Annie is from Reading (Berkshire, South-East England), and wrote this at the end of her first year studying Engineering at Christ's College, Cambridge. She did A-levels in Maths, Further Maths, Physics and Design Technology.


What attracted you to Engineering? 

A student in a rowing jacket, stood in front of some greenery
Annie, First year

I was attracted by the city to begin with, however I then saw the Dyson centre (a workshop space in the engineering department) and was drawn to it, as it was similar to the workshop I had at school that I really enjoyed using!

I liked the idea of doing a general engineering degree, which allowed me to have the flexibility of choosing specific sections later in the degree (I wasn’t sure what I wanted to go into, as I hadn’t studied engineering as a separate subject at school). Most other unis I looked at forced you to choose a discipline in your application, which worried me.

I have to admit, I was worried about the electrical engineering section of the course, however I enjoyed it more than I expected when I got here.


Why did you apply to Christ's?

Path with trees overhead, next to a road and a misty field
The path next to Midsummer Common, on the way to the boathouse.​​

I had been around the college as a tourist when I was younger, and then went on one of the virtual tours of the college before applying. I liked that it was a central college, midway between the Engineering Department and the river. Also, the boathouse is one of the nicest with great facilities which helped.

It's definitely lived up to my expectations! It’s been such a welcoming environment with lovely people all around, whilst also being impressive with its beautiful architecture and expansive gardens.


What do you think of the collegiate system? 

College pool, with two ducks swimming in it and a statue in the background
Ducks enjoying a swim in the pool!

I really like it, as it provides you with a smaller group of people to meet in fresher’s week, which was less intimidating, but all the colleges are near one another so you can easily meet people from other colleges.

My favourite place in College is either the fellows' garden, as I loved lying in the grass or going for a dip in the college pool, or the boathouse, as it is a welcoming space with sofas and relaxed social spaces, which is lovely after rowing outings or after a long day of lectures.

How did you find the application process?

The application process as a whole was easy to work through, as the college gave frequent reminders during the process about exams and deadlines. There were more forms to fill in than I was expecting, which was concerning, but they ended up being easy to fill in (some only took a minute to do).

How did you prepare for your interview?

I prepared for the interview by doing a few practice interviews (one organised by my school with a teacher, one with an engineer currently in an engineering firm, and one as part of the Stemettes society, which was more focused on soft skills). These helped me cover what areas I was not comfortable with in my personal statement, as well as getting me comfortable with answering questions in a confident and coherent way, but mostly were used to make me less nervous about the actual interview.

When I applied, Engineering had the ENGAA as a pre-interview assessment (it's now changed to the ESAT). I found the ENGAA quite simple to prepare for, as the questions were based on maths and physics A-level content, so I revised my A-level content, and worked through a few past papers, as well as scanning over the specifications for the paper to ensure I had covered all the topics that could come up. More resources are available on the Engineering subject page.


What was your online interview like? 

Third court, with flowerbeds in the foreground and old buildings in the background
Third court, which I didn't have to navigate on my (online) interview day!

It was 2 short sessions, mostly discussing engineering problems, where there was an expectation I couldn’t immediately answer them, but they wanted to see how I thought. It ended up being quite fun! We discussed several potential ways of solving a problem and ran through which would be the most beneficial.

The interviews being online made them easier to prepare for as I only needed to sit down and turn on a computer, rather than trekking to Cambridge. It also meant I didn’t miss many lessons, which was useful! In the end, I had a small technical problem with my first interview, but it only caused a slight delay, and it didn’t impact the rest of the interview which surprised me. I enjoyed the interviews more than I expected, as the questions were designed to be interesting and engaging to promote discussion.

My key piece of advice would be to not stress out about the applications too much, especially the interview, as it was more beneficial to be calm than it was to have memorised as much of my A-level content as possible. I would then also say it’s good to apply even if you don’t think you’ll get in, as I didn’t think I’d get in but used it to motivate me to work harder, which ended up paying off!


What was your first week in Cambridge like? 

Some brown cows lying under a tree, with boathouses in the background
Cows grazing on Midsummer Common

I was looking forward to exploring Cambridge and getting more familiar with the city, and I was worried about making friends with others. I ended up finding it quite easy to settle in, as there were many different groups and societies I could get involved with (which the fresher’s fair really showed off!). 

My favourite memory was arriving on the first day and offering the flapjack I’d brought from home to my new neighbours, only for them to offer me cookies, muffins and gingerbread biscuits in return, as it immediately made me laugh and feel more comfortable with them, which made me feel better about moving away from home.

I was surprised by how formal the matriculation events in fresher's week were, but they were a really nice opportunity to meet other people. I was also surprised by my room, as it was much larger than I was expecting!


What was it like to start the course? 

I struggled at the start, as my lectures were all online so I couldn’t meet up with other engineers. But when we moved to in person sessions it was really fun, as I bumped into a lot of people and chatted to new groups. Lectures were a lot like lessons in school, but where the teacher is only explaining topics, rather than giving time to work through practice questions (we do those after the lecture).

Supervisions (which are the small-group teaching offered at Cambridge) were not what I expected, as the supervisors were willing to help support and guide us when we struggled with the topics, which was very beneficial, whereas I thought they would just tell me what was right and what was wrong.

What's it like being a woman in the Engineering department, given women are underrepresented in the field? 

It was scary to begin with, as I was told only 27% of my course were women (which is actually higher than I expected) and I had been the only girl in my class for most of my A-levels. I ended up joining the Women in Engineering Society (CUWES), which was a really nice way to meet fellow engineers, and they had a buddy scheme that ended up offering us free ice cream to meet up a couple times throughout the year! We check in on each other and see how our years were going.

I think the key thing was that I made sure I chose my subject ignoring the gender balances, as it was what I was interested in (I would definitely recommend reading Built by Roma Agrawal for an easy and light introduction into engineering), and I found groups such as the Stemettes society to offer some great bonus resources whilst I was still deciding what I wanted to do.


How is your work now different from what you experienced at school? 

Pink and purple sunset behind trees
View from my room in the Blyth building.

Work at university is much more independent (even though my degree is one of the more structured ones, as it has lots of contact hours you have to be somewhere for), so you can work when it best suits you. This was hard to deal with at first but is now useful as I can adjust it to when I feel most able to work in the day. The work can feel more overwhelming, as you have the flexibility to work on different topics, so it can seem intimidating when you’re presented with lots of work with long deadlines.

The material was roughly what I expected, but I’ve been enjoying some of the topics I didn’t think I’d like, which is surprising. For example, I didn't particularly enjoy the electrical section at school, but some of the logic circuits course was really interesting. The course covers a lot more content than I was expecting, as the lectures will often go through ideas much faster than they were covered in school.


Looking back over the year, what do you feel you have got out of it? 

I’ve gotten an appreciation of the breadth of engineering, as it is used in places I’d never thought of. For example, we learned about non-linear viscoelastic materials, and then finding out they included things like silly putty, lava and cheese, which you can model using springs and dashpots (weird devices I struggle to explain...). I also feel I’ve developed my understanding of how I work, and when I need to take breaks, versus when I should power through and keep working. I also found the end of year exams were good to have, as they were the first in person exams I’d had in 3 years, so I was quite stressed and had forgotten how to settle into a revision schedule.

The best part for me is the access to the Dyson centre, a workshop space where we work on projects in and out of labs. The hardest part is managing the large workload, as it can quickly become overwhelming, however when I realised you could ask for help or extensions as needed it became easier to cope with. I found this out with the computing component: I struggled a lot with the coding sections at the start of the year, particularly as it was more work than I was expecting, so I left it a bit too close to the deadline to attempt!


What does your timetable look like? 

I have approximately ten lectures a week (roughly two per day Monday to Friday), with each being an hour long. I have three or four supervisions each week (though this varies a lot depending on when topics are covered in lectures) which are also normally an hour long. Beyond that, Engineering has labs that fall at random moments throughout the year, so some weeks I have none, and others I have five or six sessions (but the average is probably two per week).

Annie's Lego tricycle
Annie's Lego tricycle

Labs are all set in two-hour blocks, but some of them don’t take the whole two hours. We often pair up with a lab partner and run a series of tests to learn more about a section of engineering (the topics vary a lot). One example was a lab where we got to use the milling machines and lathes to produce two Lego pieces out of aluminium that we could then fit together with other Lego pieces to make a tricycle, which now sits on my desk!


How do you manage your workload?

I learned to make sure I focus on attempting questions for my supervisions, and reassuring myself that it wasn’t the end of the world if I struggled with some of the questions. I also learnt it is best to go to lectures in person, as it forces you to finish watching the lectures in the allotted time, so I could move past it and focus on other work. I struggled in the first term, as I was worried I couldn’t keep up, but I still kept up other activities because I needed the break!

Most of the year I liked working in my room in College, as all my notes were nearby, I could easily leave things where they were and I could switch between different projects with ease. However, in the run up to exams I moved to working in other study spaces in college (such as the Library, or the Plumb Auditorium) to give myself the separation between studying and relaxing, as I struggled to work reliably in my room. 


What are your favourite and least favourite things about College? 

Fellows' garden
Fellows' garden in the autumn

I’ve loved being so near nature, as I had a view of the Fellows' garden (the largest garden in college) which was really cool to have, especially when I could poke my head out the window and say hi to people I knew!

My least favourite thing was probably having a small kitchen, as it meant it was sometimes awkward to cook, however this did lead to some fun chats with flatmates as we attempted to work around each other. 


What have you enjoyed most about life at Christ's this year? 

I’ve really enjoyed the independence that comes with living by yourself, but especially when there are lots of people you can go and hang out with around, as it allowed me to choose when I wanted to socialise, and when I needed some time to myself.

Three students in a selfie, with third court in the background. Annie has glitter on her face
At the (6am!) end of Christ’s May Ball

My favourite event was the Christ’s May Ball, where we had a concert, festival rides and food stalls all over college, and I got to meet up with a wide range of friends I’d made over the year. It was a wonderful way to end the year, and I was still enjoying it all the way to the end (at 6am the next day) having mingled with different groups at different points throughout the evening.


What do you do when you're not working? 

A group of nine people in rowing gear, stood in front of a big blue door with rowing blades on the front
Photo of my rowing crew having successfully bumped a boat

During term time, I row quite a lot in my free time, as it helps me clear my head and reconnect with others from my college. It was also a lot of fun to get involved with rowing in bumps, a Cambridge race where the aim is to hit the boat ahead of you before you get hit by the boat behind (making it a very chaotic experience!).

I also enjoy working on art projects (even though I’m not very experienced) and doing some reading (I read Harry Potter for the first time at the strong request of a friend). I hosted a weekly movie night with my flatmates, where we turned my bed into a sofa and watched a film (whilst often talking over it…). I’ve loved meeting new people and building new friendships - everyone has been really nice and willing to try new hobbies together which has been wonderful. 


How do you spend your holidays? 

Selfie of three students, with Annie in the middle. They are in a forest, wearing rucksacks, and one of them holds a map.
Photo from our summer camping trip!

Over Christmas I went home and hung out with my family (and slept a lot to recover from a busy first term), but over Easter a friend and I stayed in college to help out at the Women in Maths residential. Both holidays were a lot of fun in their own ways.

Over the summer I’ve been doing some work experience (a requirement for the engineering tripos) as well as a bit of travelling (including a camping trip with some of my flatmates)!


Where have you lived this year and what did you think of it?

I was in Blyth building in the Third Court - my room was massive (it takes a little while to open, but there’s a 360 degree picture of it here that shows how ridiculous it was!), so was great for having friends over, but the kitchen was pretty small with most of my floor (10 people) trying to use it. I did enjoy having shared bathrooms, as it meant I bumped into my flatmates more, so we got to chatting and I feel I developed stronger friendships. 


What are you looking forward to next year? 

Annie cuddling a tabby kitten
Me with Finch, one of the college cats

I’m excited to move into a college-owned house on St Andrew's Street next year with a group of friends, as it’s looking like it will be a really friendly environment. We have a kitchen with more room so we can have more friends over. I’m also excited to attempt to befriend the college kittens that are joining the college (they are very sweet!).


July 2022

Please be aware if you're considering an application that our student writers describe their experiences. Although the majority of the information stays the same, some details may change from year to year. Do read the student profiles in combination with our undergraduate admissions pages for full information.

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