My first year at Cambridge University after leaving WGS by Tarn Chamberlain James

10th January 20

Freshers’ week is a flurry of names and faces. I was worried about the change, not only in academic life but also in independence. Would I meet people who I get along with, shared a similar outlook on life and passion for my subject? I really had nothing to worry about and settled my nerves immediately.

Starting my course, I was excited to put the science I had learnt during my time at WGS to use in the context of Veterinary Medicine. The course at Cambridge is very science-centric, I found that the teaching I received at WGS set me up not only to cope with this but also with the very practical aspects of the course. The weekly dissections thrilled me as much as they did during Biology class, the extra practicals at WGS really helped with the laboratory work which I did during the first year.

The greatest challenge I faced, was the level of independent learning. I was thankful in hindsight for the opportunity to do an EPQ in 6th Form, this got me used to writing up lab reports, questioning my results and methods, which I am required to do frequently at university. The extra Science sessions at WGS helped to prepare me more than I anticipated, made me really look forward to studying some of the same concepts and introduced me to concepts that were crucial for my understanding of some of the more difficult first-year content. When I realised that some other schools didn’t offer this, it made me appreciate the teachers at WGS even more.

The placements that we are required to do in order to qualify, have been incredibly enjoyable. Lambing during the Easter holidays was my first experience, choosing to do this and live on a farm with a friend from my course meant we shared the responsibility and kept each other sane during some long hours supervising the pregnant ewes and helping with any birthing problems they had, it was rewarding knowing how much I had helped the farmers and how many new skills I learnt.

Before I could do any more placements, I had to complete my first set of Cambridge exams. They were incredibly intense and challenging. The Veterinary exams lasted for a period of a month in total. The support is really good during this time, the college runs events to give their students study tips and advice on how to minimise stress.

I joined the college student committee in quite possibly the busiest term. I have thoroughly enjoyed being involved with the running of the college and doing my best to make things better for the students currently studying here. Being Head Girl at WGS was challenging too, but the time management and organisation skills I learnt while being involved with the Senior Prefect team meant that I felt equipped to handle the task of joining the committee while juggling work for my end of year exams.

The intense exam season hits everyone, we all help each other and the support that comes from being in the college system made the exams a lot more manageable. One of the Cambridge traditions that I appreciated was the post-exam celebration where your friends from college come to surprise and congratulate you outside your last exam and celebrate finishing with you. It was amazing seeing all of my friends waiting for me, I was able to share my elation at finishing with them, especially because the vets were one of the latest to finish. After exams, May Week begins, yet another strange tradition with lost origins. All of the colleges organise balls and garden parties so the students can enjoy their last couple of weeks in Cambridge, stress-free. It was one of the most fun weeks, especially given that by this point everyone had got to know each other quite well. I would describe it as more of a comfortable Freshers’ Week.

During the summer holidays, I continued with placements, completing another 6 weeks with various animals. I started with cats, enjoying helping with all of the aspects of working with a rescue centre. I found this valuable as I learnt about the difficulties people face in terms of looking after animals, and how hard it can be for some to give them up. Next, I worked on a local pig farm with one of the vets from my college. I enjoyed this far more than I expected to – although my parents definitely didn’t appreciate the smell we brought home with us every day. Lastly, I travelled to Anglesey to do my horse placement with other vet students, they were a lot more confident around horses than me but were amazing with helping me get to grips with the different terminology. Thankfully I had been given animal handling sessions throughout the year which gave me enough confidence to carry out the tasks from the Stable Manager.

I definitely gained a lot of confidence during my placements and during the year as a whole. I can honestly say that I am loving my university experience so far and am so grateful to everyone at WGS who helped me to get there. Cambridge is everything I had hoped it would be and more, and the same can be said for the Veterinary Medicine course. I am enjoying the second year and embracing the challenge of not only a more difficult, but a more interesting year too!