I’m Ros Smith and I studied Natural Sciences at New Hall (now Murray Edwards) in the 1980s. No-one from my family had attended university, and so coming to Cambridge (from a small town in Yorkshire) was both a challenging and a life-enhancing experience. I remember both the excitement and the apprehension that this generated – and the kindness and warmth of the people I met including the ever-friendly and ever-patient College porters.
On leaving Cambridge I undertook a PhD in electrophysiology at Leicester University and then joined the computer industry working my way up to a position as operations director and major company shareholder.
What I learned was the importance of education to what you can achieve. Education can be both personally fulfilling and inspirationally transformative. It allowed me to succeed in ways that I had never anticipated and I am wholeheartedly committed to the principle of educational progression based on academic ability rather than on class, background, colour or religion.
Success in the computer industry has meant that my husband and I have been able to actively support initiatives and institutions which help to further educational opportunities for all. We have founded bestCourse4me, a website to help students to make informed University choices; supported IntoUniversity, helping children from deprived backgrounds to gain the aspiration and achievements needed to access a University education; and supported Red Balloon, recovering bullied and traumatised children who are out of school, returning them to education.
In addition, we were able to make a significant donation to the College to help secure its future and its capacity to offer the sort of transformative educational experience from which I have benefitted so much myself.
Looking back over this blog now I am delighted to see how others have been able to make use of this opportunity. I am especially excited by the experiences of students within the Gateway programme and the gap year scholarships. Students have used their Gateway opportunities to travel, work in voluntary projects, research projects, study jazz music and script-writing; and I have loved reading about the independence and skills developed by students on the gap year scholarships, working in different languages, teaching, shadowing a neurologist at the famous teaching hospital la Pitié-Salpêtriére. I wish I could have my student days again!
This to me is what education is all about and it remains a great pleasure to me to be associated with all that the College has done and continues to do.
Iwasn’t going to Cambridge. I knew that I wanted to study Theology and it kept being suggested that I consider Oxbridge, but my GCSE grades, whilst good, didn’t match what I had been predicted, and the idea of Oxbridge seemed out of reach. Eventually, I agreed to go to an Open Day at the Cambridge Divinity Faculty, more to prove that it wasn’t for me than as an actual consideration. By the time I got home that evening, I’d fallen in love with everything that Cambridge and the course had to offer.
I began filling out the preliminary application forms at the end of my lower sixth year, but then received my AS Level results. As with my GCSEs, my exams hadn’t matched up to what I had been predicted or achieved in class, and I knew that I had no chance of making it to Cambridge with those grades. My teachers were incredibly supportive as I re-sat exams and worked on my exam technique in order to ensure that my A Level results were better, and I chose to take a gap year rather than to apply to different universities that year.
With my A Levels, I earned the grades to apply to Cambridge. Although I knew that other people applying would have better overall grades, I had the chance to aim for the goal that I had been pursuing for two years. My gap year was spent working and volunteering for various local organisations, and every place that I worked in had Cambridge graduates who only fuelled my desire to go to Cambridge when they spoke about their time here. After the interviews, I received a letter to say that I had been placed in the winter pool. It was Murray Edwards, a college that I had never heard of before, who rang me up that weekend to offer me a place. My Mum screamed so loudly when I put the phone down that our dog ran and hid in the next room.
Now that I am halfway through my undergraduate course, I know first-hand that the hard work that went into getting into Cambridge doesn’t stop with an offer, but that it is all worth it. Having discovered a love of the Old Testament and had the chance to learn Hebrew, I wish to pursue study in this area beyond undergraduate level. I am incredibly privileged to be studying a subject that I love and learning from some of the best academics in the world. Every essay that I write and supervision that I have refines the way that I think and approach issues, and it is always worth wading through the endless reading lists in order to discover that proverbial light bulb moment. Being placed in the pool during applications turned out to be the best possible course of events, since I was chosen by a college that is welcoming and continually supportive, providing not just a college but a community to live and study in. It was through Murray Edwards that I realised that I really could be going places.
Over a year before I start, already Murray Edwards is investing in my future. I wouldn’t have had the courage to choose a gap year; I thought I was ready for university and after a taste at the College’s overnight stay I couldn’t wait to start! But luckily MEC offered me a window onto the bigger picture and now I can’t believe I almost missed out on this incredible opportunity.
Applying to medical school, sandwiched between AS and A levels, made a relentless and tough couple of years, with no time for non-scientific interests – particularly languages, art and novels. But it was definitely worth it for the extraordinary privilege of a year free from obligations, to broaden my self-development in ways completely determined by me. It’s amazingly liberating. And it’s made even more so by having the next stage of my life secured, with a place at Cambridge there waiting for me when the gap year is over!
I’m writing in the lovely sunshine of the south of France, where I’m an Au pair for four months. It’s true that being immersed in another language and getting to know another culture is an incredibly enriching experience. It took a few weeks to detach myself from my old life, family and friends, and at first, concentrating so much for every basic conversation was exhausting. I arrived with only rusty, GCSE-level French, causing me to have my accent totally mocked, take ridiculous numbers of minutes to deliver a single sentence, and even be corrected by a two-year-old! …continue reading…
My gap year began in Paris, where I worked in a tea boutique (a shop that is mentioned on Gossip Girl, no less!). This was a fantastic experience for me, since I found myself living alone in a foreign country, which opened the door to so many new adventures. Not only did I learn the wonderful, diverse culture of tea but I also took advantage of living in one of the culinary capitals of the world and expanded my recipe books daily. Having never left the comfort of my parental home before, I was more than a little daunted by the prospect of being entirely independent in such a busy city but within a month I could almost pass for a real Parisienne.
During my days off, I shadowed a neurologist at the world-renown teaching hospital la Pitié-Salpêtrière, which, under the patronage of Charcot, became known as the birthplace of modern neurology. I attended clinics for young patients suffering from Tourette’s Syndrome and learnt more about a disease that I had previously known very little about. While this experience was fascinating from a scientific point of view, it was also thought provoking to learn more about how this syndrome affected the lives of the patients.
I returned to England in January, and spent several months tutoring students in subjects ranging from Maths and Physics to Spanish and Latin. I felt a real sense of pride in these students when they achieved the results I knew they were capable of. It was absolutely fantastic to be able to share in the joy of someone who got full marks on a maths test they had previously failed.
And then, before I knew it, my bags were packed and I was about to embark on a road trip across America. That first night, I couldn’t sleep at all – whether because of the jetlag or the excitement, I couldn’t say. They say a journey of a hundred miles begins with a single step. My journey of over 2000 miles of open road began with a single step into a puddle. The uncharacteristically rainy weather that followed me did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm, however. I really adored absorbing all the different cultures that make up the United States, and found it interesting that crossing a state line was well and truly like entering a new country. …continue reading…