As storied and unique as Cambridge is, its collegiate system is perhaps simultaneously the most baffling, interesting, and worthwhile. Particularly as a foreigner, I had little idea how to go about selecting one, or what would come with being a member of a college. I was originally bemused by this system and thought little more of it than an idiosyncrasy of an eight hundred year old university. It was after my arrival that I came to understand its value and appreciate what it had to offer.
On the surface, the colleges each provide accommodation, dinning facilities, pastoral care, and various funds and bursaries. Almost more valuable, however, is the community of scholars that it provides.
Obviously, the Faculty of Education provided me with a diverse community of both peers and senior academics. I quickly met people from all around the globe with a wide range of experiences and research interests. Naturally, everyone had a keen interest in education, which I greatly appreciated. However, I also quickly came to appreciate the diverse community in my college, Jesus College; I met students that I likely never would have come across if it had not been for the college system.
Through the MCR (“Middle Combination Room,” i.e. the college graduate society) events, my friend group expanded to include graduate students in archeology, pharmacology, development studies, geology, linguistics, plant sciences, and countless others. As a result, conversations over dinner are always fascinating and wide-ranging. While I have not become an expert in these other disciplines, I certainly have gained a modicum of understanding of some of the big issues—if not an appreciation for them. In some cases, these interdisciplinary discussions have even informed my research!
Beyond the community of people, my MCR provides another meaningful aspect to life in Cambridge. Getting involved meant a range of academic, social, and welfare activities outside of “work.” Having enjoyed the activities so much, I decided to get involved in the MCR committee and help. It not only gave me
something to do in the evenings, but gave me a further chance to get to know others in my college—not just graduate students, but undergrads, senior academics, and administrators.
As with many things, what you get out of college life depends on what you put into it. I have loved my experience in my college and MCR; I no longer see it a weird relic of the Middle Ages, but a strength of a modern university.
C.J. Rauch is a third year PhD student at the Faculty of Education researching pre-service teachers in undergraduate teacher-education programmes in the United States. He is the former president of the Jesus College MCR. You can follow him on Twitter at or read his research blog at