New Faces at Pembroke: Part 2
A few of our other newest members of staff share their thoughts on arriving at (or returning to) Pembroke.
Lord Chris Smith (Master)
Lord Chris Smith was admitted as Master of Pembroke on the 1st of October this year. He matriculated here in 1969, studying English, and went on to become an MP and a member of the House of Lords.
Having experienced life at Pembroke as a student, how does it feel to be returning in such a different capacity?
I’m very struck by how little has changed in 45 years, and also how much. The physical fabric hasn’t altered much at all, except of course for the development of Foundress Court and the new Master’s Lodge. The gardens are still as lovely as ever – if anything, even better – and the congenial, peaceful, informal nature of the architecture is much the same as it always was. There are big changes though in other ways. Most obviously, of course, the presence of women students and Fellows, something that for thirty years now has enriched and diversified the College in many wonderful ways. The Library has been transformed. The food is on the whole better! And the collegiate friendly atmosphere that has always been a part of Pembroke is now I think even stronger than it was. The openness and friendliness and supportive environment of Pembroke is one of the very best things about the College, and I want to work hard not only to sustain it but to enhance it over the years ahead.
Since taking up your new role as Master, what has been the strangest experience you have had so far, and what has been the most rewarding?
The strangest experience must be the procession of University Officers and Heads of House to the University Sermon at Great St Mary’s last Sunday. There we all were, lined up in twos in our gowns and hoods and mortar boards, processing across the road from the Senate House, and feeling a little bit like the animals going into Noah’s ark. We must have been a most peculiar sight! The most rewarding is undoubtedly the opportunity to meet so many wonderful new undergraduate and postgraduate students – keen, bright, a bit nervous, full of hope and excitement. A bit like me starting out as Master, I suppose.
What advice do you wish you had been given as a student at Pembroke, and what advice would you give to students now?
I wish someone had told me right at the start that I didn’t have to accept every single invitation I received. But the advice I’d give to students now is to throw themselves into the life of the College and the University in all its aspects – to work hard, yes, but not to forget that there’s a lot more to do and explore, in sport, drama, music, politics, and a host of other things. And to make friends. That’s probably the most important and enduring thing Cambridge will give you.
Natalie Kent (Assistant Librarian)
Natalie joined Pembroke’s Library team in August, having previously worked as a librarian at the Inns of Court in London.
I joined Pembroke College as Assistant Librarian in the middle of August. Since then I have already seen the College in two seasons. Several summer schools have been and gone and the College’s undergraduates have returned or joined us for the first time. The Library has been closed for maintenance and it has reopened again. One Master has left and a new Master has been admitted. Two members of Library staff have left and another has joined. I have quickly learned that the only ‘typical’ day we have is a day where the unpredictable can, and usually will, happen.
In the daytime the Library has three full-time members of staff. We recently welcomed our new Graduate Trainee, Matilda, with whom I will be working very closely. Since both of us are new we have been able to help each other, from getting to grips with the intricacies of our cataloguing system to finding our way around the College. We are working with Pat, the Librarian, who has been extremely patient with us as we try to take everything in!
My previous job was in the Library of the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple, one of the four Inns of Court in London. My role involved assisting in finding legal resources for barristers, students, clerks and members of the judiciary. The environment of the Inns of Court is in many ways very similar to that of the College. I am particularly looking forward to building on this experience by working with our very own Law Library. I’m also enjoying working with a much broader range of subject resources and our wonderful special collections. It is the people, though, who add the most excitement to the College. I’ve been really enjoying getting to know the students, fellows and other staff. Although we were busy throughout the summer in the Library, it feels as though everything has now sprung into life.
My welcome at Pembroke College has been exceptional. I feel very lucky to be working somewhere so friendly with such beautiful buildings and gardens, and with such a fantastic Library.
Bing Herridge (Housekeeping)
Bing (short for Beatriz) has been working in the Housekeeping department since July. Originally from the Philippines, she used to work at the Rosie Maternity Hospital in Cambridge.
What does your job here involve?
It’s the same thing as in the hospital, really, housekeeping. The difference is you’re not working with ill people here, with people lying in their beds. That’s the beauty of this; the people here are students, so it’s completely different.
The students still lie in bed a lot, though.
Um, well… because they work hard! And sometimes they don’t get up early, so you go in and they say, “Oh, Bing, I was working last night, and it was freezing cold…” One boy said he couldn’t get up because it was too cold! But they’re so busy. Sometimes they don’t want me to clean their rooms because they’re busy working, and I don’t want to distract them. So sometimes I say, if you don’t want me to come in, just put the bin outside the door so I’ll know.
What do you think of Pembroke so far?
It’s good, because the people, the Housekeeping department, are so good. They’re a super department. You can always ask them and talk to them about things. There are four of us in a team, and we don’t work together every day – we’re working in different houses so we only meet at breaktimes. And the supervisor comes and pops in before we have a break, to see how things are, if there’s anything we need to report. I prefer being able to work on my own. In the hospital you had to be so careful, because the maternity wards are high risk, so every half an hour your supervisor has to look in on you. Everything has to be done so carefully and it was much more stressful.
My favourite thing here is meeting a lot of students from different countries. It’s really interesting. They started coming in a few weeks ago and you don’t know what to expect – they come from Australia, Canada, China, Malaysia… Sometimes you think you feel homesick, but then you look at the students and they come from different countries, and they don’t have any mum or dad, and you think, oh, bless them, you know? They don’t have any parents here; they are so brave! And I think they are so blessed to come here and study, because not many students can come here.
Is it difficult being so far away from your home country?
I have some family here – I have two sisters in Germany, so sometimes I drive over to see them. And I’ve got a daughter who is 17. It’s difficult to start with, I think, but you get used to speaking a different language and living in a new place. My daughter was born here… So it’s far from home, but you have to be independent sometimes. I’ve been widowed twice, and my husband, before he died, told me, “Bing, you have to try, you have to really try otherwise you’ll be stuck.” And he was right, really. My daughter was nine when he died, so as a single mum you have to be a father and a mother, you have to be strong; you can’t just say, “Oh, I’m from Asia, I don’t know how to do this.”
We go home almost every year, me and my daughter. But the last time I went home was two years ago, when we had the tsunami. A lot of people died, and children… I went home and did some aid work, on my own. I bought some tinned food – sardines, noodles, rice – and asked my family to pack some into bags and then I drove through the place which was hit, north of Cebu. I remember driving to the countryside, to the island which was hit, and there were so many children on the roads. My cousin owns a bakery, so I asked him if he could supply me with some bread, and we gave about 500 bags of bread to these children who had lost their houses. That’s the last time I went home. We haven’t been back since then, because my daughter is busy with her A-levels. Maybe next year.
What are your hopes for the future?
Last year, after I stopped working at the hospital, I took an accounting course, and I would really like to finish that. But the tuition fee was high and I couldn’t really afford it, with my widow’s pension, but I would love to finish that one. I would love to get involved with the office, to work in the office one day – if that’s not too ambitious!
Katie McIvor (College Recorder)
Katie McIvor was appointed as the new College Recorder in September, having previously studied Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic here as an undergraduate. She interviewed herself recently about her experience of working at Pembroke.
That’s what it’s like having a grown-up job; you have to be at work by 9. What has been your most significant learning experience so far?
There was coffee at all the other interviews.
You were a Pembroke student until 2013. What’s it like to be returning as a member of staff?
It’s kind of strange. I think, as a student, you don’t really have much idea of how many people work here. Like the IT, the meals, the hoovering – you think all that stuff sort of just happens, but it turns out there are actually a load of people who have to come in here every day and run the place, so that the students can roll out of bed on Saturday mornings and have brunch and Wifi and things. It’s kind of mind-blowing.
Has Pembroke changed much since you were here?
No. Literally not at all. It’s like having chronic déjà vu.
How are you finding life in the Development Office?
It’s an interesting place. It’s a bit like that scene from Alice in Wonderland – there’s cake everywhere, and endless cups of tea, and people bursting unexpectedly into song every few minutes. I have a window desk overlooking Ridley’s Walk, so a lot of tourists will have gone home with photos of me chewing my pen and looking glazed.
What does a College Recorder actually do?
I honestly have very little idea. I’ve spent most of the last three weeks being mistaken for a Fresher, posing as a dead cat online and taking creepshots of people I don’t know. I’m still working out the best way of doing things and trying to see what I can get away with, like this interview.
Any advice for new students?
Yeah – if you email Maintenance and ask nicely, they will give you an electric heater for your room. You can thank me later.