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 answered some questions for Cambridge Girl Talk. Here she discusses serendipitous school talks, hockey, and her anything but ordinary professional life. Continue reading Grad Talk with Becca: A Different Kind of Law
By Cecily Bain
This summer I made the fatal mistake (yet one I make every year) of thinking the next twelve weeks were going to be some kind of mind-and-body boot camp, thanks to the rose-gold glow of Instagram and its hoard of inflatable flamingo-straddling models, all of whom I forget are paid to bleach their teeth and drink shitty tea. Like every summer to date, I started this one with ambitions of returning for my third year well-read, well-dressed, and with 1% body fat. I would be living in London for two internships, and couldn’t imagine a more glamorous and grown-up setting in which I could finally emerge from my self-constructed cocoon of cake and anti-depressants.
When it came to deciding on a career, Jenni Sidey took blue-sky thinking to a whole new level. Having completed a degree in Mechanical Engineering at McGill University and later a PhD and Fellowship position at Cambridge University, in July, Sidey was announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as the latest astronaut to enter the Canadian Space Program after a gruelling, year-long selection process. Here she talks determination, diversity in STEM and a training schedule that includes ethics, exercise and Russian conversation.
Interview by Kitty Grady
So, what do you do now?
I’ve just started a new role as Astronaut in the Canadian Space Agency. Prior to that, I was a lecturer in the Cambridge University Engineering Department and a fellow at St. Catharine’s College. For the next two years, I’ll be learning about the systems of the International Space Station, the Russian language, how to do a space walk, and much more as I prepare to eventually fly in space.
….and how did you get there?
I got here by learning as much as I possibly could in my previous roles, working very hard, and by being fortunate enough to have the opportunity to pursue my passion.
Describe a typical day.
Currently, a typical day involves attending the Astronaut Candidate Course at NASA Johnson Space Centre. I arrive early to train in the gym specifically to improve my strength and mobility in a spacesuit before I settle down into lessons for the day. Lessons can include anything from the ethics, law, and history of space flight to the Russian language. Each day is varied.
What skills does it take to be an astronaut?
To become an astronaut, you need a wide range of skills. You must have a background in a technical subject, such as science, engineering, or medicine. You must be healthy and physically capable to work under difficult circumstances. You must be able carry out tasks when things get tough. Aside from this, it’s also important to be the type of person others can live in close quarters with for a long period of time.
This is my summer truth: I’ve been bored, broke and alone for two months. The summer vacation crept up on me and before I knew it, I was about to spend ten weeks at my parent’s new home, in an unfamiliar neighbourhood, with practically no money to speak of. Now, as September approaches and I prepare to move into an attic room in Cambridge and softly weep into a copy of The Canterbury Tales, I feel happier and more like myself than I can ever remember being.
The anticipation of seeing my home friends morphed into disappointment when one by one they told me they had fully-booked summers. There was nothing to distract me from the inevitable spam of people pretending not to hate their lives which Instagram relentlessly seems to regurgitate at this time of year. The initial weeks of my boredom were not only frustrating, but painful, as I was suddenly confronted with the strained family dynamic I had been avoiding all year. Living at home for three months with your parents when your views on every topic known to man are at odds with each other means that the safest mode of conversation is small talk. It killed me to sit through dinner-table discussions about groceries, the weather and the never-ending saga of my extended family. I became so under stimulated that I started reading for my dissertation as a means of diversion – and that is perhaps the most worrying indication of my mental state.
On top of this, my parents began pestering me to re-start driving lessons, having moved to a place where the public bus is basically a glorified mobility scooter for senior citizens going to and from the local Spar. My desperation for some form of stimulation began to drive me mad. I used Google Maps to direct me to a gym a couple of miles’ walk from the house in a downpour. Hoping to regain some sense of purpose and independence, it turned into a scene from a horror story when:
- My umbrella collapsed.
- The spare umbrella I had so cleverly brought along also collapsed.
- My damp socks slipped down my ankles, prompting my trainers to cut into the back of my feet and draw blood.
- Google Maps played Judas, leading me astray for 40 minutes; the deep gashes in my ankles now making me cry out in agony (in the middle of the pavement).
My public humiliation peaked as I stood in my driveway and cried “I hate my life” and was greeted by a nod from a surprised gardener emerging from behind a hedge. It was finally time, I decided, to find myself a driving instructor and ensure that such horrors were never repeated.
Yet a surprising reality hit me as I sat bandaging up my feet back at home: I had been granted the luxury of a summer with nowhere to be and no one to impress; with nothing to do but get to know myself in the most basic, honest capacity. Accepting that fact allowed me to turn my boredom into the most effective kind of mindfulness I’ve experienced. I’ve tried mindfulness techniques before, where I felt that the process of listening to meditative tapes had done nothing but make me overthink every intake of breath and half-formed emotion. I never bought into the voice from the audiobook encouraging me to go to my ‘happy’ place – all it ever did was make me resent the reality I knew I’d be confronted with when I opened my eyes. Sometimes the concept of ‘taking time out’ or ‘making time’ to be mindful in an otherwise hectic day is just another thing to tick off.
I have found creating a ‘happy’ place is in no way helpful to dealing with reality, and as much as I wish I was wrapped up in a pink cloud with a mind as clear as the miles of sky beneath my feet, I’m not. I’m in my living room typing up an article, my lips are chapped and I’ve just worked my way through a family-sized bag of Doritos. I can hear the faint sound of car tyres as they hit the speed bumps on the road outside and the soft slaps of slipper-fabric as my mum rearranges clutter in the conservatory. That’s my reality, and the more actively I allow myself to encounter it, the more my mind feels an overwhelming sense of balance and restfulness.
Not that this is how I want to live. I think, if anything, this hiatus from ‘purpose’ has made me keen to return to my normal, hectic life with more energy and drive, and for once not resent the idea of the holiday period drawing to a close. I feel like I finally know what being well-rested really means, and all it involved was stopping, for a period of time, and not expending energy in chasing a good time, or anyone’s approval. Despite not looking, I somehow managed to find myself this summer, and it wasn’t in Cambodia or Vietnam, it was in Hazel Grove, Greater Manchester.
Song for the summer:
Cambridge theatrical communities are well-represented at the Edinburgh Fringe every year. This year there are about 25 shows from current or recently graduated Cambridge students at the Fringe, and countless others from alumni. And they are in good company. Alongside those performers sent from Fen to Firth each year we are joined by Oxford, Bristol, Durham, London, Exeter, Leeds and many other high-achieving universities. Despite any diversity within university communities, a large portion of shows at the Fringe are either all-male or male-dominated.
Walking down The Royal Mile a flyer was thrust toward me saying “All-male acapella group – you look like you’d love it, ladies!”
As we walked away, I thought “why all-male?” Male performance is hardly a unique selling point here at the Fringe. A performer in this year’s Footlights Tour Show, Ania Magliano-Wright pointed out to me that the finalists of the Chortle Student Comedy Award were exclusively male, accompanied by a male compère. The final took place here at the Fringe, and in the website review of the event, there was no mention of the lack of female and non-binary representation. It’s as if it is taken for granted that comedy is a male space. As the make-or-break platform for comedy in the UK and arguably worldwide, it suffers a remarkable lack of diversity.
Because of problems like this, Ania has been working with fellow Fringe performers Ruby Keane and Emma Plowright to create Stockings, an inclusive comedy troupe for women and non-binary people in Cambridge.
Here at the Fringe, rubbing shoulders with the upcoming heroes of performance art from all over the world, Emma points out to me that as Co-Director of the Cambridge Impronauts she had to learn that her opinion was one of the most important in the room. Having authority over male colleagues in theatre can be quite a shock, and Emma and I have both found that directing, especially at the Fringe, has made us find more respect for our own talents and opinions. We have found that relying on our own gumption while working with male cast or crew members can be a challenge, and having female flat-mates or friends to support us has been essential.
Whether you’ve been exploring far flung places, lounging on the beach, cutting your teeth at an internship or just soaking up some post-term calm and recalibrating, we want to hear your summer stories.
Now accepting articles, fiction, art and photography, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with a brief introduction to your ideas – we can’t wait to hear from you!