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Ben (G17) is from Lancaster and is currently in the first year of his PhD in History at Churchill.
Ben’s parents, also from the Northwest, provided Ben with an aspirational story when he was growing up. His father left school at 16 without any qualifications and he worked first as a butcher then at a Nuclear Power Plant before deciding to go to night-school in his mid 20s. He went on to achieve a First for his UG degree, which he followed with a Masters and one year of a PhD before fatherhood led to his current career as a secondary school teacher. His mother also worked as a school teacher and she is currently a lecturer at the University of Cumbria.
Ben himself attended state grammar, Lancaster Royal Grammar School. Undeterred that his two applications to read English at Oxford were not successful, he went on to achieve a First for his UG degree at St Andrews University where he switched from English to Modern History part-way through his course. Ben then applied to Churchill for his MPhil in World History, drawn by the potential offer of funding, and the resources available at the Archives Centre.
The Churchill College Archives Studentship Ben was awarded for his MPhil was worth £21,000 and covered both his £10,800 course fees and living expenses. Whilst he could have taken advantage of the 20% fee discount available for returning students at St Andrews, he is in no doubt about the importance of coming to Cambridge and the profound impact receiving the Studentship had on his life.
I wouldn’t be studying for my PhD at Cambridge if the College hadn’t funded me for my MPhil. Before I received the funding my mum was talking about re-mortgaging the house because it was such a huge opportunity – no-one in my family has ever been to Oxbridge – but I wouldn’t have let her. The opportunities you get and the people you meet here at Cambridge have been unbelievable. For example, Professor David Maxwell is one of the biggest names in my field of study and he is now my supervisor.
Ben was awarded a Distinction for his MPhil and applied to stay on at Churchill for his PhD programme which has been funded in full by the AHRC. His special area of interest is the role of missionary organisations during the violent anti-colonial uprisings in the 1950s in Malaya and Kenya. Ben’s fascination with this field of study was first sparked by an interest in African literature and he went on to spend a year living amongst the Kikuyu tribe in Kenya where he worked as a teacher before starting his undergraduate degree.
When Ben arrived at Churchill he was slightly worried that he might feel out of his depth. It felt daunting to be starting a postgraduate course at Cambridge and he also thought he might feel out of place in a College he had heard was full of scientists and international students. In actual fact, the College was really welcoming, he was made to feel at home straight away and the people he lives with now are the same people he met when he first joined the College.
He also hugely values the relaxed but stimulating atmosphere at Churchill College; ‘everyone here is so smart – it’s exciting to be a part of it’. Ben also values being part of the supportive graduate community at Churchill.
Being with other students who understand what you are going through and are in the same boat as you, is hugely reassuring. In the first month of my PhD, I felt like I was getting really swamped and so behind in everything but another PhD student told me that if I ever felt like I was completely on top of it something will probably have gone wrong, because there is always something else to do. So, whilst it was stressful at the time, it also felt comforting to know that others were in the same boat. This is why being part of a community is so important.
He has fully involved himself in the life of the MCR community, taking on the role of the MCR Bar Treasurer in his first year. In his spare time he enjoys playing the bass guitar and can often be found playing at guest nights. He is also a keen cricketer and was wicket-keeper for the MCR cricket team that came third in the MCR League last season. He is planning on playing some MCR football this year. A particular highlight of his time at Churchill thus far was being awarded funding to spend a month doing Archival work in Singapore and Malaysia which was an amazing experience. Thinking ahead to what might lie beyond his PhD is a long way off but he is interested in pursuing a career in academia.