On Studying at the University of Cambridge

Dumbfounded. The only word to describe the feeling I had when I discovered that I would be studying for a postgraduate PhD at the University of Cambridge. I began my academic career at the age of thirty, studying at what some Brits refer to as a “red-brick” university – an old “working-class” polytechnic that later transformed into a “prestigious” university (English classism, I know, I know). After doing fairly well there, I went back to work and felt that laborious “9-to-5” lifestyle slowly grinding me down and sapping me of the will to live. I returned to the University of Bristol to study for a masters of science (MSc) in social and cultural theory, which was a real step up the social ladder for me. Again, my results there were fairly good too.

My advice to anyone applying to do a PhD course is to take a gap year out after finishing their master’s degree to get in touch with a range of potential supervisors, network, email and visit departments, while at the same time taking a look around for funding options, working out expenses, etc. Doing a master’s degree is very stressful and with some universities closing their application deadlines in December – the time when most master’s students are in the thick of their studies! – delaying your application by a year can reduce that stress and give you time to get a cracking PhD proposal together. What is more, you can really take time to think about what it is that you really want to study for three years, and, discover what niches there are in the knowledge market. That would be my advice.
While discussing my PhD application with a friend, I mentioned, cheekily, that I was considering applying to Cambridge. Their response was: “Well, someone’s got to do it: so why not you?” This prompted me to email the sociology department with my research idea, to, which they replied: “Yes! Very interested. Please apply a.s.a.p.” It wasn’t as easy at that, after applying online I had to negotiate my place and make sure that my project sounded realistic and theoretically/methodologically viable. This must have been the case because after going back and forth with my potential supervisor for months, I was eventually offered a place. And, like I’ve already said, the only way to describe my feeling was: “Dumbfounded!”

Welcome to Cambridge
So, in terms of climbing the academic ladder, I have gone from the University of the West of England (#56) to the University of Bristol (#15) to the University of Cambridge (#1). – see here. There are several important reasons I have been able to climb this ladder, too in depth to mention here now, but my advice to any students looking to get on and up would be just to believe in your own talent, be realistic about your abilities and goals, be prepared to interrogate yourself and an academic with ideas and a human with real feelings and real bills to pay.
Anyway, this is the next part of the blog. I will keep anyone out there in the online “Blog-Sphere” informed about life at Cambridge and helpful advice on what to do and what not to do. Furthermore, I’ll be dropping some social commentary on the differences between studying and living at the top of the University League table as compared with being further down the bottom. Bottom line: “Stay tuned!”. Peace.

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