Interview at Selwyn College

A bush-lined path with a black sign bearing the words "Selwyn College Beware Cyclists"

For Elliot.

Applying to the University of Cambridge was never going to be an easy undertaking. Already I had to submit my UCAS application several months before everyone else, then send of a long series of forms, then sit an entrance examination. Finally (for this year at least) I had to travel to Cambridge in person to attend three interviews with the faculty.

It would not have been feasible to make the journey there and back in a single day, so I left home on Tuesday 13th December and headed for Hull Paragon. I took the 11:23 to Doncaster where, according to my ticket receipt, I was supposed to catch a connection to Stevenage. The timetable, however, was thrown off by a failure some way down the line so I was ushered onto a different service (actually a much earlier train which had already been stuck at Doncaster for about an hour) and told to get off at Peterborough instead. Naturally all of my other connections were lost and so wound up taking the scenic route through Ely before finally arriving in Cambridge at 16:30. My hopes of arriving in daylight had been dashed.

Undeterred I left the station and headed for Selwyn College. This did not go to plan so some time later I returned to the station and got a taxi instead. That journey was much faster (owing to the driver’s unconventional interpretation of both speed limits and the road-pavement divide) and I was able to receive my room key from the porter’s lodge. My accommodation did not have an en suite bathroom – this was shared with the neighbouring room – but it did have a piano, which is not found in most hotel rooms. I was also given six meal vouchers to be used in the dining hall.


Selwyn’s campus has a split identity: I was housed in Old Court (which you see on most publicity shots), filled with nineteenth-century Gothic revivalism. Behind this, though, you will find a series of strikingly modern buildings for the actual teaching. There is also Ann’s Court, which seems mostly to be of Palladian design.

My first interview was with Doctor Rosie Bolton and Professor Bill Clegg. Bolton showed me a photograph of a walking lawn sprinkler and had me calculate the rate of water flow, the pressure and various other quantities. Clegg then showed me a molecular diagram of a large solid and asked me about the science of driving a wedge through it.

My second interview was with M Smith and Doctor James Keeler. Smith asked me to differentiate and integrate the graphs of trigonometric functions, then Keeler quizzed me on electrophilic addition.

The last session was the general interview. Doctor Daniel Beauregard pondered my career interests beyond university and wanted to know about my extra-curricular interests (such as the internet company and the tower). He also asked for copies of my modular examination certificates. The formal business of my visit was thus concluded. In an excursion spread over three days, the interviews themselves had comprised little more than an hour.

After the second night I departed Selwyn and walked back to the railway station. The return journey was far easier as the station was regularly signposted whereas the university was not, though while walking through a large leafy park I did wonder if I had gone astray, and at least one street sign appeared to have been rotated from its proper orientation. The trains back to Hull were all on schedule so I did not need to deviate from my planned route (coincidentally the planned route for the return was the same as the makeshift one for the original journey).

The application process is now out of my hands. I await the post on 11 January for the college’s decision.

Council Report for Michaelmas 2016

A canteen in darkness

The meeting didn’t last that long, did it?

Today was my last day at college for this year. Next week I shall be in Cambridge, giving an interview of Selwyn College, and after that the Christmas holiday begins. I may not see Wilberforce until January.

This term began for me exactly three months ago on Thursday 8th September. As the student council had dissolved several weeks prior, I had the odd experience of reverting to nothingness for the first few days. This state of affairs, though, was short-lived: I had already been asked to return as Secretary for my second year and my reappointment had near-immediate effect.

Last year the council had a slow start as our convener, Katherine Oldershaw, held an introductory session first and then launched the presidential elections. Only after Thomas Gill had been declared victorious (with Miss Alice Longton as his Vice-President) did the council finally begin on the 10th November. This time, per our requests, we had our first meeting on 22nd September. The fact that we had changed the order of events meant that the council was headless for the first four meetings. Katherine essentially made me the acting leader, including making provisional portfolio appointments and chairing once in her absence. The new members (there were only three continuing presences) were eager to make suggestions for improving the college, in particular putting forth a proposal for a so-called “Holistic Pamper Day” to ease the stress of examinations.

Our first major event was on 6th October, when councillors ran a stall at the college’s Freshers’ fair. This aimed to get more people involved in the council, as well as advertising the presidential election and selling cards for the National Union of Students. The election itself was done by email, with polls open from 17th to 21st October. The winner was Mr Sohaib Muhammad, while the runner up (who then became Vice-President) was Miss Reham Bela.

On 4th November, The Lord Norton of Louth gave his speech. My report on the event made its way to Gina Page, Assistant Private Secretary at the Lord Speaker’s Office, who seemed rather impressed.

On 10th November the council’s scheduled meeting was replaced by a session with Tim Blackburn, who wished to advertise to us the Seeds of Change programme. He suggested that students form a company (his preferred form was the worker co-operative, and he gave us pamphlets to this effect) to sell the produce grown on college grounds, in particular concentrating on pizzas with college-grown toppings. He also showed us the kinds of things which could have been bought with the profits, such as outdoor shelters or new furniture.

I was not present for the Children in Need events of 18th November, but reports said that the council had collectively raised £70 for its part. At our meeting on 1st December we debated whether to go ahead or not with the Seeds of Change proposal. Ultimately we decided to put out a student survey on the matter to gauge the general level of interest. A councillor also requested a survey on how to deal with lunchtime queueing (this issue has been a perpetual bug). It was at this meeting that I and the president were formally invited to the meeting of the corporation.

This was to be Muhammad’s first such meeting and my fourth, though it was my first time as a full member. The corporation (which might as well be called the board of governors) contains two student members. The President of the Student Council is automatically one of these, with the other post being open for any councillor to take. All members of the council are additionally allowed to attend corporation meetings as observer status, as I did (the second governorship having gone to Vice-President Longton, though she never actually attended).

The meeting lasted from 16:30 to 19:00. Ordinarily the Student Council section was done first, and the students were not obligated to remain afterwards (indeed I have several times seen other governors disappear midway through sessions). This time, however, our presentation was buried deep in the agenda. A knock-on effect of this was that our gubernatorial appointments did not formally take place until about an hour into the meeting, which also meant that we were not actually allowed to read some of the key documentation for the first stretch. The report was well appreciated, and the governors offered to publish it on-line with the rest of the minutes.

The next day I minuted my final plenary of this term. It was mostly centred around Christmas celebrations, though we also had some notices from the Hull Student Forum (which we largely rejected as spam) and from the United Kingdom Youth Parliament. We also, naturally, recounted a summary of the preceding day’s corporation meeting. On unusual development was that Katherine presented me with an information pack from the House of Lords, containing six booklets and a mouse-pad. Apparently, it was sent following their reception of my report on Professor Norton’s visit. I am still unsure as to how I should respond to this, except with the realisation that the council has no policy on official gifts.

Since I shall be absent for the meeting next week (if, indeed, there is one at all) I shall have to temporarily appoint an under-secretary to whom to discharge my responsibilities. The show, after all, must go on, and someone must ensure it is properly transcribed.