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Master's Winter Message 2019

It was with great sadness that I heard of the death of two young Cambridge alumni in the recent horrible terrorist attack at Fishmongers' Hall and on London Bridge. The incident and the loss of two such talented individuals, Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones, has profoundly affected those who knew them, including some of our Pembroke Fellows and graduate students. The University has prioritised counselling for staff and students affected by this incident and the College is also offering assistance to those who seek it.

Old Court 2019

With each year, Michaelmas Term seems to speed by ever faster. It seems like barely last week that we were hosting in quick succession summer school students, then alumni attending our September events, and then welcoming our new first-year students. Now we are already into the interview season. During this period, for two weeks of December, we are interviewing 648 candidates out of 904 who applied. Our admissions team totted up the number of interviews and assessments that will be taking place and it comes to a staggering 1,764! I do not interview any of the candidates, but I do sit in on some interviews as an observer (we have them in virtually every interview), and it is always fascinating to see how an interviewer goes about putting a very nervous applicant at their ease, ensuring that we see the very best they can be.

I'm delighted to report that our Freshers seem to have settled in well and have thrown themselves into Pembroke life. Among them have been the second annual intake of Fall Semester students from overseas, who have spent twelve weeks studying at Pembroke. They will be returning home this week, although some of them have loved the experience so much that they have asked if might be possible to stay on for the rest of the year!

Signing the Matriculation book

Also among our new intake have been three new Fellows, Dr Hugo Bronstein (Chemistry), Dr Albert Cardona (Neuroscience) and Dr Anna-Maria Pappa (Chemical Engineering). I very much look forward to the contributions that they will bring to the academic life of the College.  I hope that, before too long, I will be able to introduce them and their research at one of our London Soirée events, which showcase the range of the research undertaken by our Fellowship as well as by our graduate students. If you are interested in attending one of these please do let the Development team know.

As I am sure you will be aware, Pembroke recently lost one of its Honorary Fellows, the writer and broadcaster Clive James OA CBE (1964). Clive came to Pembroke as a mature student in 1964, after he had moved to the UK from Australia. He readily admitted that he may have spent less time on the academic aspect of the Cambridge experience than he might have done, instead immersing himself into the bubbling cultural life of the College and the University, through his writing and Cambridge Footlights. In 2010, he was drawn back into the orbit of the College, as an Honorary Fellow. Truth be told, we were all privileged to have many more years with him than he expected, as he held off his terminal illness – whilst writing poetry about it that surpassed anything he had done before.

After the news of Clive’s death was released by his family, Dr Mark Wormald was invited onto Australian radio to talk about Clive’s work and legacy. Mark described him as 'a kind of giant, but very wry and witty with it. He didn’t take himself very seriously, but he took the life of a culture, the whole range of culture from high culture to popular culture, he took it in his stride and with real relish. A really unique figure.' That breadth of interest and curiosity shown by Clive was something that we should remember, cherish, and encourage among our students.

The importance of intellectual breadth, as well as continuous learning, was the subject of the annual BT Lecture, ‘From purposeful innovation to delivering commercial advantage’, delivered by BT’s CFO, John Beswick. BT is one of Pembroke’s longest-standing corporate partners. John outlined how the company had taken the decision to focus its recruitment not just on the hard sciences, but in a range of disciplines, such as anthropology and psychology, switching focus from STEM to STEAM. This must be the right way forward, helping students to develop skills not only of logic, experiment and reason, but of creativity and cultural knowledge too.  Given the way in which the nature of work has changed and how it will continue to do so, it is really important that people adapt and constantly update their skills.

It has therefore been a real pleasure to see the introduction of ‘Life Beyond Pembroke’ careers events, that have been organised jointly by the Development Office and the 1347 Committee. Sessions have involved alumni of all walks of life generously giving their time to talk to our students about careers in the Civil Service, media and public relations, and other sessions have been lined up for the rest of the academic year. I am acutely aware that for many of our future students the linear career from which many in my generation benefited will not be the norm and anything we can do to help, drawing on the rich seam of experience among our alumni, is to be welcomed.

I was also pleased this term to be able to welcome Professor Richard Sennett and Lord Blunkett to talk to the students. Professor Sennett spoke about how cities can tackle the issues raised by climate change and the innovative ways that are already being used in conurbations around the world. Former British Home Secretary, David Blunkett, now Professor of Politics in Practice at the University of Sheffield, spoke about the future of social democracy in the UK, how a gradualist approach to change, taking people with you, is essential, however frustrating it may seem to be; and how we need to re-learn the benefits of a communitarian approach to politics.

Our student societies, new and old, bring fine speakers from inside and outside Cambridge to the College, with the Stokes Society being perhaps the most eminent. 2019 marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of the mathematician Sir George Gabriel Stokes, after whom the society is named. Over the Long Vacation a conference in Pembroke welcomed mathematicians and scientists from across the world to mark the anniversary, and the particular importance of his work in fluid dynamics.

The College is grateful to everyone who has supported the aims of the College with a donation this year. Thanks to your generosity the September telethon raised £106,268 for The Time and The Place Fund, while our Giving Day in November raised £47,394 to support an academic at risk at Pembroke.

In the coming months we will be releasing a series of short campaign videos highlighting different ways in which the redevelopment of Mill Lane will benefit the College. The first of these feature Pembroke Fellows Dr Tim Weil and Dr Allegra Fryxell, who explain some of the educational benefits of the Mill Lane redevelopment.

Finally, with Christmas in mind, one of our neighbours, Fitzbillies, will be celebrating their centenary in October 2020. Ahead of this, they have released a cookery book, which is available to purchase online. I can confirm that it contains 'a' Chelsea Bun recipe, although their very special recipe remains a closely guarded secret. Copies of the book can be purchased from Fitzbillies' website directly (UK only) or from other book stores. Thinking ahead to next Christmas, I’m delighted to report that a new choir CD has been recorded, with generous support from Christine Hansen (1990) and will be released next year. When we have more information, we will be sure to pass it on.

Chris Smith, Master

December 2019