Theory becomes reality for Heqing

  • 30 January 2023

It is romanticised and cliched, but true. Heqing Huang (Sociology PhD 2017) picked the University of Cambridge based on the film, The Theory of Everything.

A woman cycling on a vintage bike with a basket

Heqing laughs when she shares how the biographical romantic drama about the life of Professor Stephen Hawking, a Caius Fellow for 52 years until his death in 2018, aged 76, was the catalyst for her postgraduate application to Cambridge.

She says: “I was at Berkeley when The Theory of Everything came out in the cinema. It shook me when I saw the opening scene, Stephen Hawking with his friend on vintage bikes cycling along Trinity Lane. I thought ‘I want to go and cycle in that lane like Stephen Hawking’. It immediately became a faraway dream for me.

“In my last year of undergrad I applied for Cambridge with an open application – I didn’t pick any of the colleges. In the end I was selected to Caius – Stephen Hawking’s college!”

Heqing matriculated at Caius in October 2017, for an MPhil in Health, Medicine and Society. Despite her time at Caius briefly coinciding with Stephen Hawking’s, she did not meet him.

She has realised her dream of cycling along Trinity Lane on a vintage bicycle. The film also encouraged her to take up rowing.

“It all comes back to the movie – Stephen Hawking was coxing!” she says.

“Rowing is very addictive. Once you are hooked it’s your whole life and you can’t stop talking about it when you’re meeting your friends!”

After five years as a rower, including on Venice’s Grand Canal, Heqing switched to coxing this year.

“It’s very rewarding helping to train these novices and see them attain really good results,” she says. Heqing coxed the Novice Women 1 crew to victories in the Emma Sprints and Clare Novices Regatta.

Heqing, pictured below left, is also President of the Cambridge Chinese Rowers Network. She joined with friends to set up the University registered society “to better support ethnic minority rowers in Cambridge colleges and increase their representation”. They organise rowing trips “to promote water protection and cultural exchange”, Heqing says.

A group of rowers holding banners, one of which mentions the Cambridge Chinese Rowers Network

Environmentalism is important to Heqing. As MCR Green Officer she led the College’s participation in the University’s Green Impact Scheme, achieving a Gold award in 2020-21. Her success was built upon and the College earned a Platinum prize in 2021-22.

Heqing studied sociology at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, southern China, and University of California, Berkeley. Her PhD research is about the organisational structure of a Chinese hospital and she is keen to pursue a career in healthcare, health policy or hospital management research.

“I use ethnographic methods doing participatory observations and in-depth interviews with healthcare workers including doctors, nurses and leaders in the hospital,” she says.

She received a Chinese Students Award from the Great Britain China Educational Trust for excellent academic and extra-curricular performances in November. The Trust is administered by the Great Britain China Centre, an executive non-departmental public body established by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in 1974 to support UK-China relations.