Orientation · Research · Socialising

Week 39: The Disappearing MPhils

It was a week where the summer really shone through. No longer were we trapped in the cool English spring; instead the sun came out and it was worth every minute to be outdoors, stretching into the late and bright evenings. It was also time to begin writing my first year report. Every first year PhD student in the department (and most across the university) needs to write a report describing what they have accomplished to date, what is the basis for there research, and where will the research be going. Passing the first year report, although a relatively straightforward hurdle, is a necessary requirement to be fully registered for the PhD; the current registration is listed as probationary. It had finally reached the time to set down other work in order to focus on producing the approximately 10,000 word document. I was setting myself daily goals throughout the week, though writing would often come in bursts. By the end of the week, however, my enthusiasm was waning. I would still have two more weeks to complete the report, and so I was not too stressed.

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Away from work, on Monday I went to feed Joanna and Danny’s cats for the last time; Danny was due back soon, though a series of calamitous events meant that he wouldn’t actually arrive in Cambridge until a few days after he was scheduled to. Work through the week was typically punctuated by lunch in one of the colleges of me or my office-mates: Darwin, Trinity and Pembroke. At Monday lunchtime, Herschel and I were eating at Darwin when we were sat next to by an elderly gentlemen who engaged with us in a conversation about railways and the Beeching cuts, and later bushfires in Australia. All through, he looked extremely familiar; only at the end did I realise that there was a portrait of him on the wall; he was the former master of the college from 1989-2000. Such an experience is rather unique to Darwin College, most colleges have a high table which segregates the fellows from the students.

That evening, I met with Jacqueline, Emma and Annika in the GSCR to sign all of the paperwork for the lease for a house for next year. There were a lot of agreement and licence forms to fill in and it took near on an hour. After, we had an orientation committee meeting, where we received updates from everyone about how all of the bookings are coming along. We are now near the point where we start moving from arranging large-scale bookings to discussing the smaller details and character of teh event. That evening, I stayed in to try and stay well rested for working on my first year report, while the fireworks burst for the Trinity College May Ball.

First year report writing continued on Tuesday, punctuated by an afternoon filling in the Gates annual survey, where the scholars council collect data on all of the scholars to motivate events and campaigns going forward. That evening, I took full advantage of the warm evening weather to go out to play on a nearby playground with Jacqueline.

The warm weather continued into Wednesday, so after dinner, Jacqueline and I booked out Darwin’s kayaks to go enjoy an evening on the water. It appeared that many other people had similar ideas; the banks of the river were teeming with people all the way up and through the Grantchester Meadows. There were an unprecedented number of punts upstream of the sluice to navigate around. It was easy to spot the English; they were relaxing in the punts or on the banks shirtless (I didn’t think it was warm enough to necessitate it). Groups of people were jumping in the river and swimming around; there was even somebody who had put up a slack-line across the river whom we had to navigate underneath.

Unfortunately, as we were returning down the sluice, as I was trying to get back into my kayak, the boat tipped and I fell completely into the water, much to Jacqueline’s amusement. Soaking wet, I righted my capsized boat for the short trip back to the college, where I changed out of my now-soaked clothes. Unfortunately, my phone went in as well and would not turn on due to the water. I also had an old £5 note that needed to be aired out.

We went straight on to tennis, where we met with Annalise, Krittika and Cerianne, who had come along to try the Royal Game before she left post-MPhil. As a group, we showed Cerianne the basics of the game, and then rotated through a series of doubles games, the fifth person marking at the line.

Not content with letting the warm sunshine go, Jacqueline and I returned to the river in the meadows to go swimming ourselves. This time, I was better prepared to be in the water, and we swum around until the sun was setting.

On Thursday morning, I dropped by Danny’s to drop off his spare keys. He told me about how he had driven to the wrong Danish airport and missed his flight home, only to have to reroute via Poland the next day; and had even missed the last bus from the airport to Stansted. Nevertheless, it seemed he had had a good time with Joanna in Sweden. She would be returning too in the next few days.

Thursday was less productive as far as a first year report goes, as after a few solid days work my motivation was starting to wane. That evening I went down to watch Annalise and Jacqueline in a short game of tennis, followed by dinner at Darwin. We all spent the evening on Coe Fen, outside the Mill, with a lot of other Gates people as Cat and Dan (both MPhils) were having a going away party. Being the end of Easter term, and the end of exams, many MPhil students are now leaving Cambridge for good, often destined for PhDs in the States, or have jobs lined up for them somewhere world. In the end, I spent most of the evening talking to Margaret and Callie, which is always a delightful experience.


Friday afternoon was the first of several small-group orientation meetings, this time with Olly, the new Gates Council treasurer, and Harum, to discuss the details of how the orientation finances are to be managed. I spent the remainder of the evening consolidating the finances to-date, and preparing the budget for the rest of our expenditure.

Saturday morning, I met with Paul, Krittika, Annalise and Jacqueline at Jesus College. Paul, as an MPhil, was to be leaving Cambridge soon as well. We had arranged a round of croquet on the Chapel Court of Jesus College. The sun was high, and we were starting to get a bit burnt before Annalise ducked home to get some sunscreen. We broke a couple of times for drinks, as we relaxed, socialised, and debated whether the boxes on the adjacent lawn were May Ball left-overs or an art installation (not a trivial question at Jesus College). As for the croquet itself, for most of the game, one team was ahead of the other, so it didn’t get quite as vicious as it could have been.

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For a late lunch, we made our way to a nearby sandwich shop, the Jesus café not being well-stocked. We had to wait quite a while for our sandwiches; they were the deluxe inner-city Melbourne type, and not the suburban milk bar type, and hence were very popular in Cambridge. When they did arrive, we went out to Christ’s pieces and ate them underneath a big Oak tree. This would be one of the last times we would hang out with Paul before he left back to the US.

That Sunday, I took a rare venture into the department to continue writing my first year report. Being a weekend, I wasn’t too productive, but I did make some all-important progress. That evening, I went down to the West Road Concert Hall to see a performance by Choir 2000, a local non-University choir with a rag-tag orchestra pulled from various parts across Cambridge and surrounds, including Jacqueline on the violin. It was a relaxing end to a rather focused week.

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