Info dump: First days in Cambridge!

Hey everyone!

Man, it has been a busy week :). This post is going to be a quick one, because work and play wait for no one (ha), but there have been lots of emotional highs and lows as I transitioned from London to Cambridge this weekend. Plus work starts tomorrow, so that’s when everything will really get rolling!

All right, timeline, timeline… Monday. Monday I worked on the DTI project that is leftover from my Wellesley research lab. The late evening was when it got very exciting, because 1) I hadn’t exercised, 2) I’d had this naïve thought that I could finish everything up that night, and was up very late, 3) Tuesday was my designated Cambridge day, the day I got up early and headed over to Cambridge with my luggage for the first time, and 4) I happened to realize that the band One Direction was touring in London and so scheduled myself tickets for Wednesday. In short, I was keyed up on adrenaline at three in the morning and didn’t end up sleeping that much? It was definitely the most emotional I’d been in weeks :). But it all ended up just fine—I woke up and caught the train to Cambridge (the public transport in London is amazing. Also very expensive), wandered around with a heavy suitcase, and had a great day :).

Tuesday. My Cambridge day. Cambridge is lovely. It reminds me a lot of Boston, actually—an intellectual city, with the city centre well-contained, lots of young people and students, with older, narrower streets. Cambridge is also a city of cyclists, is smaller than Boston, is wealthier, and had an enormous international population. (I finally figured out the “which way do people walk on the sidewalk?” question. Turns out it’s a free-for-all because the international population is so large that everyone’s given up.) I am, of course, immensely fond of it already. It was like coming back to Wellesley’s campus—just this sense, upon arrival, that I’d fit in and like it here.

It turns out that students at the University of Cambridge are not so much students of the University as they are of their College. The University is divided up into 30-some Colleges, and everything is organized from this lower level. I was randomly placed in Lucy Cavendish College, which has the unusual traits of being a newer college (only 50 years old), a small college, only admitting of women, and only admitting of students over 21. It’s about 1/3 undergraduates and 2/3 postgraduates, seems to be more international than the University average (50%. Huge, isn’t it?), and has about 300-400 students. Lucy’s campus is quite small compared to other universities, and the available space is filled with flowers and gardens. Lucy’s color is blue. The staff and women are extremely friendly, it is known as an abnormally egalitarian College, and is known to have a very supportive community. …It was meant to be, readers. Wellesley Year 5, Cambridge-style, here I am :).

The main support group is the Porter’s Lodge, which is at the very entrance of the College and is staffed by a group of eight or so older, usually male Porters (often in their second careers) who answer and do everything the students could possibly need. Angus, a relief porter, chatted with me on-and-off for literally four hours whilst I quizzed him and then wandered around the College and town trying to figure out the internet, bike shops, luggage, buses, you name it. John, the senior porter, sold me a bike, outfitted me with all of its accessories, and convinced me to change bikes halfway through with unreasonable good humor. Neil, the other senior porter, was the one who greeted me and immediately made me feel comfortable (also got me my ID card). May I say that I kind of want to be a porter someday? I know that I’m all about sitting by myself and learning things, but I love the interacting-with-students bit, the constantly changing tasks and the opportunity to just hang out with what is obviously a very cheerful and dedicated group of people. Maybe in my second career, like many of the porters, when I somehow end up in England again :).

So I had a great day in Cambridge due to the Porters, and settled many administrative things (phones, addresses, bikes, gyms, so many administrative details :).) My one disappointment was the University gym—unfortunately students need to pay a fee to use it, and it’s a ways from my apartment, so I won’t be heading over there. However, otherwise things went better than could be expected in almost all respects, and I then had a fabulous dinner in a gastropub with a Wellesley alum, Mary, in the area. It was so nice to meet her, and we had a great time with easy conversation for two entire hours. It is so lovely when things click, and I arrived back in London at 11pm, pleased as could be :).

Wednesday. Back in London, working in the afternoon… and then a concert in the evening! Haha, I have learned that one arrives to concerts two hours after the doors open, because otherwise one will end up arriving early and hanging out for three hours for things to happen. Ah well, I’ll know next time. Anyway, I was so pleased with this concert because I never to go concerts, and when I do I plan them months in advance, so it was kind of miraculous to me that I could realize One Direction was in London, buy tickets a little more than 24 hours in advance at a reasonable price, and then actually be let in. (I was extremely dubious of the fact of being let in. Like I was standing at the ticket counter at the O2, which is an arena reachable by about an hour transport by the Underground, clutching my passport and thinking to myself: no way will they give me my ticket…) I had a great time with all of the rest of the screaming females in the arena (All ages. All female. Most with apparel, some hysterical, the vast majority not) and went home a happy camper.

Thursday. Work work work work work! I finally (tentatively, fingers crossed for no follow-ups) finished my leftover Wellesley work! I am very pleased to check that off the list, and am already reoriented towards the next task (sigh… my brain…). And preparations for Friday, which was when I moved to Cambridge. I finally saw Rebecca’s father, too, whose apartment I was staying in! Amusingly, we’d been missing each other for the last week and a half, so it was great to catch up with him before I left. I’m so thankful to have stayed in London with him for two weeks—it was a wonderful time that I’ll look back on very fondly, and I’m so glad to have had that experience.

Friday. Cambridge Move-In Day. Showed up the first day hauling two suitcases and a backpack, with vague plans to catch a bus rather than walk thirty minutes. I was defeated by standing on the wrong side of the road, and then was so embarrassed I just walked the whole way :). It’s so funny how similar things are between Cambridge and the States, so that most of my habits I don’t even have to think about. But then for the few things that are different, the context is so similar that I have to stop and explicitly recall that it’s the opposite of how I’m used to. Dates are Day-Month-Year (at least I grew up learning it that way in my French elementary school, before that awkward transition when I’d occasionally end up with Month-Month-Year), roads are backward, sinks are fine, times are military (subtract two, subtract two…), temperatures are hopeless, shoe size (subtract two), weight (hopeless, ask Google), kilometers (my trusty 5k = about 3 miles running is incredibly useful), money conversions (lots of multiplication by 1.5), trousers not pants, UNI not college (that’s a big one, I keep telling people that I’ve been to middle school or something), supervisor not advisor (Cambridge terminology). I experienced something similar when moving to MIT from Wellesley (I’m a Course 9 major, taking 6.036, I hang out in Building 46…), but there’s just a lot more here, so I have to think more a greater proportion of the time. But then again, English is my first language, people have been extremely friendly about me being an American, and I’m not even expected to blend in, since everyone’s international, so I have it pretty darn easy :).

Anyway, I made it to the Porter’s Lodge on Friday! I learned how to use the printers (oh, all of these tiny little things that you never think about until you get to a new place :)), then was kindly driven to my College-owned apartment off-campus. It is marvelous. I chose one of the cheapest accommodations available, and I’d previously poked around in the dorm rooms on campus, so I was a bit scared. But my room is actually huge, there are six people in the whole complex, and we’re living on three floors with a kitchen in the basement, three toilets, and two showers. It’ll be a bit cramped with the kitchen and showers, for sure, but I’m planning on doing rowing (not crew. People were like: you’re in a musical?) so I’ll be up early anyway, and I’ll probably be at work pretty late. And my roommates are excellent—I’ve only met two of them, the non-Fresher PhD students, but they’re both so kind :). Hamizah even walked around with me to the cheap grocery market and listened to a whole host of questions :).

Saturday. Met some of the girls at the various activities they have planned for us, ate at the… shoot, I can’t remember the name for the cafeteria? But it’s quite good, so I’ll be pleased to eat some meals there, in addition to cooking for myself. I biked around the city for the first time, which was an adventure—I’ve previously been too scared to do road-biking, but there are so many cyclists here that a strategy that works is to glom onto whoever’s in front of me, and then hightail it to whoever’s next when I switch roads. Hard things to remember: you can’t turn left on red, and the array of one-way streets is bewildering. So basically I’ve been going very slowly and alertly, which people are very tolerant of, and waiting until I get settled.

Really, really wonderful thing: the boat club here (rowing) sounds amazing. The girls at the society fair were so enthusiastic that I kidnapped one for half an hour and grilled her on details, and she was perfectly happy to tell me anything I wanted. For the first term of school, I’ll be a novice, and I’ll be getting out on the water three mornings a week and then doing evening on-land training for two. I’ll be getting in only about 30 minutes of cardio in the beginning, because we have to learn how to row, but it’ll ramp up as time goes on. They don’t have many injuries, the team’s about 24-40 people, and the team’s been doing better every year at the competition, the “Bumps”. (I’m very curious about these Bumps. What’s weird about the river Cam is that it’s super narrow, so people can’t race side by side. That means each boat is supposedly chasing each other? It sounds like so, so much fun :)). It apparently doesn’t get cold enough for the river to ice over (score!) and the team is filled with both undergraduate and graduates, and we’re partnered with a neighboring college, Hughes College, whose ergs (rowing machines) we use. The returners, the girls I talked to, were general all-around athletes, and when I headed over to the running club later they too had rowed before. I am so excited to get back into team sports again—there are things about it that I don’t like (general lack of flexibility and mandatory attendance at non-continually-cardio-intensive things, including competitions, being the main issue) but I have missed the social aspect very much (there is nothing quite like being on a team, when you’re brought together by continually being pushed). And of course there’s the interesting part about sports that you don’t get to opt out when people have decided you’re going to work very, very hard… but that’s so integral to the system it’s hard to have strong opinions on it, or even convey that aspect to people who have never been coached. There are moments in life where I’m stuck somewhere, tired, carrying something, and I just want to stop… but I know that I can’t, that with the consequences there is no other remotely logical choice but to keep going, and those moments always remind me of swimming, with a coach over my head, underwater, because it’s that same situation where that there is no other choice. I don’t ever feel that at school, really. At school, how hard you work is always under your discretion.

Hmm :). I’ll let you know how that develops—in the beginning we won’t have a coach, rather senior members will be teaching us, so it might be different than I expect. But I am ridiculously excited about this, especially since a member of my lab is a) a very involved member of my College and b) also a rower, which means that it is possible to do both sports and school! The struggle of my life excepting the last two years, really :). (And what a great problem, out of the millions that I could struggle with, that is to have.)

Poly (short for Polytimi, the PhD student in the lab) is amazing, and so welcoming, and tells me she’s excited to have me in the lab, which is very kind of her and bodes well for tomorrow :). She also tells me that the lab thinks that I’m very smart and that I know a lot, which does not bode well for tomorrow. (Seriously, I need to start bleating about how little I know when I’m confused, rather than listening quietly. This happened at my previous lab too: people assuming I know stuff when I’m lost to the point where I don’t know how to even start asking questions. Later, I asked people in my last lab why they didn’t instead assume I was clueless, and they said that I had just looked very calm. I think I need to let a little more internal panic through.) (And, with regards to smartness… the way I see it and have heard it told, everyone only needs to be smart enough. After that, it’s all work ethic, and it’s hard to tell the two apart anyway. It’s been hard over the last couple of years, because in science I’ve found there’s a lot of emphasis on intelligence that I hadn’t encountered when I was younger. But am I a “slow” or a “fast” learner if I sit down with something afterwards and work through it very slowly, but doing so lets me grasp the next concept faster than the people who got it on the first try?)

And so that’s my current life :). I can’t believe I only moved in two days ago—it seems like it’s been forever since I’ve been here. And then work will start tomorrow, so I’m nervous / excited for that! Apparently the MPhil is a harder degree than the PhD at Cambridge, because I only have a year to accomplish substantial research. It’s a little bit of pressure to add to my life, but in some respects I’ve kind of missed it. My Wellesley friends Tiffany and Emily are at medical school right now, and they’ve been studying for weeks, while I’ve been hanging out and doing some occasional work. It’s time to get back in the groove, and I’m in a really wonderful place, with a huge support network already (from the College, from Poly, from my flatmate Hamizah, from my Tutors, from the Porters, from my family, from my Wellesley friends, from Prof. Conway and my Wellesley teachers) to help me on my way.

Haha, so that ended up being a long post, as per usual, if a bit less coherent than usual. When I get into information-download mode, I’ve been told it just keeps on coming :). But I’ll settle in over the next few weeks, and then things will be a bit calmer in this head of mine… wish me luck, and thank you always for reading!


A postcard from Lucy. LUCY BLUE!
A postcard from Lucy. LUCY BLUE!
Here's Lucy-- much less huge and majestic than the older college, much more warm and comforting :). I hope to spend some time at both types of colleges, and am so welcomed here :).
Here’s Lucy– much less huge and majestic than the older college, much more warm and comforting :). I hope to spend some time at both types of colleges, and am so welcomed here!

a - 2 a - 3 a - 4

Getting out on the road into Cambridge! I haven't taken many pictures of Cambridge, because I've been carrying suitcases, on my bike, or occupied with being lost, but here are a few :). It's usually busier than this-- I just happened to venture out on a Tuesday morning.
Getting out on the road into Cambridge! I haven’t taken many pictures of Cambridge, because I’ve been carrying suitcases, on my bike, or occupied with being lost, but here are a few :). It’s usually busier than this– I just happened to venture out on a Tuesday morning.

a - 6

a - 17 a - 7

My digs from the outside :).
My digs from the outside :).
And a slow pan of my room, from left to right. I'm just so pleased with it.
And a slow pan of my room, from left to right. I’m just so pleased with it.

a - 9 a - 10 a - 11

Finally moved in, and out of suitcases! It's glorious, and has been months in the making.
Finally moved in, and out of suitcases! It’s glorious, and has been months in the making.
And quick pics from London-- here's the O2, where the concert was. It's always great when you just follow the crowds.
And quick pics from London– here’s the O2, where the concert was. It’s always great when you just follow the crowds.

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One thought on “Info dump: First days in Cambridge!

  1. Hiya Monica! I stumbled upon this blog entry again after googling Hamizah, PhD and Cambridge, to see if my photo comes out, and may I say that I really miss you now? 😀

    Yesterday, Halima (who was also from Wellesley, and is in Lucy, I’m not sure if you remember her, she started the PhD when you started the MPhil) and I chatted how Wellesley women are really strong, and you came to mind. I then end up recounting our supper chats, where we would discuss really deep topics while making supper; and after that, I said, “Aww, I miss Monica now!”.

    Hope all is well with you!

    Amy Xx


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