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There’s much more to university life than the time you spend at university. Your time at St Catharine’s also provides an invaluable opportunity to engage in a wide variety of activities during the university vacations – some linked to your course of study, some just for fun. This adventurous spirit is also reflected in the exciting and challenging careers our students eventually embark upon. Here are some examples from current and past St Catharine’s students.

Kieran Gilmore

Last summer, as part of my final year coursework, I went to South Africa to carry out my geological mapping project.

We spent twenty-eight days studying the geology of the South African bush, surrounded by stunning scenery, and encountered some amazing wildlife while we were working, including giraffes, zebras and ostriches.

After we finished our project, we rented a car and drove all the way along the South African coast, from Durban to Cape Town. Some of the highlights from our road trip included surfing in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, doing the highest bridge bungee in the world, as well as a particularly hairy moment when the only road out of a game park was blocked by two fighting bull elephants. 

A college travel grant even gave me £500 towards these fantastic two months in South Africa!

Ellamae Lepper

Each September, just before starting their second year, many Cambridge ab initio Russian students travel together to St Petersburg for a three-week intensive language course. I was able to take part in this trip last year thanks to a £600 grant from St Catharine’s which covered a large proportion of my costs.

For many of us, myself included, this was our first foray into the country we’d already committed to doing a whole degree in! In between classes at the language school, we took advantage of the wonderful September weather to roam the city’s distinctive architecture and museums, leaving me with a folderful of photos of gold roofs looking splendid in the sunshine, and a more personal understanding of some of the culture and history I’d just spent a year learning about.

I also gained a healthy new appreciation for the challenges of Russian grammar – it’s one thing to think you’ve got the hang of something when you’re sitting safely behind your textbook, but quite another when you’re standing at the front of a long queue in the canteen, figuring out how to ask for the right food!

Kaarina Aho

I was lucky enough to spend last summer in Hanoi as a volunteer intern at the Asian Management and Development Institute. I spent my weeks working on loads of great projects, with responsibilities ranging from drafting project proposals to brainstorming solutions for briefs set by the Vietnamese government.

My favourite project involved developing radio broadcasts to educate farmers in rural Vietnam about the risks that climate change posed to their livelihoods and how they could be minimised.

With the help of many overnight trains, I also managed to fit lots of travelling around my work schedule. Highlights included kayaking around Ha Long Bay, visiting the lantern market in Hoi An and (very unskillfully) motorbiking around the countryside of Ninh Binh.

Without the support of the college travel fund, there’s no way I could have taken up a voluntary position on the other side of the world – but funding from St Catharine’s meant that I was able to combine fascinating (and CV-building!) work with an unforgettable travelling experience.  This internship was the perfect way to gain experience working abroad, and it was without a doubt the coolest thing I have ever done.

James Digby

At the start of the year, I secured funding from Catz to set up a college surfing society. Throughout the year, we held surf movie nights in the College, and bought stash which we tie-dyed for maximum waviness.

After exams finished, we hired a minibus from the Engineering department and loaded it up with huge foam surfboards and threadbare wetsuits, scrounged and borrowed from various friends. Ten of us road-tripped down to Cornwall with the radio blasting, stocking up on food and beer on the way.

We had an amazing few days in Cornwall on the beach in the sunshine. Some of us couldn’t surf too well, so we ran some informal lessons with mixed results (and only one nosebleed). We chilled all day, had barbecues on the beach, and partied – the perfect escape after the pressures of exam term!

(N.b. The photo may or may not be slightly photoshopped.)

Haxie Meyers-Belkin

After graduating in French and Italian I spent a year in London doing a Masters in journalism, before hotfooting it to Paris to work for rolling news channel France 24.

Working abroad after uni seemed a very obvious choice to me. Either it would go appallingly, and I'd acquire some entertaining anecdotes, or it would work out, and I'd become all exotic and interesting.

Three years have passed since then, and while I wouldn't quite call myself 'exotic', I do have a job and a life that I love. Language-wise, there's no better way to improve fluency than finding yourself at the heart of a breaking news story, fielding a barrage of hysterical instructions from your French editor, while simultaneously trying to liaise with a correspondent stuck in a warzone.

As for my career, I've worked my way up from assistante d'édition (assistant producer) to what's known as a journaliste rédacteur (desk journalist). I spend most of my time writing, editing and voicing international news reports, but increasingly they're letting me out to do some reporting. Covering November 2015's terror attacks in Paris was the definition of a baptism of fire - if a job could be challenging, harrowing and thrilling all at once, I'd found it.

(There's also, of course, the wine. And the cheese. And the bafflingly generous holiday allowance.)

Stephanie Jayson

Starting out as a budding vet student at St Catharine’s, I never would have guessed that three years after graduation I would be living my dream as a veterinary resident at ZSL London Zoo.

As I write this I am sitting among lizards and hummingbirds on a vivid green mountainside on the Caribbean island of Montserrat, about to embark on a forest hike. Though most of my time is spent looking after the myriad of fascinating species at London Zoo, for the next couple of weeks I have my fieldwork hat on, working on a collaborative project to find the last remaining critically endangered mountain chicken frogs in Montserrat and collect samples of their wild diet so we can better understand how to care for them in captive breeding programmes.

I realise now that studying Vet Med at Catz formed the platform to my career. Studying comparative anatomy and physiology in the early years gave me an understanding of the diverse forms and functions present in the animal kingdom – knowledge which I use every day in my job as a zoo vet. The small group ‘supervision’ system encouraged all of us to enquire openly without feeling under pressure.

The guaranteed intercalated degree in the third year (Zoology in my case) expanded my understanding of conservation and herpetology which now form my main areas of interest. Catz also provided great networking opportunities – I met several of my future employers by running the Cambridge University Veterinary Zoological Society.

Catz is where it all started and will always feel like a second home.


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