#summerstories: Between Cambridge and a hard place

Abigail Smith

As the summer rolls on, I’ve started to think about my place in life. Maybe this is a symptom of being a recent graduate, and seeing how young all the freshers are (is it cool to be 21?)

More likely, it’s because I’m entering a strange limbo — to quote Blazin’ Squad, at the crossroads. I have just graduated, but will be returning in October as a post-grad student to the same college — a fresh start in an old setting.


This summer has been something of a blur, filled with the warm haze of sunny days and doing nothing. Each summer activity I’ve done has passed by quickly, as if rushing me towards this next step on my life ladder, sending me headfirst into a course filled with theses and manuscripts.

The world around me, filled with the blue of Cambridge, is at once old and new. I feel at home in safety of Jesus college, but will I still feel so in September? As new faces fill the hall and old friends move on with their lives, I am stuck in the middle, overstaying my welcome. Many of my closest friends are moving out and upwards, travelling or starting jobs. I can’t help but worry that I am being left behind, in a rut of formals, libraries, and bad club nights.

I sometimes find myself worrying that I am getting the worst of both worlds: the anxiety and stress of a new course, without the thrill of a new environment. I have suffered with anxiety for many years, and starting university again brings back the feelings of unsettling trepidation, making me feel once more like an 18 year old, desperate to understand everything there is to know about Cambridge.

But this seems like an unnecessarily pessimistic way to look at it. Doing a masters means I can dedicate myself to a topic I love in a place which, despite my fears, will always be my home.

My MPhil topic is looking at the writing of an almost unknown woman, Katherine Austen. Her manuscript was written during “her most saddest years”, a compilation of prayers, household tasks, and poetry. She was widowed, and left vulnerable, yet expected to manage the estate and raise three children. Austen’s writing is characterised by an uncertainty, a sense that this estate deserves a better record than her words can give it:

“Tis an unhappy fate to paint that place
By my unpolisht Lines, with so bad grace
Amidst its beauty if a streame did rise
To clear my mudy braine and misty eyes.”

Writing about Cambridge always feels a little similar; trying to explain the “bubble”, trying to encompass the weird and wonderful world is almost impossible, and leaves me with a muddy brain and misty eyes. But maybe that is what so exciting about coming back for a second round; maybe now I can come to Cambridge with those misty eyes and not expect to understand everything.

So I stand at my crossroads, feeling like I’m about to do a U turn back to the beginning. There will be new people to meet, new books to read, and a new place in life for me to settle into. There is nothing left but to embrace the known unknown, and meet it when it comes.

@cambridgegirltalk on Spotify

We are excited to announce our brand spanking new Spotify playlists!

Our resident DJs, Emmanuel College lawyer Gee Kim and engineer Martha Dillon, are continuing to curate a series of playlists that celebrate the female voice in all its shapes and forms. From Japanese jazz to Brazilian bossa nova, from downtime to the dancefloor, the @cambridgegirltalk Spotify has got it all.

Spotify has got it all. 


(Main image: Still from ‘Pretty Girl Rock’, Keri Hilson, 2012)

Street style: #DressLikeAWoman

Following the Twitter backlash Donald Trump is facing over comments that his female staffers should ‘dress like women’, Girl Talk decided to take to the streets of Cambridge to ask our fellow students and citizens for their thoughts on gender and personality, dressing and comfort. 


“I don’t think there is one particular way to ‘dress like a woman’. I make a lot of my own clothes so it’s when I’m wearing those that I feel most comfortable. I made this jumper, scarf and hat. I love it because I make clothes for my body and so they fit better. They’re so much more enjoyable to wear because I’ve made them myself.”


“The idea of ‘dressing like a woman’ enforces gender norms on clothes in a dangerous way. It makes clothing restrictive, rather than allowing freedom. If we’re speaking normatively I suppose I do ‘dress like a woman’, but I feel most happy when I feel it looks good on me – not someone else.”


“I dress quite androgynously. For me clothing should be comfortable and prioritise happiness above all else. Clothes are a way to express yourself and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, even if there are people who say you shouldn’t care about your appearance. I love Tilda Swinton’s style because she always looks great – whether it’s a tux or a dress.”

Continue reading Street style: #DressLikeAWoman

Grad Talk with Ruby: life beyond the bubble

For the second instalment of Grad Talk, we spoke to Ruby who recently graduated from Jesus with a degree in history. Now working for the Civil Service, here she shares her sparkling insights and pearls of wisdom on how to shine bright post-Cambridge. 

So, what do you do now?

I’m a civil servant, on the Civil Service Fast Stream.

Describe a typical day.

My day begins by squeezing myself onto the tube at 8.20am. The heady days of walking through King’s to late morning lectures are long over. Aside from that, no two days are the same! I’ve been to training sessions in the Locarno Room at the Foreign Office, attended select committee hearings at the House of Lords and I get to travel across the UK for meetings with regional teams. I’m currently writing a communications strategy for an exciting project.

What do you like about it?

I love working on issues that matter to people in the UK and around the world. It’s refreshing and motivating to know the work I do every day makes a difference to people’s lives. The Fast Stream is a great grad scheme; it invests a lot of resources in its graduates, which is pretty rare in the public sector. I’ve received a lot of training and exposure to different aspects of government, all of which will help me in the future.

What do you dislike about it?

I’ve only been working in government for a few months, so I’m still getting accustomed to all the different department structures and acronyms. It’s difficult; there’s a lot to learn!

What do you miss about Cambridge?

I miss being surrounded by so many talented people just doing stuff all the time. I found it so inspiring to see my friends putting on plays, starting bands, and launching new initiatives (like Girl Talk!). I also miss the beautiful things you can do at Cambridge. Go to the candlelit compline at Trinity: it’s pure heaven and afterwards you’re given mammoth strawberry tarts and port – much better than Cindies.

Ruby (far right): “Always remember there are options beyond typical grad schemes and masters degrees”

Continue reading Grad Talk with Ruby: life beyond the bubble