We Are The University

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Final-year chemist Shadab Ahmed reflects on his sabbatical year as Cambridge University Student Union Access and Funding Officer, the importance of role models, and how increasing diversity within universities could be the start of seeing real change in society as a whole.https://www.cam.ac.uk/thiscambridgelife/shadabahmedFinal-year chemist Shadab Ahmed reflects on his sabbatical year as CUSU Access and Funding Officer, the importance of role models, and how increasing diversity within universities could be the start of seeing real change in society as a whole. This year I’m returning to Cambridge to complete the final year of my degree. I’ve been at Cambridge for four years now, three as a Chemistry undergraduate and one as the Cambridge University Student Union (CUSU) Access and Funding Officer.I’ve been involved in access work ever since I received my offer from Cambridge. Before I even started here, I took part in an open day at Christ's talking about my experiences of applying to Cambridge. As a fresher I helped with mentoring and summer schools. Later I became the student undergraduate Access Officer for Christ’s College. Access work not only changes the lives of individuals for the better but also begins to address the inequalities in society as a whole. I’ve seen first-hand how people’s lives can take such different directions depending on the support and opportunities they are given.It’s been amazing to see school pupils from minority or disadvantaged backgrounds coming right through the summer school scheme and begin here as students. Now they’re carrying on the cycle by mentoring other young people from similar backgrounds. It’s so important for young people to see students like themselves in university or similar spaces.There’s lots of different mentoring schemes, which cover every aspect of the application process through to starting university as a fresher. Mentors might help with schoolwork to make sure students don’t miss out on entry grades or simply be someone who can give advice and support.Although I didn’t have a mentor myself, what made all the difference for me was the encouragement of my teachers. However, I know from experience that schools can be very different, and some don’t have the resources to help students with applications. Nobody should miss out on university because their school’s funding has been cut. I think it's important that we can bridge the gap wherever we can to ensure that everyone who does want to make a strong application to University can get that chance to do so.With all the good access work going on here, it's really discouraging to see the media pushing a negative narrative. They always say that Cambridge is for the likes of the white middle-class and the elite. This type of coverage is really harmful as it dissuades people from applying.Having figureheads like Stormzy for our access work is great. It's been so powerful to see black students saying: “we belong and thrive here.” Hopefully, there will be a shift towards this sort of positive perception – towards thinking that Cambridge is a place for all of us. Going forward I’d like to see greater diversity of support, especially from other ethnic minority groups, such as Bangladeshi and Pakistani advocates.Universities have a responsibility to diversify our intake. The makeup of university populations means that certain groups of people often dominate influential spheres of work: government, media, journalism, leading companies. It’s important to make sure these professions are representative of the UK population.Shifting the narrative is essential. We need young people from minority or disadvantaged backgrounds to see themselves as worthy to achieve these top positions. If there is nobody like them in these roles, we need to convince them that they can be the first.Outreach opens doors for people and opens minds. Ultimately, access work is vital to reshaping the course of our country’s future. I myself come from a minority background and think it’s incredibly important for our voices to be heard – so we can begin to challenge the oppressive systems in place in society.In the future I’d like to get involved in shaping educational policy. I’d like to put structures in place that mean that students from all backgrounds, especially from the most disadvantaged and underrepresented backgrounds, have access to higher education.
Welcome to We are the University. A podcast about the people who make Cambridge University unique.In this episode we meet James Biddulph, the headmaster of the University of Cambridge Primary School. www.cam.ac.uk/primaryschoolWe talk about the school’s character and vision, how a trip to Nepal helped him realise that he wanted to teach as a career and we find out how he inspires the team of teachers that work with him.www.educ.cam.ac.uk/people/staff/biddulph/More than just an outstanding Ofsted rating sets the University of Cambridge Primary School apart: it places research at its heart, informing education practice and furthering research at Cambridge’s Faculty of Education and elsewhere.Visitors walking through one of the ‘learning streets’ that run through the core of the University of Cambridge Primary School (UCPS) soon notice something unusual. It’s not the fact that they end up back where they started – the school’s Polo-mint-shaped structure is just one of its radical features – but the startling lack of doors: classrooms open up invitingly on each side of the street, with snatches of lessons, storytelling or music audible within.The open-plan design both facilitates and symbolises the school’s role as the first, and still only, University Training School at primary level in the UK (the only secondary UTS is in Birmingham). Sponsored by the University of Cambridge, its role is to provide brilliant and inclusive primary education for its local community, and also to work alongside the University’s Faculty of Education and others to be research informed and research generating.Building from the work of the Faculty of Education, the school identified three ‘golden threads’ that bind together its curriculum: habits of mind (the resilience and problem-solving skills that help children learn); dialogue (exemplified in the new DIALLS project); and playful inquiry. The aim, looking forward again, is to “empower children to make sense of the complex world in which they live” and nurture “compassionate citizens who want to make a positive contribution to their local and global worlds.”
In this episode we chat to Duncan Astle, a developmental neuroscientist, who’s based at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit. Duncan and I talk about his recent study that uses machine learning to identify learning difficulties and why children may struggle at school. We also talk about his work with Pride in STEM and how the current scientific research publishing model needs to change.
We talk to Dr Anne-Laura van Harmelen, a neuroscientist, who became fascinated by the brain as a teenager, after her dad gave her a copy of Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Today she’s investigating adversity and resilience and is part of an international collaboration working to understand, and ultimately prevent, suicidal thoughts and behaviours in teenagers.www.riskandresiliencegroup.uk/twitter.com/ProjectHOPEStwitter.com/DrAnneLaura
In this episode, Charis and I speak to Cambridge University alumna, Pat Marsh. When we recorded the interview, we didn’t have any of the studio equipment with us, just a phone, but we thought it would be a crime not to share Pat’s incredible story.Pat was the first woman in the UK to hold a gaming licence and in 1979 she brought Space Invaders, the arcade game sensation, to the UK shores.Pat has had a distinguished business career, most recently serving as Executive Chairman of Philip-Treacy. Philip Treacy’s hats have adorned the heads of royals and celebrities alike, including Grace Jones, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Sarah Jessica Parker, Beyonce and Victoria Beckham.https://medium.com/this-cambridge-life/the-woman-who-brought-space-invaders-to-the-uk-and-is-championing-womens-sport-7f1aa8ffedb8I grew up in Tipton, a working class town in the Midlands. All my family lived locally so we were always in and out of each other’s houses. People always think that, if you are hard-up, things are difficult but everyone was the same, so we didn’t know any different.My sister reminded me recently that we had to sleep with our coats on the bed to keep warm. We had a flat roof and each year someone put up a new tarpaulin to keep the rain out. But it wasn’t completely watertight so there were always buckets around.Although we were poor we were also proud, with polished shoes. My father joined the Grenadier Guards at the age of 15 and fought with the Desert Rats in North Africa.Since reading Malory Towers I’d always dreamed of going to boarding school. But then I heard of such a thing as university, after watching the The Student Prince and The Wild and the Willing at the local Odeon, and thought that sounded even better.I was the only girl from my school to go to Grammar School and the only girl to go on to university. In those days girls went to secretarial or teacher training college so this was unusual. I got a place at Hull University to study geography, which was my best subject at school.University in the 1960s was magical. One time at the Old Hill Plaza George Harrison held my hand – what more could a girl want in life?After university, my career started with slot machines. I’d set up a business to service these machines in cafes. We started being asked about a new game called Space Invaders, so went to a trade show in Japan and ended up forming a joint Japanese company, which was the first to bring Space Invaders to the UK.We had to file down the slots, which were just big enough for Yen, so that 10 pence pieces could fit in. Everyone wanted one and we found ourselves airlifting these arcade games to businesses all over the UK.It was a crazy time. We had two Japanese colleagues living with us, one dealing with imports and exports, the other with technical issues. Because of this my children picked up Japanese.Later we decided to just import the electronic components and build the machines in the UK at Ace Coin Equipment Ltd in South Wales. This meant we needed to design a circuit board for the new range of machines, which led to my first association with Cambridge. One of our directors, Keith Arnold, knew of two young men, Hermann Hauser and Chris Curry in Cambridge who were paid £20,000 to design the new board. With this money they founded Acorn Computers.Haute couture hats have been my most recent business venture. I served as Executive Chairman of, and was a major shareholder in, Philip Treacy Ltd. Philip’s couture hats have been worn by royals and celebrities and are widely regarded as works of art. I have some hanging on my wall at home.I sometimes feel like someone who wears lots of metaphorical hats. A year or so ago I did a course at Cambridge Judge Business School. We were asked what we would like to be doing in five years’ time. I wrote down: Magdalene College, sport and archaeology - my three loves. And here I am, organising alumni reunions, cheering on the girls on the river and supporting archaeological research. I love all my hats, real and metaphorical.Patrick Ryan, Assistant CUWBC Coach and Pat Marsh in the launch following ‘Blondie’  This profile is part of our This Cambridge Life series, which opens a window on to the people that make Cambridge University unique. Cooks, gardeners, students, archivists, professors, alumni: all have a story to share.Pat is the Executive Director and a former Chairman of Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club, a Trustee of the Hawks’ Charitable Trust, and Director of the Executive Committee of the Ospreys. She is the Alumni Secretary and a Fellow Commoner of Magdalene College. She sits on the Management Board of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research and is a member of the Alumni Council at Cambridge Judge Business School.
It’s not often someone compares the voices of seals to the sounds of space set to a Grime beat. But when he’s not monitoring seals from space, PhD student Prem Gill is using ‘Seal Grime’ as one way to encourage people from a wide range of backgrounds to take up polar science.My PhD research, which is a joint project with the Scott Polar Research Institute, British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and World Wildlife Fund, uses satellite images to study Antarctic seals. By monitoring the seals, we can gain a greater understanding of their habitat preferences and population trends. Through this analysis we can learn more about the health of the entire Antarctic ecosystem.This is crucial because what happens in the polar regions, effects the whole world. The Arctic and Antarctica act like a thermostat for the planet. If you can monitor what's going on in these areas, you can get an idea of what's going on globally, which has huge implications for assessing the effects of climate change.What comes to mind when you hear the words ‘polar scientist’? A sepia-tinted photograph of a Victorian explorer? A modern-day researcher in a brightly coloured padded jacket and sunglasses? You probably wouldn’t picture someone who looks like me. I’m first?-generation British-Indian working class.In the 200 years since Antarctica was first discovered, there have been huge strides in terms of women in polar science. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for people from ethnic minority backgrounds. I’m working to change that.I know from experience that a number of factors can stand in the way of young people like me from pursuing a career in something like polar science– this could be cultural expectations, financial pressures or quite simply not having role models that look like you. 
Having survived the civil war in Afghanistan, Waheed Arian arrived alone in the UK aged 15. He went on to study medicine at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. Today he’s using smartphones and volunteer specialists to provide life-saving medical advice to doctors working in areas of conflict.www.cam.ac.uk/thiscambridgelife/waheedarianMy father knew we had only minutes before the bombs reached us. He grabbed me and ran to a nearby village. There he found a house and inside a bread oven in which he hid me. I remember the billowing dust, coming from every direction.I was five years old and we were escaping the conflict in Afghanistan. The Khyber Pass and Torkham border were closed and so we were taking the Tari Mangal route to Pakistan. We travelled in a caravan of 20 to 25 families, the donkeys and horses tied together, carrying the women and children. We had some oiled bread and a little sugar to eat throughout the whole journey.For safety we travelled at night, with only the moonlight to see by. As the sun rose, we would find places to hide until we could continue our journey. It took us seven days to reach the refugee camp. Over the course of that week we were attacked three times by air and tanks.We felt safe at the refugee camp in Peshawar Pakistan, but the conditions were very poor. Our family of ten lived in one room. We had a few cushions and a fan – but still the temperature reached highs of 45 degrees. Within a few days of arriving we contracted malaria and three months later I caught tuberculosis (TB).I decided I wanted to become a doctor when I was recovering from TB. The doctor who was treating me was always smiling despite the conditions of the camp. I didn’t have any toys so he gave me an old stethoscope to play with. He also gave me a well-thumbed medical text book which I treasured.We stayed at the camp for three years before returning to Kabul, my home town. The Soviet troops had left but the civil war continued. Each day we hid in the cellars as the rockets, shells and bombs fell. War became normal.Waheed as a child. Credit: Andrew Price/ View Finder PicturesI learnt English by tuning into the BBC World Service, after my father had finished listening to the radio, hoping for some good news. The schools were closed so I taught myself using books brought off the street from people trying to make a little extra money to pay for food. My parents, neither of whom had been to school, knew there was no future for me in Afghanistan, so at 15 years old they sent me to the UK.I arrived in London, alone, with $100 in my pocket. I felt daunted but also happy and excited. For the first time in my life I was safe, and ahead of me lay so many opportunities. For the first week I stayed with a family friend on Portobello Road; I then moved into a flat with other refugees.I was told I should stick to labour work – perhaps working in a chicken shop or becoming a taxi driver. These are hardworking jobs, and I admire people doing them, but my dream was to become a doctor. So I took a job on Edgware Road as a salesman, found some GCSE books and studied every spare moment. I even hid my books under the counter so I could read them when the shop was quiet. I persuaded a local college to allow me to take an assessment to see if I could study for A levels. I passed - just.I wanted to prove a point so I took five AS levels. I completed all five AS subjects achieving A grades. In my second year, I completed three A levels achieving A grades. I needed to continue working while I was studying so I had to enrol at three different colleges, taking classes during the day as well as in the evenings.I met someone who had just graduated from Cambridge and he suggested I should apply too. I was not convinced, but agreed to visit the city. When I saw that all the students were just normal people, from a variety of backgrounds, I began to seriously think of applying. I later went to a Trinity Hall open day, where I met Dr John Bradley, at the time a Fellow of Medicine. He spoke with humility and had such a welcoming manner that my mind was made up – I would apply.Tutors told me that nobody from my colleges had attended Cambridge before, and so my teachers were hesitant about me applying. But after I achieved A grades in all my subjects my teachers agreed to write me a supporting statement. I attended an interview at Cambridge and a couple of months later I received a letter offering me a place to study medicine at Trinity Hall, this was one of my happiest days since arriving in the UK.Cambridge was one of my first experiences of formal education and so I had a lot to catch up on. The first two years were tough and I struggled academically, socially and financially. However, the Senior Tutor Dr Nick Bampos and Dr John Bradley stood by me and said I’d make it through.They were right – by my third year I’d overcome these challenges and even got a first in my research project. I graduated in 2006 and went on to finish my clinical studies at Imperial College London, winning a scholarship to take an elective at Harvard, USA. I qualified as a doctor in 2010 and worked in various hospitals before settling in Liverpool as a radiology and emergency specialist.Waheed on graduation day at Trinity Hall, Cambridge.All the time I was trying to think of ways I could help war-stricken people back home. I would travel to Kabul whenever I could and teach or help the doctors on the wards. My NHS colleagues were also keen to help but working in Kabul was dangerous.Patient rounds in Kabul hospitalAt the time some NGOs were beginning to use telemedicine. This involves using computers, laptops and monitors to transmit images or information and to offer consultations. Initially I tried to establish this in Kabul but the necessary equipment was too expensive and it wasn’t possible to secure a specialist room or someone to coordinate the calls.I realised that smartphones were the answer. Here was a technology which most people had access to: it was a way of connecting medical professionals across continents. I began to imagine what could be achieved with a network of medics offering specialist advice to doctors in areas of conflict. I went from hospital to hospital recruiting doctors to join me. Arian Teleheal was born.Today we have over 100 professionals who are giving specialist medical consultations in their free time, from their sitting rooms. We currently support doctors in Afghanistan, Syria, South Africa and shortly, Uganda. It’s very much a two way process with our volunteer medics also learning from our colleagues working in areas of conflict. It’s tremendously rewarding for everyone involved.Teleheal in actionOn any one day we might be having real-time discussions about a head injury, road traffic accident or trauma, following a blast. When a patient first arrives at one of the hospitals we partner with, local medics give an initial assessment and perform any relevant immediate investigations. They will then use their mobile phone to send details of the case to a coordinator at Arian Teleheal who will pass it onto one or more of our volunteer specialists. The specialists then give medical advice by text, video call or phone call.We’re at the beginning of our journey. Our vision is to give everyone in low-income or war-torn countries access to the best healthcare in the world, in line with the United Nations and World Health Organisation vision.This profile is part of our This Cambridge Life series, which opens a window on to the people that make Cambridge University unique. Cooks, gardeners, students, archivists, professors, alumni: all have a story to share.Waheed is an Afghanistan-born NHS doctor in Liverpool and NHS Innovation Clinical Entrepreneur Fellow Mentor, and an alumnus of Trinity Hall, Cambridge. He has been awarded the UNESCO Global Hero Award 2017 and the 2018 Rotary International Peace Award for his healthcare charity Arian Teleheal. He has just launched the Arian Global Academy which aims to help people all over the world develop entrepreneurial, innovation and leadership skills as well as focusing on personal development, wellbeing and communication.
We talk to Nicole Horst about her journey from the body shop of a car manufacturing plant to a research project studying obsessive compulsive disorder, and about finding her true passion for advocacy and supporting other young researchers.As this is our first episode recorded remotely during the coronavirus lockdown, we also talk about her role in a volunteering project that’s supporting NHS workers with vital protective equipment.To find out more about donating PPE supplies, contact covid-response@cam.ac.uk.
Daphne Martschenko, president of Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club, is determined to make the sport of rowing more accessible. Her mission to pave the way for greater diversity in rowing chimes with her study of the charged concepts of race, socio-economic status, intelligence and genetics.Read more here: medium.com/this-cambridge-life…igence-59467a7e18e2In 2015 I became the first person of colour to row in the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Races. The Men’s Boat Race originated in 1829 and the Women’s Race in 1927. To realise that I was the first non-white face to take part was a shock. Rowing has always been seen as an elite sport but I hope this is changing. I would like for people to see me and think there is a place for someone like them in the sport as well.As a child growing up in the USA I absolutely hated sport. My parents thought it was important for me and my younger sisters to do outdoor activities and they tried very hard to interest me. I did swimming, ice-skating, baseball, soccer and basketball. I didn’t really click with any of them, and most certainly not with swimming and ice-skating. I thought of myself as more of a nerd than an athlete.One day I spotted a rowing eight on the Potomac River. I did lots of drama and I was in the school mini-bus on the way to a Shakespeare theatre competition in Washington DC. I said to the friend sitting next to me “What’s that?” Her sister rowed and she explained what rowing was. I liked the idea of being on the water and not in it.My state school in Virginia offered rowing. I knew I needed to get fit before the season started so I joined the cross-country running club. I was a big kid and one of the slowest. But, when you’re learning the basics of rowing, it’s all about strength. I was strong, even if I wasn’t the most fit. At last I’d found a sport I was good at.Rowing opened so many doors for me. It gave me confidence and that helped me to do well academically. Without rowing, I wouldn’t have applied to universities on the west coast which seemed a world away from Virginia. I went to Stanford University where I majored in Russian language and literature and medical anthropology.My father is Ukrainian and my mother Nigerian. At home we speak English. For several years when I was a child we lived in Eastern Europe and Central Asia — Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Ukraine. Because of this, I love learning languages. At school I took Latin and at Stanford I studied Arabic in addition to Russian. Languages are like a superpower, I would love to be able to speak every language in the world. In Cambridge I’ve continued with my Russian.At Stanford I continued to row. I took part in the Under 23 World Championships in 2012 and 2014. In my four years there I learnt how to pack a lot into life. I love lists. In my room at Magdalene College in Cambridge I have a white board with a weekly schedule of tasks I need to do. Just at the moment writing up my doctoral thesis is top of the agenda.I came to Cambridge to do an MPhil and stayed on to take a PhD. My MPhil was in Politics, Development and Democratic Education. My doctoral research looks at the social and ethical implications of behavioural genetics research. It examines teachers’ perceptions of intelligence, class, and race — and the possible effects of these views on student achievement.In the USA, where I carried out my fieldwork, people don’t want to talk about race. They avoid it. I think this happens in the UK as well. This reluctance made it very difficult for me to carry out my research — I deal with sensitive topics. Fortunately, I managed to run focus groups in two schools and survey over 600 teachers. I think having these critical and open conversations is a key to avoiding misuse and misinterpretation of scientific research and to ensuring that marginalised and historically oppressed groups are not further harmed.Research says teachers perceive non-white children as being less ‘bright’. This bias has a huge effect on teachers’ expectations and subsequently on student achievement. We urgently need far greater diversity in the teacher workforce. In my case, I was placed into a remedial reading programme when I started primary school for what seemed like no reason to my parents.Both my parents immigrated to the USA. My mother arrived in 1993 so she spoke with an accent. Because my mother and grandmother went to enrol me in school, without my dad, the school assumed I was growing up in a single-parent immigrant household with low level English. When my father, who’s white and grew up partly in New York, went into the school to ask why I was identified for special education, I found myself back in the ‘regular’ classroom.Genetically-sensitive schooling is one of the latest ideas coming from behaviour genetics. Essentially, it’s the notion that you can tailor education to a child’s genetic profile. It’s problematic because it can be essentialist and deterministic. Categorising and labelling children influences teachers to think of children in certain ways, especially in the USA where there are achievement gaps along socioeconomic and racial lines.There’s an ugly history behind the founding of behavioural genetics that was used to justify race- and class-based differences. These implicit associations between race and class and ability remain — and the re-emergence of behavioural genetics into the popular domain runs the risk of re-inscribing bio-determinism into education, an institution often seen as a way to achieve social mobility.People told me that Cambridge might be a culture shock. But I quickly felt at home here. Rowing helped a lot because right away I met inspiring and amazing women. I joined the Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club and rowed in the Blue (first) Boat in the 2015 and 2016 Oxford and Cambridge Boat Races. This year I rowed in the reserve boat (Blondie).Rowing has been a big part of my life at Cambridge. Training takes up so much time and energy. Three times a week in term time, I’ve been getting up at 5.18am — yes, it’s that precise — and catching the 5.55am train to Ely where we train on the River Ouse. In the afternoons there’s yet more training on land in the Goldie Boathouse back in Cambridge.In May 2017 I was voted in as CUWBC president. This was a huge honour and I’ve loved it. To have the chance to represent Cambridge University in the biggest university rowing event in the world is a true privilege. I’ve seen it as an opportunity to talk about increasing diversity in the sport of rowing and put across the message that we need to be making it more accessible. Our Blue Boat won against Oxford in 2017 and again this year in 2018. In fact, all our boats won, both men and women. The last time that happened was 1993.What will I do next? At present I’m concentrating on getting my dissertation written. I used to think I’d apply to the Foreign Office given my love for languages — but now I’m considering either staying in academia or going into education. I’m involved in a non-profit organisation called Camp Phoenix that seeks to empower low-income youth through academic learning in the summer months. That kind of hands-on work has direct impact in the fight for social justice.I love reading — especially memoirs. Most recently I’ve read Educated by Tara Westover. She was brought up in a Mormon fundamentalist family in Idaho and didn’t go to school until she was 17. She educated herself, got into university, and eventually took a PhD at Cambridge. Her story is inspirational. If you haven’t read it, you should.Daphne Martschenko is a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Education.This profile is part of our This Cambridge Life series.
Welcome to We are the University. A podcast about the alumni, staff and students who make Cambridge University unique.In this episode we chat to Julian Hargreaves about his life in the music industry discovering talent like So Solid Crew and why he chose to leave the music industry and pursue a career in academia.We talk about Julian’s research with British Muslim communities; the issues around anti-Muslim discrimination and hate crimes.
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Podcast Details

Nov 11th, 2019
Latest Episode
Jan 24th, 2020
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Avg. Episode Length
30 minutes

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