Gonville & Caius College hosted eight students as part of the SHARE Summer Research Experience, a six-week, paid, summer internship which aims to enhance diversity and inclusiveness to widen participation in postgraduate studies at the University of Cambridge.
The students, who are undertaking undergraduate study around the UK, completed their research placements in July and August, providing them with real day-to-day experience of postgraduate research – plus the experience of living and socialising as a postgraduate student at Caius. MCR representatives, led by Caius MCR Access Officer Liana Hardy, mentored the students and organised a variety of social activities.
Working on research projects was just part of the course. The students also received coaching on research methods, and had advice sessions on making applications, funding opportunities and demystifying Cambridge from Alison Harvey, Cambridge ESRC Doctoral Training Partnership’s Training Manager, who provides training for both DTP PhD students and PhD students across the University.
We asked students about their experience living at Caius and as postgraduate students in Cambridge – and Liana about her experience as a mentor.
Siân Marney, from Stowmarket, Suffolk, about to begin third year studying Human Rights Law at the University of Essex
I applied thinking I would never get in, but I didn’t see that as a reason not to apply. I have an attitude that any application process is an opportunity to learn; even filling out a form is experience. When I got in, I didn’t know what to do with myself. My project was mapping historical epidemics with the Geography Department and I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge.
Living in shared accommodation was another first for me – I commute to Colchester for university – but the people I lived with were fantastic and friendships were made quickly.
Before I applied I had an idea to pursue an LLM (Master of Laws), but I hadn’t considered a PhD or applying to Cambridge due to financial and other obstacles. However, in a session with one of the course leaders he explained, methodically, how to navigate the obstacles I listed; just hearing ‘yes’ was really strange.
I did have certain ideas of Cambridge before going there. I entered Cambridge assuming I would feel like an outsider, but gradually over time I felt I could see myself not only doing a PhD but applying for funding and doing it at Cambridge. I can’t assume I would get that opportunity, but it doesn’t feel like a pipe dream any more. It feels like a genuine possibility.
I did have certain ideas of Cambridge before going there. I entered Cambridge assuming I would feel like an outsider, but gradually over time I felt I could see myself not only doing a PhD but applying for funding and doing it at Cambridge. I can’t assume I would get that opportunity, but it doesn’t feel like a pipe dream any more. It feels like a genuine possibility. ~ Siân
Daniel Newton, from Hertford, Hertfordshire, about to begin third year studying Sociology at the University of Westminster
I grew up on a council estate that often goes forgotten due to the wealthy area that surrounds it. I heard about the SHARE scheme through my university and rushed back home to write an application as fast as I could. The experience to do paid research through the summer was the main draw to the scheme. The chance to be surrounded by such talented and learned academics, to be able to ask them questions and learn useful skills and tips for both research and postgraduate applications was absolutely invaluable. I loved it.
I was lucky to be an active member of the Centre for Governance and Human Rights in POLIS (the Department of Politics and International Studies), studying the geopolitics of digital rights in Latin American activists.
This has given me unbelievable insight and access to help me understand what needs to be done in order to progress through my career. My intentions are to do a Masters and then a PhD with the (perhaps naïve!) hope of becoming a lecturer. From the research skills we learnt, to learning about the extensive funding opportunities, as well as getting to meet loads of people who have managed to succeed through their academic careers, it was awesome.
Our PhD mentors – specific shout out to Liana Hardy and Mark Barrow (Christ’s College) – kept us super busy with pub visits, an outdoor film night, two barbecues, as well as generally being there for moral support and academic guidance. On top of that, it was absolutely amazing being able to live with seven other bright and talented interns from across the UK. We shared pretty much all our time together and all became great friends quickly (some of us have already met up since leaving Cambridge).
Syeda Tahia, from London, about to begin third year studying Psychology at the University of Westminster
I believe conducting new and advancing research is vital for generating reliable, accurate and measured results. That is precisely why my pursuit of aiding and producing academic research is at the forefront of my future aspirations. This programme has assuredly given me the hands-on experience and insights into the actual assembly of real-world research, and has deepened my appreciation and motivation within this realm of academia.
For the duration of the programme I was able to code, transcribe, present and collect data in a series of important research projects within the Faculty of Education: Book Sharing, which utilised books in children’s play to encourage exploration of their learning; Healthy Start, Happy Start, a longitudinal study that explores children’s communication, behaviours and play through observations; and the T.R.A.I.L Programme, which deals with integrating various behavioural techniques to cultivate ideal child learning environments to be used alongside the education curriculum.
To be given an opportunity for real-life applications of my research skills in a genuine investigative setting has made the venture entirely beneficial and rewarding not only as a student, but as an aspiring academic.
Before being accepted to the programme, I would never have imagined an reputable institution like Cambridge would accept a student such as myself. I applied with the mindset of gaining a better understanding the application process. My surprise when selected has opened my eyes to what a Cambridge application could and should look like, and what a Cambridge student is. Maybe it could be me.
Next month I have the opportunity to go and present at a UN Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah on Sustainable Developmental Goals. I greatly attribute the experiences I have gained over the course of the six-week SHARE programme to have aided me in securing this role.
Peter Bland, from Derbyshire, about to begin third year studying Politics and International Relations at the University of Sheffield
The reason I applied to SHARE is because I wanted research experience and it seemed like a really good opportunity. I worked on a mapping project in the Geography Department. Getting any kind of research experience is very good, especially in an interdisciplinary setting. The majority of research is grinding away at figures and data; the subject area doesn’t matter so much. Those skills can be brought back over to politics.
I was pretty sure I’d like to do a Masters after my Bachelors and if the SHARE scheme did anything it convinced me I might also do a PhD. Talking with students who are doing PhDs, academics, people very enthusiastic about their research, and seeing the working environment made me more amenable to doing a PhD.
Living at Caius was fantastic. The house we were in was very spacious. Everyone loved living there and it was incredibly sociable. The College was great, with barbecues and garden parties. A lot of the MCR went out of their way to give us advice and Liana was great in helping us feel welcome in a new environment. ~ Peter
I think I probably will apply to Cambridge. It certainly demystifies the whole process. I talked to people who went to different universities for their undergraduate degrees and are now at Cambridge.
Living at Caius was fantastic. The house we were in was very spacious. Everyone loved living there and it was incredibly sociable. The College was great, with barbecues and garden parties. A lot of the MCR went out of their way to give us advice and Liana was great in helping us feel welcome in a new environment.
You learn to realise in conversations that they are just university employees, professors or teachers – they’re regular people who work at a university. And Cambridge is a university which happens to have very nice buildings.
Kian Richardson, from Burnley, Lancashire, about to begin third year studying Politics at the University of Westminster
I missed out on my first-choice university due to teacher assessed grades for A-Levels in summer 2020. My reason for applying for the internship was to re-set my academic profile. It definitely changed my mindset in terms of the applications I should make for Masters and PhDs.
The project I worked on was so different to what I have done so far, but I definitely got something from it. It was made clear to us that funding partners really value diversity of experience and interdisciplinary research projects, so being in the Department of Geography and the project, digitising a historical atlas of the parishes of England in the 1830s, should only be a benefit. I developed lots of transferrable skills.
I will be applying to Cambridge and I’ll probably be applying to Caius. Having left, I definitely want more. It feels like it’s not quite finished. ~ Kian
I will be applying to Cambridge and I’ll probably be applying to Caius. Having left, I definitely want more. It feels like it’s not quite finished.
The funding has gone from being my biggest concern about applying to not really being a worry. If I get a place, I’m quite confident I could get some funding from somewhere. That’s probably the best thing about the programme.
I’m going to apply to do a Masters. A PhD wasn’t even an option I had considered before. Now the idea of a PhD has opened up to me quite a bit.
Liana Hardy (Biochemistry PhD 2019), from St Ives, Cambridgeshire, Caius’ MCR Postgraduate Access and Outreach Officer
When I was first told about the SHARE programme, I jumped at the opportunity. Promoting diversity and inclusivity within our postgraduate community is exactly the reason I created the position of Postgraduate Access and Outreach Officer at Caius. Being able to offer a group of students the full college experience for the summer alongside their research internships was really exciting, and I couldn’t wait to meet them!
For most students, Gonville & Caius is your home for one or many years and the postgraduate community provides social relief from study and a support network. This was one of the aspects of college life I wanted the interns to experience, they were MCR members for the summer and we enjoyed many socials, including a summer barbecue and outside cinema.
It was great to use this time to get to know them individually, their journeys, interests and research project updates. Spending time with this fantastic group of students was a highlight of my summer, I wish them all the best of luck and success with their future plans, and I hope to see them again one day (maybe at Cambridge!).
:: SHARE is designed to offer everyone who takes part tangible benefits in terms of confidence, skills and experience that will enhance both their CV and any future postgraduate applications.
SHARE aims to increase the diversity of postgraduate students, by raising research awareness levels and experience to underrepresented groups of students, whose socioeconomic background or other life circumstances may have made it more difficult for them to reach their full educational potential, or to consider postgraduate study and research.
To learn more about the SHARE internships, visit the School of the Humanities and Social Sciences website.