Grad Talk with Nicola Stebbing

Interviewed by Lily Guenault

I spoke to Nicola, our previous co-director, about her new job as a content manager for a Berlin start up selling vegan, ethically produced nail polish. You can find their Instagram here and Nicola’s art account here.

Lily What made you decide to find a job abroad? 

Nicola I think I’m not really ready for London. It feels a bit big and daunting and so expensive. Because I’ve already done a year abroad, moving abroad felt a more natural choice. I’d like to work in a creative industry and creative jobs don’t tend to pay well initially, so I’d rather live in a city where I can afford to be on a lower salary because rent and cost of living is cheaper. Also, I kind of thought if I didn’t do this now, when else in your life do you have the opportunity to do it?

Lily That’s so true. Do you have any idea of how long you’re going to stay there? 

Nicola I’m just gonna see how it goes. I’m going to take stock when my lease runs out and think, do I want to move back to the UK? But I’m trying hard not to think about anything long term because who knows what the hell is going to happen. I want to focus on: am I currently happy? If yes, then I’ll keep doing what I’m doing. I like having the freedom to be able to say yes or no to that question and to be able to change something. I think that’s a product of being in your early 20s. 

Lily Would you say that being around young people is quite characteristic of working in a start-up?

Nicola Yeah, it’s super young which is really nice. It gives you the opportunity to try out lots of different things because age and experience isn’t so much of a factor – it’s more about what you can bring to the team. All the decision making is much flatter hierarchically – you can be a trainee and make a decision about an entire campaign. It’s really nice that everyone takes a chunk of responsibility. 

Lily Do you miss anything about a traditional work culture? 

Nicola I think that the structure of a traditional work culture is really nice when you’re at the beginning of your career. When I was on my year abroad and did a traineeship, the structure was so nice: there’s a full H.R. department, you know exactly who to go to, and everything’s already set up in terms of your working hours. A start-up is a bit more chaotic: you often don’t quite know where you stand or who is in charge of what. And the hours can sometimes be a bit chaotic as well.

Lily And when you were looking for jobs, were you looking for ones that had an ethical ethos?

Nicola Yeah, so I did apply for pretty much everything I could see because of corona, but it is really important to me to work for a company which is in line with my ethics. I spend so much time working on these projects, and if the end goal wasn’t in line with what I fundamentally agree with, that would be really demotivating. 

Lily So you work quite a lot with social media? 

Nicola Yeah, social media is my whole job. I think people really underestimate social media and think, how could that be a job? But it’s genuinely a lot of work. And brands like this live and die on Instagram. 

Lily How much did you know about how Instagram worked before you got the job? 

Nicola Honestly, not a huge amount, so please don’t tell my boss! It’s been a real learning curve seeing how much social media really sells stuff or gets ideas out. Especially recently, people want to buy from ethical businesses and social media is the place to find them. 

Lily: Do you find that using Instagram professionally, it’s changed the way you’re using Instagram personally?  

Nicola I separate it quite a lot, although I do notice that with any companies I follow, like glossier for example, I’m so aware of who made this and what was the thought behind this? I now know that all these posts have proper planning behind them and how much strategy goes into the smallest things. 

Lily And in terms of getting into social media as a career: would you have any advice for people who are not sure where to start? 

Nicola Build up a portfolio of stuff so that even if you don’t have experience, you can show them, this is the kind of stuff I can make. And just be engaged with that kind of stuff, like visual trends, and make as much as you can. Because what got me this job is that I spent a year doing cartoons, teaching myself graphic drawing and Photoshop, and then I was able to grow a portfolio of things I could do. I could show that I could still do the same as someone with a more industry specific degree. 

Lily You’d obviously been drawing for a while, but was there a moment when you thought, maybe I can use this as a career?

Nicola Not really to be honest, because I was so unsure of what kind of career I wanted to go into, but I knew I really enjoyed doing it and that I could view it as a skill to have on my CV. But I was honestly just applying to a million different things. Thankfully, this is the thing that stuck.

Lily And turning a creative hobby into a career: how do you ensure that it’s still something you enjoy, rather than viewing it entirely as a skill, because from people I know who, for example, choose music, sometimes it can be hard to maintain stress-free enjoyment of the hobby. 

Nicola I’m quite lucky in that the stuff I make for work isn’t the kind of stuff I would make for myself, because everything has to be very much under company guidelines. It’s then sometimes difficult at work because stuff I think is really cool doesn’t work for the company. There’s been times where I’ve spent a lot of time making something and then they just say that it’s not really on brand. But it’s cool that I can then use the skills I’m learning at work to make my stuff even better. 

Lily Moving abroad generally, especially with Corona, do you have any advice on how to cope with the challenges that it presents? 

Nicola To be honest, it’s really difficult. It’s not your Emily in Paris moment. It can be really, really tough, especially with social media, because you see all your friends from home hanging out and it’s easy to think, that could be me. But I would also advise anyone to move abroad. I know I sound like such a Year Abroad w*nker, but it’s so good for you and teaches you a lot. The important thing is to find a support network as quickly as you can. I think I enjoyed my Year Abroad so much because I treated it like I wasn’t going to leave. I really tried to invest as much as possible in the people I met. It means that it’s been easier for me to come back this time because I already have some connections. And although I’m not thinking long term, I’m trying to act long term. Not thinking too hard about where I’m going to be in a year or two years’ time but trying to invest in people and knowing the city as if I’m going to live there for the rest of my life. 

Lily In terms of new friends you made in Berlin, were they mainly through work, or have you found other ways to meet people? Because that’s obviously quite hard at the moment. 

Nicola I’ve made quite a few friends outside of work, and one really nice thing about moving abroad is that it reduces your shame barrier about messaging people to hang out. You meet someone at a party and you just have to be like, f*ck it, I’m going to get their Whatsapp and say, hey, you wanna go for coffee?

Lily It’s such an important skill even if you move home, because the rest of our lives is not going to be everyone at Cambridge working in the city in London.

Nicola Yeah, it makes you less afraid to move in general because you know that you’re capable of making friends. You’ve gone through life in these institutions with no break, and in every institution, there’s an element of forced socialising. That’s also why things like grad schemes look really attractive because it’s like university again. You do a test, you get in and then you have your cohort and you spend all your time together. They’re so appealing because of that, and I think a lot of people go into them and end up really unhappy because it’s the kind of option that’s really pushed by the Careers Service and because it feels like what you’re used to already. 

Lily Yeah, it’s safe. Making friends seems to happen at every stage of your life: you’re never going to get to a stage where you think, okay I have a comfortable number of friends, I’m just going to leave it at that. 

Nicola Yeah, definitely. Also, I don’t know if it’s just my experience, but the older you get, the easier it is to do things on your own and not need to have a person come with you for everything. If you want to see a cool exhibition, you can just go to it and not have to think, oh God, who’s going to go with me? 

Lily Definitely. I’m annoyed at my first and second year self for the number of things I missed out on because I couldn’t find someone at the time to go with, so I just didn’t go. And coming back from having spent some time abroad you realise that the only person who’s going to lose out in that situation is me. 

Nicola Completely. And what’s nice about being in a bigger city than Cambridge is that you have complete anonymity. You can do things and think, I don’t care because I don’t know anyone here, I’m never going to see them again, so f*ck it. On Year Abroad, I went to a lot of gigs on my own and I had the best time because I just felt so un-self-conscious. I didn’t feel responsible for anyone else having a good time. I could just turn up when I wanted, leave when I wanted, and have a dance because who’s going to care.

Lily Yeah, definitely. I had a similar thing with taking myself out for dinner. We need to normalise eating alone: it’s great to take yourself out for dinner for the sake of it, maybe buy a drink and just sit with your own company. It seems so foreign but why wouldn’t you do it. 

Nicola I love it, I think it’s such a power move. 

Lily It always reminds me of films where they come over to the woman and they ask, “table for one?” And then the woman’s sad because the man’s not coming or she’s single. 

Nicola Oh God. It’s always a sad woman who’s been stood up by some arsehole man. 

Lily Always. Are there any other parts of your experience that we haven’t touched on?

Nicola I’ve been thinking a lot recently about career stuff and what’s been sticking in my mind is the extreme pressure to do everything straight away. It feels like everyone is doing grad schemes and consultancy and all this kind of stuff when they’re really not. You start with GCSEs, and before you finish them, you know what A-levels you’re going to do, and before you finish your A-levels, you apply to university and then before you finish university, you’ve applied to your grad scheme. There’s this clear pathway of, this is what you do if you’re smart and hardworking. And then you get to university and are told, this is what you do if you’re smart and hardworking: you apply to this and that company. You have to have a real mental shift and realise there’s not one option anymore. And also, that I don’t have to know what that option is, and I don’t have to do it right now. Which is really hard to realise when you’re in Cambridge and at these career talks and everything feels so highly pressurised. In reality, no one knows what they’re doing, and you can change your career at any point in your life. 

Lily Yeah, it’s so true. It always feels like you should be doing something, even if what you’re interested in is an ad hoc job that won’t get advertised until summer. 

Nicola Completely. Everyone’s asking you, what are you doing after uni? And I hated that so much. As soon as I finished my exams, people asked, what are you doing now? I’m recovering. Honestly, I’m going to play Mario Kart until I get my results and then I’m going to think about it. Stop asking. And with all these jobs that aren’t on a clear path: I don’t know what jobs exist! No one knows what jobs exist until you get into companies and you realise these things are real positions. I had no idea that a content manager was a job. Where do you find that out?! 

Lily I know! There’s so much focus on the sector or the industry without thinking about the fact that, like you said, there’s roles in content management in a wide variety of sectors. 

Nicola Yeah, there are so many jobs and you just have no idea what they are until faced with them. 

Lily When thinking about career paths, I always try to define what success means to me and that it’s not necessarily related to a career goal. But then to stick to your own definition in Cambridge is so hard. 

Nicola Because you’re in a bubble of people that have defined their self-worth by academic success for the last twenty years! It’s really important to think about what you see as success. For me, working a high-paid financial job while working sixty hours a week would not be success because I don’t see myself being happy with that kind of lifestyle. Success to me is valued differently and it’s really important to figure out those values when considering what kind of job you want. For example, I want a job where I can have free time to pursue my hobbies and where there’s a young working environment, so it’s not as important what kind of industry it’s in and what the job is. Think about what you want your early 20s to look like. And also, remember that your values can change. I have no idea what I want and it’s nice to know that I can reassess every six months. Your first job doesn’t have to be the path your life goes down.

Illustration by Nicola Stebbing

Grad Talk with Harriet Lamb

Blanca Schofield-Legorburo 

I was so fortunate to have Harriet Lamb onto my Camfm radio show. An international development stalwart and Cosmopolitan’s 2008 Eco-Queen, Harriet’s career spans decades of working in organisations such as the World Development Movement (WDM) and as CEO of Fairtrade UK and now International Alert. During the show we spoke about her varied experiences in this field, including protests and more organisational work, as well as observations and advice she would give to a woman hoping to go into international development today. Read on to see what this amazing woman had to say on these topics.

Tell us a bit about your degree in Cambridge.

When I first came to Cambridge (Trinity Hall) I read English because I wasn’t aware of all the different options there were. I was good at English and loved it – among other things, it helps you think about words and how you present them. However, I became more interested in politics and switched to HSPS – this was a gift of being in Cambridge as I was lucky to be able to switch. Then I was able to begin work on the love of my life: politics and social activism.

Were you always interested in world affairs?

As a child I spent 3 years in Maharashtra in central India because of my father’s job, thus I was exposed to and always knew about terrible poverty. Yet I also learnt from that age that though imperial history has kept them poor, countries like India are also more than capable of tackling poverty themselves. I then went back to India when I was 18 to teach English, and began thinking more about these issues. After Cambridge, I went back again for 2 years and lived in villages and worked with small NGOS. Then when I went on to work for Fairtrade I had seen what it is actually like to work for a Co-op and take on big forces. That experience always kept me grounded.

How did you envision and start your career?

I’ve never had a grand plan – I’ve taken opportunities when they’ve come and so far it’s worked out really luckily for me. I struggled in my final year of Cambridge, wondering if I wanted to go down the G&T or brown rice route. I chose brown rice! After India, I did an MPhil in development studies in Brighton at Sussex University. This gave an intellectual framing to what I’d learnt first hand. I then decided I didn’t want to work oversees, but back in Britain as we also had to sort out our own problems.

I worked first on low pay – campaigning in those days for a national minimum wage. This taught me that what some think is impossible and everyone thinks will be an economic catastrophe can and does work! Economists say all kinds of things are impossible, but you actually can introduce them.

I then worked with refugees in the North of England from Palestine, Ethiopia and then for the World Development Movement, which focuses on how England works with developing countries, particularly in cancel the debt and arms sales. For example, we wanted to highlight the financing of fighter jets of Britain to Indonesia, which was using them to bomb people in East Timor who were fighting for independence. I’ll tell you about a protest we did: we actually bought a share in Midland Bank so we could attend an AGM in the city (I still have my £1 share) then drove a hired tank through the city of London (having told the press) and went to the AGM, put up our hands and asked why they were financing the sales of these fighter jets. I did wonder if I was going to get arrested… But actually it was fine!

Did anything happen – did they change their policy?

Not immediately, but we were trying to put the spotlight on them. I’ve always believed in campaigning – sometimes you are lucky and have short-term wins, but more often that not you aim to shift the ground. Then these companies learn that there is a risk of protest and the risk factor is taken into account more and more so the next time they will think harder about it.

When campaigning you are up against enormous forces – look at Britain selling weapons to Saudis who are bombing Yemen and then we send aid to Yemen. What you come up against all the time is that people are mainly preoccupied with making profit, leading to ever-increasing inequality. You hope logic is what they will answer to, but it comes down to money and short-term profits. For example, Fairtrade is more expensive, but in the long run it helps the company position themselves as attractive and ethical. So you need to convince companies and corporations to put long term profits above short term. It is the same argument for divestment! If the university wants to situate itself in the future it has to think about divestment! It has to show that it is ready to take the high-ground and be a leader.

How did you pick the areas of international development you wanted to work in? You did so much!

While working for WDM I thought: what are the structural things that keep countries oppressed? Arms, aid and trade. Given the power of multinationals and the impact they have on trade, we then started pushing for a general code of conduct, which the world still doesn’t have. For an example we looked at bananas and campaigned against the use of agrochemicals and the suppression of trade unions in Latin America. We dumped a tonne of banana skins in front of Del Monte HQ in Kent to protest. I then got hooked on bananas! They are a symbol of so much that is wrong with how international trade works. How can we create a bubble where we show that you can do it differently? Bananas and Fairtrade.

You’ve done such a mixture of large-scale organising and protest and activism!

I did more protest at that time and then worked for Fairtrade for 15 years, which was about always creating a positive solution to show it could be different. The power of the positive alternative is so important.

Can you tell us about your experience of being a woman in international development – did you see equal opportunities?

It is a sector that seems to attract a lot of women. But then you look at leaders and they are very often men! This is because of sexism, but also women leave to have children. Though it is much better now than it was in my day, there is still not enough support for women or available and affordable childcare. Many employers don’t make juggling easy. I have been lucky with employers who let me work part-time after my second child. It’s great working part time at 3 or 4 days a week. I lived and worked in Germany and there part-time was much more normal: people work in the office and then are creative and help their family or community. You can still succeed with part-time! I also did a job share once and I think the organisation benefited hugely as it had 2 brains instead of 1.

Do you think women will only find equality when society becomes less fast-paced and focused on productivity?

I actually found that women and people who worked part time were more productive! They know they have to get things done. Why are we so obsessed with a 5-day working week? Why not 4 and get more people into work? We have such a fear of a societal re-structuring. And now, although we have more economic growth, people’s leisure time has decreased, and with phones and laptops you can be expected to work all the time…Yet there are more and more opportunities for women. It is incredible how much has changed, if you think that just before I came to Trinity Hall it was all men!

Do you think we are losing focus on Fairtrade and workers’ rights?

We should not have to pick between Fairtrade and organic and vegan. We underestimate how much companies listen to what customers want: we can ask them to produce their products ethically and must never feel shy to do so and reward those who do the right thing and congratulate them.

We should also push on the fashion industry. We did struggle with Fairtrade cotton as the fashion industry is so fast paced – it is very hard to get them to respond. But how can you be paying the workers well if you are only paying £10 for a pair of jeans?

Though it does take a long time to push for social change, we can see how so much change can be achieved! Look at veganism: 10 years ago you wouldn’t be able to get a vegan meal so easily!

Tell us about the organisation you are CEO of now, International Alert.

I’ve always felt that the three big issues are poverty, conflict and climate change. The three are interconnected – conflict keeps people poor and climate is the exacerbating factor. We work with communities to bring people together across different sides of conflict, for example refugees from the Syrian civil war: when you meet other people you immediately find that there is more that connects than divides you. When they first enter the room everyone blames everyone, but by the end they are working together for social activism, etc. However, it needs to be taken to a whole other scale – conflict is rising and yet there is no proper adequate response to it. Strangely there isn’t a peace movement the way there was in earlier times. What can we do to raise awareness and what can we all do to help build peace? With Fairtrade we landed on something that everyone could do, but we haven’t found that with peace-keeping. You can email your MP and Jeremy Hunt etc. But we all must help to build a society of love and compassion against the competitiveness and aggression. Respect others and slow down.

Do you have any advice for students hoping to go into international development?

It is annoying, but the best way is to start working as a volunteer for organisations. I spent many a happy hour stuffing envelopes!

I also always believe that you must keep a work-life balance – keep work in perspective and have fun at it! You should enjoy it. If you do you keep up your stamina.

Any final thoughts and reflections?

What is that vision we want of internationalism in the future? How can we build a future that tackles inequality? At the moment we are hearing and seeing the voices of anger, but we need to put forward another vision of a more fair and peaceful world.

I hope you enjoyed reading Harriet’s thoughts on life in international development. If you would like to hear the whole interview please email us and we can send it to you.

Also, for more information on the Fashion Industry and its effect on the environment, I really recommend you watch The True Cost: 

Thank you and let us know if you would like to write a Grad Talk of your own with a graduate you admire.

Grad Talk with Elizabeth Day

Bea Carpenter 

To me, Elizabeth Day was an obvious choice for someone to interview for Grad Talk. For those of you yet to discover her she is a best selling author and journalist currently writing a weekly column for the You magazine in the Mail on Sunday and is the host of the very popular “How to fail” podcast. She is releasing a book of the same name “part memoir, part manifesto”, all about learning from our mistakes, that comes out very shortly.

Before all of this success she graduated from Queens College Cambridge with a double first in History. At the end of Lent term, on International Women’s Day no less, I was lucky enough to chat to Elizabeth over the phone and ask her a few questions on life after Cambridge and how she felt her time here prepared her for the real world. Although we veered off track slightly during our conversation, I managed to ask a few of the questions I prepared so I hope you enjoy reading Elizabeth’s answers and hearing her advice.

B: When you were at University were you still able to enjoy writing and use it as a creative outlet or did you ever become bored of it?

E: I’ve never in my life been bored of writing, which is a really lovely thing given that’s how I make my living. It’s interesting, because I didn’t actually do that much creative writing but I did an enormous amount of journalism; I was a section editor on Varsity, I edited my college magazine (a satirical magazine) and I was the JCR communications officer that involved doing a quarterly newsletter. I did try to write a really terrible play, which quite rightly got absolutely nowhere.

Elizabeth remarked that she didn’t write novels because in her head it felt like a “craft and a skill that I had to learn” and she didn’t feel ready to do so. This led us to discuss how odd it is that writing is best learnt by doing, yet so often people are too scared to start. Elizabeth believes “ 95% of people have a novel in them, but very few people can sit down and write it”. One of her tips for novel writing is “the most important thing is getting words on a page” and that it can always be edited!

B: Did you feel the pressure of perfectionism when at University?

E: I massively felt it. I did come from an all Girls school and the cult of perfectionism was very strong there as well. I was an internal perfectionist: I felt I got rewarded when I got good grades and that became a sort of inner loop in my head. But I also think Cambridge is an incredibly stimulating environment in the right way because there are so many people thinking in different ways and you are actually encouraged to think differently so I found it a bit of release after school, being stuck so rigidly to a curriculum. Where I found it really difficult was revision, it was like an arms race for revision hours. It becomes its own hot house!

Elizabeth went on to say she felt 4 hours of revision a day was the optimum for her. This was hugely reassuring to hear after having seen people trapped in the library for so much of last year’s Easter term and dreading the prospect of it. It also just reminded me that we all learn in different ways so trying to compare ourselves is pointless.

B: Perhaps because everyone here has hyper-achieved, they need to find another level of competition?

E: Yes and I realised quite quickly that I couldn’t do everything whereas at school I did lots of different extra curriculars. So I focused on the thing I really loved which was writing. If people are brilliant at everything across the board there is a danger that they then get a bit lost in adult life because in adult life the reality is you can’t be good at everything all the time!

(We then bonded over the fact that we both play the trumpet and noted the lack of female trumpet players so I just wanted to flag it up as a plea for more women to learn brass!)

E: Something I would give as a piece of advice, is sometimes at Cambridge it felt as if I was not one of the best and brightest of my generation but actually life is reassuringly long and it might just be you are not in that patch of life where you are at your most fulfilled and that will come to you in your 20’s or 30’s or 40’s!

B: When you had just graduated from University did you experience that limbo as so many graduates do?

E: I was approaching that sense of limbo in my final term of second year. [After graduation] I thought to myself I would do a postgrad journalism training course or go onto work in the local paper but then a friend dragged me to a careers fair. The first man I saw was the deputy editor of the Londoner’s diary on the Evening Standard and it was completely random that he was there. He said to come in for some work experience so I went in for a week in summer, by the end of [it] I had a full time job there. I couldn’t believe it. I went straight into that job after graduating and I knew how lucky I was. The reason I can relate to the feeling of limbo is that Max Hastings, the editor who had given me the job, left a few months after I had arrived and it went through quite a chaotic time. I started to feel like I was stagnating slightly and I didn’t know how to get on to the next thing and I found that a really tricky period of my life. Similarly I felt like everyone else had it sorted, but they didn’t. It was just the impression I was torturing myself with. The great thing about being at that stage of life is you can take gambles, because you don’t have dependence. So I was able to leave that job on the idea of getting something else.

Another piece of advice from Elizabeth concerning journalism is that you can genuinely learn on the job, so to go for it.

B: I wanted to ask how has writing “How to fail” compared to writing novels and your work as a journalist?

E: I’ve always dreamt of being a novelist [but] I’ve loved writing How To Fail in a way that I didn’t anticipate. I think the reasons are twofold; one is that I’ve now been a journalist for 18 years and there is a confidence that comes from just having done something a lot and with this particular book I was surprised to find that I had so much I wanted to say and it came to me quite naturally. I loved the process. [In journalism] there is always a word count and an editor who wants a certain thing from me. With How to Fail I could write it exactly how I wanted it to be and I found it so liberating. With a novel you have to invent an entire world, but with How To Fail the groundwork was already there because it was my lived experience. The other thing, a practical thing, [with a tight deadline] I went to LA for a month, said no to all other journalism and wrote everyday in the sunshine and it was such a happy period of my life, getting this stuff of my chest and a tan at the same time…

B: As it’s International Women’s day and this is for Girl Talk, I wondered what your experiences have been of gender discrimination in Publishing and Journalism?

E: Publishing is incredibly female dominated and I love it and I work with amazing, strong and extremely kind and clever women. It has been a joy from beginning to end. I’ve had the same editor for every single book, she’s called Helen and she is amazing and the way she expresses herself is so respectful towards me and my writing which is not the case with journalism. The only place [sexism] has made itself felt is in the jacket choice for book covers and historically a lot of female authors have been marketed a certain way. A man would write about family and it would be called ‘a state of the nation novel’ and a woman would do it and it would be called a ‘domestic drama’.

In terms of Journalism, I would have said the same thing until the #metoo movement. I had gone into journalism at the stage where I still felt very grateful for being allowed into this predominantly male space, I didn’t feel I deserved to be there. I was constantly saying yes to things. I now realize I should have been questioning the entire system and not afraid to claim my own space. A lot of things I was asked to write about were “Women’s interests” as it was at the time when editors were desperate to get more women reading papers. It’s been wonderful to see how journalism has adapted and become so much less binary and I honestly think it’s because of a generation of younger women who are calling it out. I needed that to happen to understand my own history.

B: Finally, what are the three most valuable takeaways from your Uni experience (and life in general) and what advice would you give to people at Cambridge now?

E: The first advice I would give is know there is more than one way of looking at something. You might think that something has happened that is really bad and you’re failing at, but I promise you that there is another way of looking at it which makes those difficult moments into opportunities.

My second piece of advice is don’t feel you have to do everything at Cambridge. It is completely fine just to do your degree. You are enough doing that. You don’t have to be everything to everyone or do everything at once.

And my third piece of advice, I was about to say something that made me sound 85… but appreciate the extraordinary opportunity you have being at Cambridge and try and stop yourself at various moments and breathe it in.

B: Thank you so much! It’s been so lovely to talk to you.

E: Pleasure, thank you for thinking of me!

I immensely enjoyed chatting to Elizabeth and am so grateful to her for giving up her time to do so. A particularly lovely thing about our conversation was that she continually expressed how grateful she was for her time at Cambridge for the friends she made there and the opportunities it provided. So much so that she pays tribute to Cambridge in her novels with little “winks” to people and as a mark of appreciation to it.

So often we talk about our university lives with a negative rhetoric so hearing someone looking back with such fond memories was a well-needed reminder to truly embrace the wonders it has to offer.

She did not in anyway ask me to promote it but for your own enjoyment I hugely recommend that you pre-order her book How to Fail and have a listen to the podcast to help keep you keep grounded over Easter term!

Link to Pre-order:


A Warm Welcome to AWOMENfest

Raniyah Qureshi

If you asked me five years ago, I would have told you that I didn’t identify as a feminist, let alone that I had decided to set up a feminist arts festival. The strains of feminism that I had encountered up until 2013 had not been diverse, and didn’t really account for experiences that weren’t white, secular, cis, and heterosexual. To put it bluntly the feminism I had previously encountered simply hadn’t been intersectional. As someone who isn’t white and could be described as religious (although how you define what that means is fairly complex) it took a while to see myself in the feminist movement. Thankfully and blissfully, after much digging and research and through endless conversations with many patient individuals, I have finally decided what I want my feminism to look like. I’m so hopeful that open discussion, communication and kindness can get us to a point where slowly everyone engages in intersectional conversations, and intersectional feminism becomes commonplace – where the words become ‘intersectional feminism’ become unnecessary, because they’re implicit in every interaction.

I don’t think anyone is fully ‘woke’ because I think every individual has certain privileges, and views the world with themselves at the centre, but I do think it’s something that everyone should aim to be. This is where AWOMENfest comes in. We want to push everyone, gently and lovingly, to try and understand experiences beyond their own. A play on the Hebrew ‘amen’ (so be it) AWOMENfest focusses on the diverse narratives that compose what ‘womanhood’ (if such a term is useful in 2018) really looks like. AWOMENfest is a weekend feminist arts festival taking place from the 23rd — 25th March at DIY Space for London. Our incredibly magical and supportive team, including Alina Khakoo, curator of AWOMENfest (and co-founder of Cambridge Girl Talk) and Indigo Theatre Productions are helping to bring what was once a daydream and a fantasy of mine to life. We’re creating a loving and safe environment, where we can celebrate the diversity of feminism, and show that even the most radical aspects of feminism are accessible to all. We want all individuals attending the festival, whether they identify as male, or female or as non-binary to feel uplifted and communally celebrate all things radical softness!


Our four sessions across the weekend will explore the themes of vulnerability, solidarity, spirituality and desirability. AWOMENfest is a multi-disciplinary affair: we’re showcasing the artwork of renowned individuals such as Alice Skinner, Fee Greening and Elizabeth Gabrielle Lee, alongside performances by the incredible Emma Jean-Thackray, Transgress Productions, and roundtable discussions on topics ranging from ‘forgiveness in feminism’ to presentations of The Women in Porn project. Our whole team fiercely believes that through art, individuals who don’t necessarily care about or haven’t engaged in ideas concerning BME mental health, or the nuances of drag performance, can come and have a great time, and slowly contemplate ideas that they may not have encountered or wished to think about before. We’ve embraced ‘radical softness’ to demonstrate our commitment to being open and inclusive.

The way we view it ‘radical softness’ highlights that feminism is a merging of the political and the personal. ‘Radical softness’ involves embracing the kindness within feminism and using emotional vulnerability as a means of resilience and fortitude. Feminism has given me so much, it’s given me networks and communities of support, I’ve met individuals who not only have the most amazing stories to tell, but have channelled their vulnerabilities, their heartbreaks and their struggles into the most beautiful and overwhelming pieces of art. AWOMENfest holds onto this feeling and tries to encapsulate it in a single weekend. By focussing on ‘radical softness’ we’re showing that all the upsets, and the difficulties of a collection of diverse experiences can be made into something beautiful.

We really hope to see as many Girl Talk readers there. For more information please visit, and buy your tickets, so together we can push back against the kyriarchy, and raise funds for the My Body Back Project:( 

Grad Talk: Framing the Future with Izzy Kent

Izzy Kent graduated last year, having studied History of Art at Trinity, and has already found herself in her ‘dream’ role at the Wallace Collection. Her job varies hugely, from giving last-minute lectures to working in the conservation of the museum’s collection. Here she talks about applying for positions you don’t think you’ll get, the surprising things you learn on the job and the joy of turning the lights on. 

Interview by Xanthe Fuller

So, what do you do now? 

I’ve just started as the ‘Enriqueta Harris Frankfort curatorial assistant’ at the Wallace Collection. The Wallace Collection is a national museum in the heart of London. It’s relatively small but is up there with the heavy weights (National Gallery, British Museum etc.) in terms of quality. My job is a new position funded by the Centro de Estudios Europa Hispanica. As this suggests I specialize in the Spanish art at the museum including some sublime paintings by Velazquez, Alonzo Cano and Murillo.

How did you get there?

There’s a short answer and a long answer to this:

The short of it is I saw the job advert during my revision for finals and decided to apply. I really didn’t expect to get it as they wanted someone with a MA and fluent Spanish but it was such a dream position I thought I might as well. Then I went for interview and a couple of days later received a phone call saying I’d got the job.

The longer answer is a little more sentimental. I am incredibly lucky to have something that I am really passionate about, which is art and culture. There was never a moment, a lecture, book or exhibition where it all clicked and I knew it was what I wanted to do; I just can’t remember a time when I didn’t love it. So really, I’ve just been following my nose and trying to learn as much as I can wherever I can. I’ve done a lot of internships in different areas of the arts so by the time it came to applying for this job I was ready and knew, to an extent, what to expect.

Describe a typical day.

It sounds cliché but there isn’t really a typical day. It’s a small number of people looking after a large collection so I end up doing all sorts of jobs. I generally start off the day by doing a ‘gallery check’, going round all the rooms in the museum and checking that nothing is damaged. I’m usually the first one in each morning, which means I turn on all the lights to reveal the amazing art works – it may seem mundane but honestly it never gets old! After that it really depends. Currently I’m doing a lot with the conservation department, deciding which pictures need treatment and organising a major conference on Murillo happening in May, and giving tours and lectures. I’m also rewriting the gallery books (basically object labels), making audio guide recordings and researching our Spanish paintings.


What do you like about it? 

I love the diversity of the work. I’ll be handling a 400-year-old Mughal dagger one day, and researching a Velazquez painting the next, or visiting a conservator and seeing our paintings under the microscope. My colleagues have also been so supportive, teaching me about their areas of expertise and what it takes to look after the collection. Continue reading Grad Talk: Framing the Future with Izzy Kent

Grad Talk: Football focus with Ceylon Hickman

Ceylon Hickman graduated from King’s College this summer, where she did an undergrad in Human, Social and Political Sciences. Less than a year out of Cambridge, her day-to-day has taken a bit of a turn, working in increasing women and girls’ participation in football. Here she talks about finding her feet in the professional world, the feminist sports podcast you need to listen to, and the joys of conversation at Cambridge.

Interview by Xanthe Fuller

So, what do you do now?

I’m currently the National Football Development Coordinator for Women and Girls’ football across Further Education. It’s a brand new position that’s a direct result of the increased FA investment into the women’s game, and part of their strategy to double participation, grow the workforce, and increase diversity by 2020.

I work for an organisation called AoC Sport, who are the FA’s sole Further Education partner. Our aim is to increase participation in football across colleges in the UK, whilst using football as a tool to allow young people to reach their potential and realise how beneficial football can be in all aspects of their life.

How did you get there?

I actually applied for the job with no belief that I’d even get shortlisted. I thought it was pitched for someone with way more experience in the industry than me: the fresh-faced graduate who was frightened by the prospect of the real word.

I was applying for lots of roles at the time and had actually woken up to three rejection emails on the morning of the Cambridge Open Days, where I then had to present to hundreds of parents and tell them how employable Cambridge students were. Fortunately, I was invited to interview at Wembley Stadium (I have horrible flashbacks of my car breaking down on the North Circular whilst I was en route), and knew I was in the right place when I faced an all female interview panel. I remember feeling so at ease throughout, and thankfully, received a call a few days later from my now line manager to offer me the job.

In terms of my experience prior, I’ve played football since I could walk and have held various positions in the different clubs I’ve been with. I grew up playing for Luton Town, and then the University Blues at Cambridge. Apart from that, I had little other experience when it came to the football industry. My role as President of King’s College Student Union equipped me with a wealth of transferrable skills, as well as the skills gained from working with young people through various Cambridge Access programmes.

A goal at Women's Football Varsity
Ceylon’s goal celebration at Women’s Football Varsity

Continue reading Grad Talk: Football focus with Ceylon Hickman

Diss Talk: Emma Veares on the Harlem Women

At a small exhibition at The National Portrait Gallery early this year entitled ‘Black Chronicles: Photographic Portraits 1862-1948’, a white printed caption on a black wall read: ‘There’s nothing like a photograph for reminding you about difference. There it is. It stares you ineradicably in the face’. In the exhibition’s selection of over forty photographs capturing snapshots of black lives and faces, the sheer size of some of the glass plate prints demanded that we face their near life-sized subjects eye to eye. Some were welcoming, and others hostile. What stared at me ‘ineradicably in the face’ was not so much their difference, but their familiarity. I was curious, not to see how vastly unlike mine their lives were, but to discover to what extent I might be able to understand their view of the world. How far was it possible to read stories from faces?

Camille Silvy, Sara Forbes Bonetta, captured aged five by slave raiders in West Africa, rescued by Captain Frederick E. Forbes, then presented as a ‘gift’ to Queen Victoria, 1862. Paul Frecker collection/The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography.

Continue reading Diss Talk: Emma Veares on the Harlem Women

Grad Talk: Becca Naylor on a different kind of law

While many interpret working in anything remotely corporate as ‘selling your soul’, Law graduate Becca Naylor shows that there’s more to a traditional Law firm than meets the eye. Having always been passionate about human rights, Becca managed to make it the subject of her everyday professional life as a full-time Pro Bono associate and Reed Smith’s Pro Bono Manager across Europe, The Middle East and Asia. Snatching a moment in an international tour (of the Reed Smith offices), Becca speaks to Cambridge Girl Talk about serendipitous school talks, hockey, and her anything but ordinary professional life.

Interview by Xanthe Fuller

So, what do you do now?

I’m a pro bono lawyer at Reed Smith, I’m responsible for managing our pro bono work across Europe the Middle East and Asia. Pro bono is the free legal advice we provide to charities, non-profits and low income individuals. We work alongside amazing charities to support refugees, prisoners, victims of domestic violence and work on projects to combat human trafficking and female genital mutilation.

Becca Naylor


How did you get there?

Nick Yarris came to speak at my school when I was 16, he inspired me to study law. Nick was on death row for over 20 years before he was exonerated. I was shocked by this and other injustices. I started to follow the work of Clive Stafford Smith and Reprieve.

I went on to study law at university, applied for vacation schemes and training contracts and did the LPC in London. In the gap before starting my training contract I  volunteered at Reprieve in their abuses in counter terrorism team, assisting with their work on Guantanamo Bay, drone strikes, and torture and rendition cases. I then started my training contract at Reed Smith and at the first opportunity went on our pro bono secondment to Liberty where I worked in their advice and information team. During my training contract the pro bono role became available and I applied for the job, I then did my training contract and the pro bono role for a year and when I qualified I became a full time pro bono lawyer.

Continue reading Grad Talk: Becca Naylor on a different kind of law

Grad Talk: Life beyond the bubble with Leaf

This week on ‘Grad Talk’ we’re chatting to Leaf Arbuthnot, who graduated from Magdalene in 2014 with a degree in French and Italian. Now a feature writer for the Sunday Times, here she discusses her life as a journalist, the perks of internships and why it’s ok if you don’t land your dream job as soon as you graduate.

Interview by Kitty Grady

So, what do you do now?

I’m a feature writer for the Sunday Times. I write interviews mostly but also general features, book reviews and occasional news pieces. I do new poetry collection reviews for the Times Literary Supplement and have written a novel, which has just won the Pageturner Prize and will (touch wood) be published next year. I’m about to start a book review show on Talk Radio and I do news shows for them quite regularly, running through the day’s top trending stories.

… and how did you get there? 

I spent lots of my summers since I started at Cambridge interning in different newspapers and magazines to work out what sort of work environments I vibed with most. That was helpful in that it narrowed my options down – I realized I liked newspapers most of all, and wouldn’t thrive in monthly women’s magazines which have more languorous deadlines.

In terms of practical journalistic experience I did quite a bit at Cambridge – The Tab, the Cambridge Globalist, my own College’s magazine which I co-edited. I spent my year abroad at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris and wrote art exhibition reviews for a paper there.

I guess I tried to study hard enough to maintain decent grades while at Cambridge, which was instrumental in helping me to win the Henry Fellowship in my final year. It’s a scholarship that supports students who want to do a year at Harvard or Yale. At Yale I did some teaching, a broad range of classes and worked on its newspapers – focusing more on economics and making podcasts. After Yale I interned at the Financial Times then got a job at the Sunday Times, where I’ve been since August 2015.

leaf 5.jpg
Leaf’s desk at the Sunday Times: “Taming a conversation into a feature-length article is challenging, in the best way.”

Continue reading Grad Talk: Life beyond the bubble with Leaf

Grad Talk: Life beyond the bubble with Rhian

The spotlight of this week’s instalment of Grad Talk is on Rhian Williams, who graduated from Jesus in 2016 with a degree in French and Spanish. Uniting her love of food and writing, Rhian started a blog in her final year of Cambridge which she now continues to work on post-Uni. Here she tells us about life without a 9-5, her entrepreneurial aspirations and what she’s learned about getting internships.

Interview by Kitty Grady

So, what do you do now?

I graduated less than a year ago, but I’ve already done lots of different things since then. I’ve worked at a local café, a healthy baby food start-up (which included a couple of days working in their factory in Wales), and I’ve also done some freelance writing. I left a job a few weeks ago, and am currently looking for something else, working on my food blog ( in the meantime.

Describe a typical day.

I’ll usually cook something during the day as I tend to test out at least a few recipes per week. I’ve recently started to work more on my food styling and photography, and taking decent photos takes quite a lot of time! In the evenings, I usually write blog posts, do blog-related admin like scheduling social media, as well as working on articles for the freelance writing I do.

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Some of Rhian’s recipes and food photography from her blog

Continue reading Grad Talk: Life beyond the bubble with Rhian

Grad Talk with Roisin: life beyond the bubble

Grad Talk is back with Roisin Beck Taylor‘s tales of deerhounds, woodworm and illustration. Having graduated from Emmanuel in 2016 with a degree in HSPS, she is working as a farmhand before starting a Masters at St Andrews this autumn. Here she shares her experiences of rustic living and recommends taking it slow after leaving the Cambridge bubble.

Interview by Alina Khakoo

So, what do you do now?

Desperately saving money for a Masters. I work on a remote hill farm two days a week, two days as a barista in a farm shop cafe, two days on a flower farm, and on my day off I go on adventures with my long-legged deerhound.

Describe a typical day.

At 6.15am my alarm goes off and I drive up to the farm. I walk and feed dogs in the boarding kennels for two hours before breakfast and then eat my body weight in toast. The morning consists of mucking out horses, feeding five hundred pigs and walking dogs again. After lunch, anything goes, by which I mean my practical skill set has drastically expanded since I came home from Cambridge. In the past six months I have learnt to dry stone wall, drive a tractor, pull down and reconstruct a ceiling, hack old plaster off walls, lay and grout tiles, pressure hose pig shit off shed walls (my least favourite job), lay concrete flooring, refurbish old furniture pieces, treat woodworm in roof beams, the list goes on. Whatever strange and exciting jobs I am tasked with in the afternoon is usually followed by bringing in the horses, a quick coffee and shovelling large numbers of biscuits into my face, then back to round three of walking dogs. The working day finishes about 5pm, at which point I return home physically exhausted, smelling of animals and plaster dust. I make myself a viciously strong coffee and try to get some reading done before a scaldingly hot bath and desperately withstanding falling asleep at the dinner table.

Continue reading Grad Talk with Roisin: life beyond the bubble

Grad Talk with Julia: life beyond the bubble

In this week’s instalment of Grad Talk, we turn to recent Jesus graduate Julia Cabanas for some blue-skies thinking on careers and ambition. Taking a pause from her busy schedule of sketching and model-making, here she gives us the blueprint on life at an architecture firm, what she misses about Cambridge and what her hopes are for the future.

Interview by Kitty Grady

So, what do you do now?

I’m an architectural assistant at a young architects’ office in Highbury and Islington.

Describe a typical day.

I get to work at 10am. Usually there are team meetings in the office or via Skype with the Mumbai, Singapore and Amsterdam offices. Normally I work on a particular project for a couple of weeks. This has ranged from a small renovation on a local Victorian house to an entire campus masterplan on the other side of the world. Day-to-day tasks include hand-sketching, Photoshop collages, 3D modelling, model-making, detail drawing and compiling reports on InDesign. After a lunch break spent discussing the latest political blunders with my colleagues, it’s a solid few hours of design work. At 7.30pm, I leave the office – avoiding the London’s rush hour – and have a cosy night in.

Continue reading Grad Talk with Julia: life beyond the bubble

Grad Talk with Saliha: life beyond the bubble

January is all about looking forward. So, for any prematurely fatigued finalists unsure what the next chapter may hold, Girl Talk decided to interview our recently graduated female friends for some career inspiration and general words of wisdom about life beyond the bubble.  For the first in our series, we spoke to banker-slash-baker Saliha Shariff, who graduated in 2016 from St. Catharine’s with a degree in Economics.

So, what do you do now?

I joined the grad scheme of a small investment bank in October – it’s a rotational scheme with a big focus on equity research. 

Describe a typical day.

I get to the office just before 7am – we have a meeting every morning from 7:15 to 7:45, in which research analysts present their new research notes to others at the firm. I’m working on a small project of my own right now, so the rest of my day isn’t really too structured unless I have any other meetings. I spend the day reading articles and research papers, collecting and analysing data, and writing. Then I leave the office at around 6:30pm (with much-treasured lunch and tea breaks throughout).

Continue reading Grad Talk with Saliha: life beyond the bubble