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Blog by: Matt

Rochester, Kent. Studying Law. Read more

University Time Trial

It’s time for an experiment. A scientific one. You’ve heard enough from me about my thoughts and opinions concerning life here at Cambridge. It’s time for some cold hard facts – information that you can really use while you’re here.

Now it may (or may not if you’ve ever met me in real life) come as a surprise that I am not a cyclist. I didn’t pass my cycling proficiency. In fact, I’ve never even owned a bicycle. But enough about my deprived childhood, back to the real science.

Today is what I would class a typical day in Cambridge: lectures, a trip into town, lunch, work and a venture out in the evening to unwind. Therefore, in the interest of proving that (contrary to popular opinion) you can survive in Cambridge without being a cyclist, I have timed how long it takes me to get to where I need to go, you know… for science and stuff.

Wake up: 07:00  07:32  08:03 (I’m not good at this whole morning thing okay!)

Meet with walking buddy: 08:30 – it’s always good to have company for the walk to lectures. My Director of Studies last year said the trip to lectures is a great opportunity to talk about the subject and engage in the material we’re studying by talking about it. While this is certainly true, realistically it’s more likely we’ll be gossiping about our weekends, nights out or what’s going on around college generally…

Leave College: 08:32

Arrive at the Faculty of Law on the Sidgwick Site: 08:51 – on a good day the walk to Sidgwick can take as little as 15 minutes – on a bike it’s about 5-7 minutes, but there’s nothing like a walk in the fresh air to wake you up in the morning before your 9am start (well, a walk and a coffee).

Lecture starts: 09:05 – it’s probably worth noting at this point that the number of lectures I have per week drops every term. In Michaelmas I had 12, in Lent it drops to 10 and in exam term it’s as many as it takes until we finish the course, which may be none at all. In terms of lectures per day, this year it ranges between just 1 on my quietest days to 4 on my busiest.

Lecture ends: 09:57 – in the Law Faculty, lectures begin at 5 past the hour and aim to finish at 5 to, but this isn’t strictly kept to and lecturers will always finish what needs to be said and stop at a convenient place.

Leave Sidgwick Site: 10:50 – I had a committee meeting for a diversity initiative I’m helping to run with 3 other lawyers this morning, so we met after our land law lecture in the Law Faculty cafe. This is one of the places I work most frequently because the atmosphere is relaxed and they have some great snacks on offer. It’s not ideal for people who prefer to work in silence, but the Squire Law Library is only up two flights of stairs and offers one of the best views in Cambridge if you brave it all the way up to the top floor.

Arrive back at Downing: 11:07

Leave college: 12:34 – it’s time for lunch but I haven’t got an awful lot in the kitchen at the moment, so it’s time for a trip to the supermarket. It’s probably time to stock up for the week, so I’m going to make the trip (and I use the term ‘trip’ loosely) to the main Sainsbury’s opposite Sidney Sussex.

Arrive at Sainsbury’s: 12:50 – again it’s roughly another 15 minute walk to get to where I need to be – more than manageable! The furthest I need to go regularly is probably Jesus college for a supervision every fortnight, and I can get there on foot in under 20 minutes. I haven’t been late yet and it’s well established that I’m a fan of the ‘roll out of bed at the last minute into the shower to get ready and go’ approach! Top tip – pack your bag the night before with everything you’re going to need in the morning, it saves so much time.

Arrive back at college: 13:15 – I quickly stopped off at the market on the way back – there’s always such a variety on offer so it’s well worth a look around, you never know what you might find. I had lunch in college and caught up with people in my staircase to see how everyone’s mornings had been before getting back to work.

Leave for the library: 13:59 - after a long lunch and chat it was time to get back to work. Today was one of those rare occasions that I decided to work in the library – most if not all colleges will have one, so it takes no time at all to get there.

Arrive at the library: 14:00 – see what I mean?

Return to my room (again): 17:50 – just in time for dinner.

Arrive at the hall: 18:02 – the canteen (though calling it that doesn’t quite do just how fantastic the food is any justice) opens at 18:00 and I like to be there early. Each night there are at least 3 main options (usually 2 meat, and one vegetarian) and plenty of vegetables and sides to choose from, not to mention a salad bar if you’re only in the mood for something light and an array of desserts. It’s all reasonably priced and you can pay using your college card which is convenient – the total for the term gets added to your next bill which you pay off when you pay for things like rent the following term.

Leave hall: 18:36- as much as dinner in college is a time to eat, it’s also a time to socialise – it’s over dinner that I talk to friends I don’t live with and who do different subjects so might not see during the day.

Back in room: 18:38 – back to work.

Leave college for the cinema: 20:40 – luckily I’ve been on top of my work so have found the time to go and watch a film with some friends at 21:00. There are two local cinemas within walking distance – I’m going to the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse which is only a 5 minute walk away if that from Downing. The other option is the Vue cinema over in the Grafton Centre which is only about 20 minutes away, so yet again nothing too far.

Arrive at the cinema: 20:45

Leave the cinema: 23:00 – heading back to college for a quick stop off at the college bar, another of my favourite places in college.

Arrive at the bar: 23:04

Back in my room (for the last time today): 23:35 – time to wind down and get ready for bed – I like to have a cut off point if I can where I won’t work past a certain time – clearly my cinema trip meant this was a safe day.

So that’s that. I think I’ve conclusively proved that you can survive in Cambridge without a bicycle. That’s not to say they’re not useful, but they’re by no means an absolute necessity.

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Getting Ready for Round Two

It’s September (not that this will be news to any readers out there), which means summer is almost over and Michaelmas Term will soon be upon us once more. So, what’s new?

First of all, having survived first year and passed my exams, I’m determined to build upon last year and work hard to improve and try do achieve even better results for second year. Textbooks have been sought out and read to try and give myself the best possible head start and I’m really pumped for the papers I’ve chosen to take for my second year. That’s one great thing about the law tripos here at Cambridge- the breadth of choice. After the four compulsory subjects of first year, we now have the freedom and opportunity to start focusing on areas of personal interest. One lecturer advised us during the subject forum (a day of brief taster lectures designed to give a flavour of what studying that particular paper would be like) to choose subjects which “allow [us] to become the lawyers we want to be”. I’ve certainly had the chance to do that, and can add Criminal Procedure & Evidence, Family Law and Legal history to my two compulsory papers for the year: Land Law and Contract Law.

Speaking of lawyers, after the year long pregnancy and a surprisingly quick and painless labour, my two college children have arrived. News of our college children was eagerly anticipated by almost every member of Downing I spoke to over summer, so it’s been great to finally message them and welcome them to the family. Family day during Freshers’ week was a great time for me last year, and I’m looking forward to being in the position my own fantastic college parents were and introduce my own kids to all things Cambridge.

In short, summer has been uneventful but a much enjoyed break to end my insane first year as a Cambridge student. I’ve got a lot lined up to kick off second year from the second I return and move in to my new room surrounded by old friends. You can all look forward (optimistic, I know!) to posts about family day 2.0, my very first ADC main show, what happens when The Kooks hit the Cambridge Corn Exchange and a highly scientific experiment I like to call ‘University Time Trial’.

Cambridge Year Two. Bring it on!

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Reflecting on First Year

So I’m currently packing up my room. My first ever room at university. Tomorrow morning I will strip my bed for the very last time – the bed that I’ve used every night for 9 weeks at a time during term before 5 away back in the one I’ve called mine for as long as I can remember. It’s a very odd sensation, but that’s no bad thing.

I remember all the way back in Michaelmas that I was very conscious that Cambridge was not home. Kent was home. Home to my family and friends and dog (who I’m not ashamed to admit that I probably missed most of all at times) and all things familiar. However, while familiarity is comforting, change is what truly makes life exciting. Variety is the spice of life after all. We all change as people.

We may not notice it ourselves, but others see change in us- a topic that has reared its head increasingly frequently as the end of first year approached us like a speeding steam train. For starters, in photographs from our very first days here, we all look so much younger. The archetypal fresh-faced first years, eager and anxious for what lay ahead of us. This is certainly no longer the case, something our May Week mug shots can attest to. Beyond the physical though, we have grown as people. One of my friends said she feels so much more independent now than she ever has before. Not that the Cambridge bubble is entirely reflective of the real world mind, with its porters who can solve any problem on the planet (and moreover do so with a smile and a joke) or its catering staff who cook the most incredibly lunches, brunches and dinners for us should we choose to eat in halls. It may not be total self-reliance, but it’s a far cry from living at home. Another friend (who some of you may recognise as the particularly pro-active international student who inspired me to take up a new hobby every term if you’ve followed my blogging across this year) mentioned that she felt so much more comfortable living in this country and could start to see herself moving here in future. To think that I’ve been part of introducing someone to a whole new culture and way of life feels amazing, all the more so her feeling comfortable here now.

As for me, I’m happy. I’m happier than I’ve ever been. University is so vastly different from school or college or 6th form. The work is difficult, but you’re not here because you have to be, you’re here because you want to learn; and being stretched to your intellectual limits is all part of a hugely rewarding learning experience. You live with the friends you make. They may or may not be in the same accommodation block as you, but they will never be too far away. You go through the highs and lows of university life together. The work struggles with the nights out on the town. You become each others family for the weeks that you’re away from your own, and quickly form bonds with some of the best people you will ever meet that will last a lifetime if you want them to.

I have a lot to be thankful for. I want to thank my tutor for giving me advice and courage in our termly meetings that have helped to see me through to the end of the year. I want to thank my DoS for being there for me when I was struggling more than I ever have before- if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be able to say that I’ve officially passed my first year of a degree from Cambridge University. I’d like to thank each of my supervisors for teaching me fascinating material and pushing me hard – helping me to become a better student and truly achieve something great. I’d like to thank my lecturers without whom I wouldn’t have had a shot at passing first year (by the way, you are forgiven for the early 9am starts!). I’d like to thank my college for keeping me safe and looking after me. Most of all though, I’d like to thank my friends. We may have only known each other for a matter of months, but I’m privileged to know each and every one of you, and I just can’t wait to see what next year brings.

The distinction from Michaelmas doesn’t apply any longer. University can be home too. It is for me at least.

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Vacation Revision

So once again it’s that time of year. The not-so calm before the storm that is the last vacation before exams. Yes folks, while Easter Term has May Week and all the June Events, May Balls and Garden Parties you can handle (more about that later), they must come after the inevitable final hurdle that are end of year exams; and before exams comes revision.

It’s important to keep in mind that the vacations should be exactly that- a break from the immediate pressures of term. It’s perfectly okay to take a break and recharge, to just relax and enjoy yourself. That said, if you plan ahead and use your time carefully, you can really help yourself out and be ready for the final push that is Easter Term.

Everyone works differently, that goes without saying. I for example am at my best when I’m writing an essay on my bed at 3 in the morning with good music blaring in the background. Equally, I know plenty of people who need absolute silence and a desk (and indeed sunlight) to function properly. By now we should know ourselves well enough to have a concrete idea of what works for us, and if you can stick to that then it’s hard to go wrong. However, you can’t say that I never impart any nuggets of wisdom that I haplessly stumble across, so here are some general pointers for those looking for fresh ideas about how to handle what can be a stressful time for any student with exams, whatever year they’re in:

  1. If you’re good with rigid structure in your day, work to a set time limit. 45-60 minutes of work followed by a 15 minute break seems to be a common one. The key is to stick to it. Once the time is up just move on, no matter how much you want to carry on. If you go past the limit you risk over-indulging in one topic/paper/subject and running out of time for the others.
  2. If you’re someone who doesn’t like tight structure to their time (which I don’t), rather than setting a time limit to your subjects, set a list of goals or tasks you want to complete that day. One task per subject, be that a chapter of reading or notes on a certain section or whatever, but stick to just the one. You can work till you’ve done it but once it’s done,  move on.
  3. EAT. Enough said.
  4. Don’t just work. Have stuff to do to act as a release. Exercise is a good one- exercise gives you endorphins, endorphins make you happy, happy people don’t crumble at the thought of having a bit of work to do.

The final thought comes from my DoS in my end of term meeting before I came home. Be realistic about what you have to get done. For most of us, exams do not start immediately. There is still plenty of time to revise in term, so use the break productively, but most of all use it as a break.

Good luck everyone – see you on the other side!

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The Three Golden Days of Term

I can’t quite claim to be the one who coined the phrase “the three golden days of term”; but as we toasted the culmination of the last nine weeks last night, I could certainly agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment.

I’ve stressed time and time again in my blog posts that the academic challenges of life at Cambridge are tough, but they’re challenges that we rise to – we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t want to be pushed and stretched to be the best that we can be after all. That said, once the lectures have ended and the supervisions are all through, that’s when the real fun begins.

The last three days have been a whirlwind of formal dinners in fancy dress (in both senses of the idea), UV ents, football in the sun and impromptu trips into town. It’s not as though we couldn’t do these things during term mind, but it’s refreshing to be able to wake up in the morning with a clear schedule and no essays or reading to plough through at the back of your mind and just relax.

It’s genuinely sad as things begin to wind down and people slowly begin to leave the Cambridge bubble and return home. Term flies by and is over before you know it – and during the weeks between unpacking and packing you really do bond with the people around you. You’re making friends for life with the people you live with, and I’m so glad I’ve been able to spend these last few days just enjoying their company.

It’s days like these that really make university life truly worth living.

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Downing Dramatic Society Presents: GATSBY

Downing College is home to the Howard Theatre, a fantastic building which was described in my Freshers Handbook this year as “one of the best theatres in Cambridge”. Lent term (or term two to those of you not quite down with the lingo yet) brings my first Cambridge production: Gatsby (based on the incredible F. Scott Fitzgerald novel and adapted by Downing’s very own Linguistics Fresher Issy Gately).

Now this entire project is something I’ve been excited to be a part of since last term when I agreed to help out backstage and in wardrobe, but today was my first real chance to be hands on and help out. I’ve been involved in countless shows since I started acting when I was very young, but what has been noticeably different here as opposed to performances I have been involved in during secondary school was how unintimidated I was about helping out straight away. I never once felt that I, as a first year, was not valued as much as any of the (albeit only slightly) older members of the cast and crew or should have to wait my turn before it was time for a show that I could help out with or be in. After all, it was a first year who adapted the novel into the script, a first year directing and first years in charge of wardrobe and make-up… basically we were everywhere! It’s this sense of community in working alongside students who aren’t in your year which really makes the process feel so worthwhile though, we’re all a team and it has been a great opportunity to mix with new people in other years who do other subjects (though work was the last thing on any of our minds of course – we had a show to put on!)

Tonight was opening night, and if I was lucky enough to be in the audience I’d be more than happy for this post to be a review; but sadly I was too busy behind the scenes dealing with quick-changes and costumes and cumbersome set pieces. I’ve heard nothing but great feedback though – the audience clapped and cheered and wouldn’t leave at the end which is always a pretty good sign that they enjoyed themselves. It just goes to show that, even though we have some demanding workloads in subjects which stretch and challenge us, that doesn’t mean we don’t have time to produce amazing shows to entertain an adoring audience.

I know the cast are eagerly (and some not so eagerly) awaiting reviews of the show which should come out tomorrow, but if I could say one thing now, it’s that they’ve done themselves proud.

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Trying Something New

A particularly pro-active new friend of mine said something pretty interesting towards the end of last term. She wanted to take on a new skill or activity every term while she was at Cambridge and suggested that I could do the same. Her intention to dedicate time to trying something new is not only a great idea, but it also fits in well with what a number of my supervisors and tutors have recommended.

As much as studying at Cambridge is about hard work, the focus is never completely on academics. Time away from working is essential, everybody needs an outlet or two to help relax and just enjoy life at university; and Cambridge has a lot to offer. A brief survey of my friends around College showed that just about everybody has tried something: from water polo to football to volleyball to hockey to ultimate frisbee, people are getting out there and taking up things they never have before. As for myself, last term I took up running, and this term (to get out of the cold) I’ve started to help with the production of a College play to be performed at the end of term.

There’s no pressure at all to commit to a sports team or a society, but what is great is you always have the option to take part. It’s the diverse wealth of opportunities which really does mean you can try something new every term, be it in College of as part of the wider university in general; which means you can come away at the end of your time here with both a degree and a whole range of new skills or sports you have a new-found love for. All you need to do is give it a go, you never know what might stick!

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College Families

Now if there’s one tradition that I was completely unaware of before I came to Cambridge, that would be College families. You can probably imagine my surprise when one day in September I opened an email with the opening line: “This is probably one of the strangest messages I’ve ever sent, but here goes: I’m your College father!” Confused? Allow me to explain.

Your College parents are like your mentors; second year students who have been there, done it and lived to tell the tale. Usually one at least of them will be doing the same subject as you- in my case both my College mum and dad (and yes you do get used to calling them that) read law just like I do; and because both of them are lawyers, both of my siblings are lawyers too. Your family are often some of the first members of other years that you get to know really well when you arrive- Downing has a family day as part of Freshers’ Week for example, where your parents take you all punting on the river (with hilarious consequences more often than not) and then out for a meal in the evening. It’s a great way to get to know each other and ask any burning questions you may have about what you’ve got in store over the course of your first year. This is one way that the community feel that college life really comes to the forefront – right from the start you get to know people outside of your accommodation block, year and potentially subject too. It doesn’t stop with your parents though- before long I’d been introduced to my College grandparents and aunts and cousins – it really is like having a whole second family and it’s a brilliant support network for if you’re feeling stressed out at any time. Your parents are also a great source of advice about your work, and I even bought most of my textbooks for the year from my College mum where I didn’t need new editions.

There’s a whole other side to this when you get to Cambridge yourself though, and that’s the College proposals. That’s right, every marriage begins with a proposal. Now of course you could just ask your chosen partner/victim if they’ll College marry you, but where’s the fun it that? When you’re proposing to your future College husband or wife who you’ll soon be having a pair of wonderful College children with, you’re out to impress.  Stage a flash-mob, bring in a brass band, write them a poem, send them on a scavenger hunt, cover yourself head to toe in nutella (yes that happened… between my own parents no less) – the possibilities are endless! Make them an offer they simply can’t refuse! As for me, I wrote a speech to be delivered at his Bridgemas dinner while I was away in London and texted over a photo of me down on one knee at the top of The Shard.

We couldn’t be happier.

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A day as a Cranworth Lawyer

One of the great things about being a student at Cambridge is the sheer number of societies and clubs we have on offer here. That’s not to say no other university has societies to join by any means, they all certainly do, but here our College system allows us to take that one step further.

As a law student at Downing College I automatically became a member of the Cranworth Law Society. Cranworth puts on a huge number of events every year which allow us to interact with those already in the profession many of us will end up entering into ourselves after completing our degrees and further necessary qualifications afterwards. Yesterday was the annual Cranworth trip to London, where all of the first years are taken down to London to visit the inns of court for an insight into the life of a barrister, then onto the Supreme Court where many of our oh so familiar judgments and cases were actually handed down, and finally to a city law firm for talks and then a drinks reception before dinner.

These sort of opportunities are ideal for any law student and simply wouldn’t be available anywhere else. The main piece of advice given to us throughout the day was that you need to visit chambers or law firms before blindly applying for vacation schemes or training contracts or even to the bar. Each place has a different feel and different expertise, they used the analogy that it’s like buying a house (not particularly useful when considering that chances are none of the 19/20 year olds in the room have ever had any experience of buying a house and neither probably will any of you, but bear with me) – it’s the sort of scenario where you can walk in and just feel in your gut whether or not a place is right for you. I think the same can be said for the Cambridge Colleges, each has their own distinct feel and reputation; and it’s definitely a good idea to visit a couple on a regular day and try and get a feel for it.  If you don’t try, you’ll never know. In my case, if I hadn’t visited the firm yesterday, I wouldn’t have had the inside scoop on the graduate admissions process, life as a trainee, the chance to talk to partners at a firm (all from Downing might I add) or even see the view on London from the rooftop terrace in the evening where the entire city was lit up.

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How I got here

Hi everyone, seeing as it’s November and lots of potential new applicants will either have or be getting their interview letters soon, I thought I’d make my first post about my experience of the application process. Here goes…

I think it’s fair to say that my approach to applying to study at Cambridge wasn’t conventional in the eyes of my Grammar School in Rochester.  Every week they’d set up a new session about how to think or how to write or how to improve our interview technique and I just wasn’t interested in any of it. That’s because I had my own idea about how I wanted to get in (and speaking to my DoS since I have it turns out I was right).  My opinion was that I would rather have an honest no than a dishonest yes; by which I mean I would much prefer to be rejected because it wasn’t the right place for me than be accepted because I put on the behaviour I was coached into displaying for two 20 minute interviews. If I had any chance of coping with life at Cambridge, I’d have to be myself in interview and let my interviewers (who have years of experience and would never admit someone they didn’t think had what it takes) use their knowledge and judgement to decide if I was up to the job.

It turns out I was, and here I am.

So that’s my moral of the story for today – if you have an interview coming up, just be yourself – don’t be someone you’ve been coached into being because there’s just no way you can keep the façade up for a whole term, let alone the year. Think of your interview as a chat – you might be pushed into thinking about difficult topics, but that’s part of the fun and the perfect insight into what your supervisions could be like. Relish the challenge and just enjoy yourself. I think above all else, your interviewers are looking for people who they can comfortably talk to and enjoy teaching far more than for someone who has all the answers already.

Best of luck to all applicants, if any of you have an interview at Downing College this year I may very well be the interview helper who signs you in or gives you your map and sends you on your way- so feel free to come over and say hello!


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