Well, hello, Cambridge! or, the Top Ten Tips if You’re Brand New and Freaking Out About What It Means to Be Studying in Caaaambridge

Hello there! Welcome to the start of term! Whether you’re just starting out, or if you’re in your third-year of your PhD (and starting to worry about what on Earth you want your career to be), there’s always something refreshing about the start of a new academic year.

Pencil bouquet!

It makes me think of You’ve Got Mail and bouquets of pencils – even though I haven’t actually used a pencil in years. (I’m strictly a pen/computer/stabilo markers kind of gal.) For all the new newbies, your head is probably bursting with everything that’s being thrown at you – library registration, college matriculation, reading lists, supervisor meetings, realizing that you have to start thinking ahead RIGHT NOW (or preferably a few months ago) about what your NEXT STEP is going to be (PhD? Post-doc? Something outside of academia?), and SO MANY NEW PEOPLE AND HOW WILL I EVER REMEMBER THEIR NAMES?!?

Breathe, kittens. It’s all going to be okay. Let me, the wise old owl, who’s been through the MPhil and two years of PhD-ing, take you under my wing and advise you during these trying times.

While I don't usually wear a mortar board, this is a pretty accurate depiction of me. Look for me around the faculty!
While I don’t usually wear a mortar board, this is a pretty accurate depiction of me. Look for me around the faculty!

Here is my number one top tip for definite success, 100% fool-proof, money-back guarantee:

1) There is no top tip.

No, seriously, there isn’t. There is no one way to “do” Cambridge. It’s a crazy place full of crazy people and you have to figure out your own way of doing it. This is your journey. Don’t let anyone tell you how it has to be done, because you can do it whatever way you damn well please. That being said…

2) You’re not in this alone, so DO NOT SHUT YOURSELF OFF!

You’re very lucky to have joined this awesome little community. Nope, not being sarcastic. Full of the serious intent here. I’ve lived in a lot of different places and known a lot of different types of people, and can therefore empirically inform you that the children’s literature community at Cambridge is one of the friendliest, most supportive groups of people you will ever have the pleasure to encounter. Even if you only interact with us in an academic manner, interact with us! When you’re spiraling out about your Essay 1, or you’re worried that your lit review is just not cutting it, let us know. We will help you. This help may come in the form of reading your stuff and giving suggestions, and this help may come in the form of cake. We are super into cake.

3) Try the things!

This is for everyone, but especially for the new Masters, so I’m going to address them for a hot sec. You are here for ONE YEAR. Even if you think you’ll stay on for the PhD, you have no idea how your goals and desires will change in the next twelve months. This year is going to go by so fast, and Cambridge is a wonderful place to experience. So experience it! Try all the Cambridge-y things you may not get to do again for a long time. This includes, but is not limited to, punting, going to formals, meeting in large groups at cafes to loudly talk about the academic merits of Harry Potter, look at cows in the fields, and go to ALL THE COLLEGES because you can get in for free. How many other places have a beautiful river full of tourists overlooking a field full of walking paths and cows? Not even Oxford has that.*

4) Drink all the coffee.

5) Did you not hear me? ALL the coffee.



6) Stay on top of your stuff. This can be accomplished by imbibing the before-mentioned beverage. But seriously, time starts slipping away from you. You say yes to going to all these formals and cow-viewings, and suddenly Essay 1 or your lit review is due in two days and you’ve written absolutely bupkis. So enjoy your time, but remember, you are really here for one reason: cows.


No, obviously not cows! You’re here to learn! But more than just learning stuff and facts and doodads about children’s literature – you’re here to improve your mind. The great and wonderful thing about the humanities (and social sciences, I suppose) is that you’re training your mind to look at the world from a myriad of perspectives. You can analyze it and make conclusions about it – conclusions you will probably change a hundred times over. But probably it doesn’t hurt to get good marks, so do that, too.

7) Be nice to the faculty librarians. And the Homerton librarians. All librarians in general, really. Because they will do SO MUCH for you if you ask them nicely. They’ll sit down with you and tell you the best ways to do a literature search, and order books for you, and smile at you when you’re feeling crappy, and, importantly, sometimes they have cake. Have I mentioned how much we like cake?

8) Go apple picking. It’s really fun, and then you can make something from the apples later. Like cider. To anyone not from the UK, cider here is always alcoholic. It is the best.

9) In that same theme, go outside. It’s going to start getting really dark really early, compounded with some serious cold. But still, make it to the outdoor place on occasion. It has the vitamin D (sometimes, anyway) and the fresh air (depending on whether or not the cows have been particularly digestive or not), and also, staying cooped up inside, hunched over your laptop for hours and hours will start to make you go crazy. See other people! Talk to them! It will make all the things better.

10) Remember to shower. This is one that I’m still working on, but hoping to get better with in future.

11) Ha ha! I said there’d be ten, but here’s an eleventh tip! Don’t take yourself, or the Caaaaambridge name, too seriously. Yep, it’s an amazingly high-achieving academic environment, and saying “Cambridge” to other people will sometimes highly impress them (other times it may make them lash out with tomatoes and the like, so be ready for that). But thinking that you can never have fun or be silly, even in an academic place, makes everything terrible and boring. Remember, high-falluting professors are people too, and chances are they like having a good time, too. I mean, not too good of a time – this is Cambridge.

Ta dah! Some tips to start you off in your Cambridge experience. By no means exhaustive, feel free to ignore any of them that you don’t like. But don’t, because I know what I’m talking about.

One last thing: WELCOME!!! We are so excited to have you.

This is actually what I look like! Unlike the mortar board, I ALWAYS wear a viking helmet. In all seriousness, if you ever see me around, say hi! I am American and loud and will probably be nice to you. My name is Katy, and I approved this message.


*I don’t know that for sure, actually. I don’t think it does. Oxford probably thinks it’s too cool for cows. Did you know that the university in Cambridge was formed because people in Oxford were killing students there?? So some students ran away to shelter with some monks here, and that’s how the University of Cambridge was born!

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