. These range from tours and discovery days to being invited to some very posh evenings!

The BP Ultimate Field Trip Final was one such event – I simply expected a few presentations followed by perhaps a meal, but was amazed to experience the Royal Institution at it’s finest.

This year, the competitors were set the challenge of coming up with an innovative solution to significantly reduce energy consumption and could be implemented by 2025, with the potential to scale across the energy industry.

The evening began with registration – where we were presented with fancy programmes and name badges, followed by meeting a small group of other BP STEM Scholars and a current BP employee who would be responsible for us for the evening.

We then had the opportunity to informally discuss with the four finalist teams their designs and see their technical posters. This was followed by presentations, led by the BBC’s Claire Balding,  to the audience and judges in the famous Faraday Theatre and then a drinks reception to discuss further with the competitors.

The awards ceremony saw Oxford’s team ‘I Challenge You to a Joule’ taking the top prize, including a fantastic field trip to Alaska and America. The three runners up, teams from Strathclyde, Birmingham and Durham, also won a cash prize and BP experience.

The evening ended with the closing reception – one of the most amazing receptions I have ever attended. There was themed food based from Italy, Alaska and America, a live band, seemingly unlimited champagne, and the opportunity to chat informally with BP employees and guests.

After the evening, it was just a short train journey back to Cambridge and to bed!

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Murray Edwards Offerholders’ Stay

I recently wrote about volunteering to host AS students as part of the CUSU Shadowing Scheme. My College also runs something similar, for offerholders to give them the opportunity to find out more about studying at Cambridge and life at Murray Edwards College.

My future College daughter came to stay with me for two days, attended my lectures, went rowing and got to meet her future DoS (Director of Studies – kind of like a head of year/ department for your subject at your College). I really enjoyed showing her around Cambridge and I hope she enjoyed it too! Although she was undecided whether to put Cambridge as her firm choice on UCAS, I really hope she does come here next October – and hopefully being able to meet some current students and experience our studies has convinced her!

Being an all-female College, Murray Edwards events such as the Offerholders’ Stay allow students who may not have visited the College before and may be concerned about what the atmosphere here is like, or are perhaps worried about the high Cambridge workload and perceived lack of social life (which is totally not true anyway…), to have the opportunity to experience it for themselves and make a well informed decision on their UCAS form.

I really enjoyed having the opportunity to meet other students and my future DoS when I came on Offerholders’ last year, and although I had already submitted my UCAS form by then it did make me feel even more comfortable about my decision.

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Cambridge Shadowing Scheme

Although I was aware of several outreach initiatives of Cambridge – in particular their Subject Taster Days (I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend a Physiology Taster Day which was really enjoyable), I had not heard about the Shadowing Scheme until I actually got here. It targets students from particularly disadvantaged backgrounds and gives them the chance to shadow a current student for their preferred course for a couple of days.

Of course, having received an email from the CUSU Access Officer about the scheme and knowing just how important it is for students to have the opportunity to experience Cambridge for themselves, I signed up as a volunteer. I mentored two students interested in Natural Sciences, and they followed me to my lectures, had a go at rowing, attended Chemistry labs, and experienced a traditional Cambridge formal dinner at one of the older Colleges. We also went to the theatre, took part in a relaxed pub quiz, and visited some of the highlights of Cambridge such as the Sidgewick Earth Sciences Museum and the beautiful view of the “backs” (a walk along the river behind some of the older colleges).

They really were a busy and fun-packed couple of days, but my shadows really enjoyed it and it gave me a good excuse to see some of Cambridge rather than studying in the library all day!

If you are considering applying to Cambridge or a similar university, I would highly recommend investigating some of the amazing outreach work we do – Cambridge offers Subject Taster Days, Summer Schools, Competitions (such as the Peterhouse Essay Prize), and the Science Festival coming up :)

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One of the fantastic things about Cambridge is the excellent financial support they provide to students – particularly those from low income backgrounds. Having come from a less affluent family, I was very concerned about how to finance my degree – of course, like most UK students, I was taking out a full student loan and was also eligible for a maintenance grant. However, even this provided only just enough money to afford the bare essentials of university – and I didn’t want to ruin my university experience by worrying constantly about money!

Luckily, Cambridge offers an amazing student financial support package – and very generously doubled my government grant. On top of that, there are a huge range of other scholarships and bursaries to apply for – and I recently was offered a BP STEM Scholarship through a partnership between BP and Cambridge University which will allow me to pay for all my living costs without having to stress over getting a job this summer.

Also, due to doing a lot of sport and being part of the university Yacht Racing Team, my College offered me a small amount of money to contribute towards my training costs, which enables me to continue enjoying sailing without having to watch my spending too closely.

These fantastic bursaries and scholarships really make Cambridge (a fairly expensive city) much more accessible to less wealthy students without us having to sacrifice our social lives, spend the whole year living off Sainsbury’s basics pasta, or spend all our spare time working in a supermarket. This is something very few universities are able to offer to students, and I feel very supported and happy at Cambridge :)

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Terminus: Corpus Playroom

A few weeks ago, I went to see the play Terminus at the Corpus Playrooms – a local student theatre. It was an amazing evening – I was riveted to my seat! Unusually for a play, this was entirely in monologue, with three characters spending most of the play on small platforms, releasing their innermost thoughts. At first, their stories all seemed disconnected, until finally the audience was led to see how they were intricately intertwined – through a chaotic plot involving serial killers, avenging angels and lovesick demons, with an exhilarating finale!

The quality of the acting was surprisingly good – I hadn’t had high expectations since it was a student production with a very small cast, but I really connected with the characters and was drawn into their terrifying and fascinating lives!

This was my first experience of Cambridge’s student theatre scene – and having only been to the theatre on a few school trips before I was unsure what to expect. However, I definitely hope to go again in the future!

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