Susan Ok – MPhil, Biological Sciences (Genetics)

Susan Ok standing outside Churchill accommodation on an autumn day

A bridge is several things: a structure that supports, a platform for reflection and a connection between worlds. Cambridge is all of these for me.

As an MPhil student I develop my knowledge and research skills within the foundation of the Genetics Department; I rediscover my potential every day through my involvement in Churchill College; I interact with people from all over the world and can explore other cities in the UK.

Academic opportunities

As a large research institution, Cambridge provides a specialized approach to training students in various fields. Whereas my experience as an undergraduate was module-based, my research in Cambridge teaches me to seek solutions through a combination of independent thought, alacrity and effective communication. Often the simplest way for me to figure out a new protocol is to chat with an expert over tea. In addition, weekly talks, seminars and meetings supplement my knowledge.

Conferences are also a good way to connect with different scientific communities. Recently my department held the annual conference on ‘Evolutionary Genetics and Genomics’. Afterwards I had the honour to chat with one of the speakers at the Brew House, a popular pub among students. At the beginning of March, I attended ‘Building Bridges in Medical Science’, a conference at Robinson College organized by graduate students from various departments. One of the guest speakers was Professor Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, who won the Nobel Prize for her discovery of HIV.

College life

In addition to large events like conferences, the college system in Cambridge provides several other intellectual and social opportunities. Churchill College is a great fit for me as a graduate student in science. Formal dinners are a fabulous way to learn about the work of brilliant scholars including John Gurdon, recent winner of the Nobel Prize for his work on stem cells. As a member of the MCR committee, I have organized parties, bartended, presented an academic seminar, and given a Burns Night toast. I also joined the Spring Ball committee, which resulted in a crash course in event planning. Lastly, I have explored the arts by performing violin with a folk band, recording with an orchestra, and salsa dancing at various venues.

Life in Cambridge

Apart from life as a student, I have enjoyed several pleasantries while exploring the UK: punting on the River Cam, cycling to Grantchester on a sunny afternoon, touring Chartwell, battling the breezes of Brighton and visiting London’s museums, parks and landmarks. Cambridge is by far the most cosmopolitan small town I have lived in, with cuisines from all over. For example, I have bought a baguette from a Brazilian café and coffee from a German café in the same afternoon. I can also enjoy Indian restaurants, the famous “kabob truck” and stop by a pub now and then.

In conclusion, Cambridge has the small town feel of my home institution, but with a much larger student body and extensive research facilities. In addition to student housing, the colleges give social and academic support both within one’s own college and through “swaps” with others. Culturally, Cambridge is a slice of British culture while featuring a buffet from all over the world. I was keen on building bridges back home, and I found it was possible to continue doing so when I came to Cambridge.

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