“I remember when I was applying to University that it was a lot of stress thinking about how I was going to fund everything and I wasn’t sure I would be able to go...”
Sam Mercer (U17) grew up near Cambridge and attended Abbey College in Ramsay, near Peterborough. Sam thought he would leave school after his GCSE’s and never imagined he would go into academia – no-one in his family had gone to University and he just wanted to get out of school as quickly as possible – but he really liked puzzles and slowly discovered, and developed, a deep enjoyment for maths in his own time.
It was in Year 11 that his aptitude for maths and physics was noticed by his teachers. At the time the school did not have a strong history of Oxbridge applications but Sam was encouraged to apply and his maths teacher Dr Oswell – who had a PhD from Cambridge – helped with his application.
Sam was interested in Churchill because he discovered it was strong in maths and he also enjoyed attending the College’s maths open day, but crucially, it was the offer of bursary support that ultimately influenced his decision to apply to Cambridge and take up his place at Churchill.
I remember when I was applying to University that it was a lot of stress thinking about how I was going to fund everything and I wasn’t sure I would be able to go to university if I didn’t get into Cambridge. I looked at Warwick and their bursaries didn’t seem quite enough. I would have had to work throughout term-time which would have taken away time from studying maths.
Sam receives a full Cambridge Bursary and a Winston Churchill Top-Up Bursary and he also greatly values the College’s excellent low-cost accommodation. Because of the support he receives, Sam has been able to work on computing related projects over the holidays rather than having to worry about earning money to pay for his living costs. He has also been able to buy a laptop and take part in social events including formal subject dinners; ‘it’s been a great way to learn from and meet mathematicians’. Sam’s experience clearly demonstrates his view that ‘bursaries enable you to take part with everyone else on a level playing field’:
I am very grateful for the opportunity and funding the bursary support has given me. Without it, financing would be stressful as my family does not have the money to support me. Not having to worry about if I’ll have to go into my overdraft, or budgeting everything I buy is a luxury that helps me focus on my studies; I know many of my friends who have gone to other university have struggled with this problem. Also knowing that I can afford to go to formal dinners such as the mathematicians dinner, or take part in the Archimedeans society events has been crucial in helping me to feel at home.
For Sam, Churchill feels like home, ‘everyone is really friendly and it’s more relaxed than other colleges.’ He hugely enjoys being around other people who love doing maths as this is something he never experienced before. In his spare time Sam also enjoys playing table tennis for the College (he played in the Cambridgeshire Men’s table tennis league before coming to Cambridge).
Sam has since returned to his old school to help teach an introduction course to A level maths over the summer and his teaching experience should stand him in good stead with his aspiration to remain in academia as a Mathematician once he has completed his current studies! One thing is abundantly clear– he is passionate about maths and is hugely grateful to have received the funding support he needed to access this environment:
My first year at Cambridge was a lot like diving head first down into a rabbit hole, straight into a wonderful of maths. The rules are strange, the characters who live there are quirky, and it’s significantly more interesting than the real world. I think it is really important to be able to have your own adventure in academia. A lot of people don’t even know that they can have that. There is this whole world of maths – or whichever subject they might be interested in – that can be explored and it is only thanks to the funding and support available that some people can actually do this.
Sam was selected to attend the London Maths Society Summer School in the long vacation of his second year, a course intended for undergraduates interested in working in research in the future. He is now in his third year at Churchill and his passion for mathematics continues to grow exponentially, “I’m very excited for the future and the wide variety of courses I can choose from and even have the fortunate problem of having too many courses I’m interested in that I could reasonably do”. The impact of receiving bursary support on his academic aspirations also remains clear:
I would like to say how grateful I am for the bursary support I receive. The extra funding removes all the stress I would have had about making ends meet and allows me to focus completely on the subject that is so dear to me.