James Crosby - My Geochemical Life (so far...)

header photo

My first term in Cambridge

I take this next blog post to talk about my first semester starting as a PhD student here at the University of Cambridge. Cambridge is largely an extremely serious place with high achieving academic strutting the streets and walking the halls, but thankfully I have been keeping true to myself and operating on what has gotten me to this point.

After an awesome summer of travelling, conferencing and relaxing, it was time to begin my new geochemical life at the University of Cambridge. I have always considered myself to be a small fish, but thankfully St Andrews was a nice and small town in which I could enjoy myself. Although Cambridge is small in size, it is huge in activity and academic buzz. Shortly after arriving into Cambridge I was filled with the expected “Imposters Syndrome”. A syndrome by which I immediately felt like I was out of my league compared to the academic abilities and achievements many of my peers had. Thankfully, I soon had the opinion that I had come here not necessarily for showing academic brilliance or achievement, I had come here because I was awarded the opportunity to show these traits and to fulfil my potential. And so, just as the semester had arrived my opportunity had begun.

On the 30th of September, 2017 I formally matriculated as a member of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge. As with many things in Cambridge, it’s a nice formal affair in which we dress in our typical attire (long black robes, suit and tie) and take part in a traditional welcoming ceremony. The stand out moment was being addressed by the Dr John Xuereb, Dean of the college. Dr Xuereb is the person who oversees discipline, or as he refers to it “acting in a way to permit us from inhibiting the ability of another person at the college to succeed”. He is a well-spoken man who made it clear that if the only time we ever see him again was at graduation then it had been a successful relationship. Following this, I attended one of many formals provided through college. Formals are great. They are basically a formal event in which we dress in traditional attire, are greeted and dismissed by a Latin prayer, but largely involve eating lots of food and drinking more than a fair share of wine. I try not to get involved with too many of these, but resistance is futile.

In the coming days, I began my introduction to the department and my academic cohort. I was very pleased when I arrived at my office I had inherited a tank full of goldfish – Tinkerbell and Gizmo. I was also pleased at how social the department is, with communal coffee and lunch breaks to keep the mind clear. The department is split into two sites, but thankfully I am based in central Cambridge a stone throw away from all the lunch options. A highlight was the Christmas meal at a sweet pub near Jesus college where people were in good spirits (pardon the pun).

Now to the business, how has the research started? In all honesty, I have mixed feelings. I have been fortunate than I inherited an absolutely bitchin sample set from a retired professor. These wacky samples are going to largely form the first year of my academic research. I am to petrographically analyse them, geochemically investigate them and then interpret the relationship. The frustration I have is that I’ve only really done the petrographic characterisation, meaning I still have all the geochemistry to do. As a geochemist, I am excited for this but was hoping to get more done before Christmas. But when taking a step back I realise this apparent slow productivity isn’t because I was lazy, its because I spent so much time introducing myself to the PhD concepts that doing any geochemical analysis by this point was probably unrealistic.

Outside of my academic and college life, I have actually been enjoying myself. I tried my hand at rugby league, aiding in a sensational victory for the 1st team over the University of Derby. I’ve also tried my hand at scientific journalism through “New Principia”. But my key enjoyment has come through volunteering at the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences. It feels amazing to help members of the public learn about the evolution of Earth and I am thoroughly excited to help in the future. It feels really good when I can point at a dinosaur and be like “yo, check out this cool dinosaur”, and the person is like “wow”.  

My highlight of my time this semester has not actually been spent in Cambridge. The highlight was my graduation from the University of St Andrews. Although the ceremony was ceremonious, the most amazing thing was having so many members of my family come from the USA to visit me specifically for the event. I had my fathers and mothers side of the family make the epic trip across the pond just to see little old me. As a group of 11 strong, we stormed the St Andrews Waffle Company and had an incredibly memorable time. It is a day that I will remember for the rest of my life.

My take away point from my first semester in Cambridge is that actually, things aren’t as crazy, intense or potentially demoralising as I first thought. After only a few months I am confident to say that Cambridge is just another researching University with some epic colleges, cool people and an incredible opportunity.

Enjoy the holidays everyone - JC

Go Back


Blog Search

Blog Archive


There are currently no blog comments.