Gabby - Gonville & Caius, English
Date attended Ashmole: 2008-2015
A Levels: English Literature, Chemistry, Biology. History to AS Level
University: Cambridge, Gonville and Caius College
What are you doing now?
I am currently in my final year so I am working on two dissertations and three exam papers. The dissertations are 7,500 words each and I chose to substitute one exam for a second dissertation. One dissertation is on Eileen Myles who is a contemporary American poet and it is about how she writes with, through and out of shame. I haven’t started the second one yet but I plan to look at the discourse of hysteria both from the perspective of medically-trained men and literary women. It will probably be about how these narratives sometimes cohere and sometimes compete. In third year, you can focus heavily on visual culture so I will probably also include some medical art.
The exam papers I am doing are practical criticism, tragedy and lyric. We do ‘practical criticism’ across all three years, which is basically just close-reading. The tragedy paper is compulsory but I have really enjoyed it. You look at the Greeks, Shakespeare and then any ‘modern’ writers you like (Sarah Kane, Henrik Ibsen, Anton Chekhov, Martin Krimp). I am yet to start the lyric paper, but broadly speaking all short, subjective poems are considered ‘lyric poetry’. I plan to start by looking at medieval lyric and Sappho.
What did/do you get involved with at university?
Predictably, I established the feminist society at my college just like I did at Ashmole. It is called the Joyce Frankland Society and you can check us out on facebook https://www.facebook.com/jfsoc and firstname.lastname@example.org . We organise weekly events - talks, discussions, workshops, debates, which are sometimes student-led but at other times involve fellows or external speakers. College gives us a fair amount of funding so in the past the editors of ‘Consented’ and Kimberly McIntosh, a writer from ‘Gal-dem’ has come in and we have big plans for events on International Women’s Day!
Apart from that, I have recently been involved with student journalism. I was Fashion and Beauty Editor for The Cambridge Student (TCS), which essentially involved writing and commissioning articles, conducting interviews and directing photoshoots. I gave up the role at the end of this term but it was super fun and I wish I’d been involved sooner! You can see some of my work on the website www.tcs.cam.ac.uk/fashionbeauty and the TCS Facebook page have recently put up all the photos from the photoshoots: www.facebook.com/TheCambridgeStudent
What did you find most valuable about your experiences at Ashmole Academy? What skills did it help you to develop?
As a school, I think Ashmole places a huge emphasis on reflection both on an academic and personal level. I always felt like I knew what level I was working at and what I have to do to achieve. There are the target sheets, regular assessments and teachers that know you individually. You don’t get the same structure to your academic reflection once you go to university. I also always felt encouraged to reflect on myself and the world around me. It might seem inconsequential, but Form time is a really important reflection period and Ashmole formalises that with ‘thought of the day’ and afternoon activities that encouraged discussion of current affairs and other important topics. I was lucky enough to have a Form Tutor who was a Philosophy teacher, which meant the conversations were always stimulating. Beyond that, you are given opportunities like the EPQ, which is a great way of pursuing your own interests outside of the syllabus while being supported by the school still. Ashmole is definitely where I learnt to reflect and think both broadly and deeply.
Which Programme/s did you get involved in during 6th Form e.g. MedSoc, Oxbridge? other:
What top tips would you give to other students wishing to follow a similar career to yours?
When I first arrived at university, my Director of Studies said that degree-level English is most similar to Maths. I initially disregarded the comment but now I understand that when you pursue a degree in English you are learning to become a critic, so you are learning to both read and write sensitively. These are skills required to develop, understand and then be able to transfer; they are not things you can memorise. My top tip to those wishing to pursue a degree in English would therefore be just to read lots and write lots. There is endless literature, so don’t worry too much about what you ‘should have’ read. Read what you are interested in, including criticism. Then you can use that reading to experiment with your own writing style. Mimicry is a fun way to work out your own critical voice. This doesn’t mean you should have developed completely as a critic before university, otherwise there is no point going, it just means you should start the process. I wish I had understood this earlier!
How did Ashmole help you reach your goals?
When it came to applying for university, I was initially reluctant to apply to Oxbridge, mainly because I didn’t think I would get in anyway. The teachers at Ashmole reassured me of my potential and encouraged me to apply regardless of the outcome. The tireless support system at Ashmole helped me build my confidence and recognize my ambitions, which I believe got me through the Cambridge interviews and then A-Level exams. I found Ashmole a very nourishing environment.
Please write a quote that sums up your experience at Ashmole.
"Ashmole is a fantastic place to develop academically and personally, as a young adult!"