Christian Austin recently completed an MPhil in Criminology at Darwin CollegeJoe Cook

350 mature students study at the University of Cambridge, coming from all over the world and bringing with them a wide variety of life experiences which often greatly impress the 18 year olds with whom they share their lectures. Few, however, would have as remarkable a story as Christian Austin, who Switchboard interviewed this week for our episode on mature students – Maturing with Age.

A heroin addict for 17 years and spending a total of 10 years in a prison cell over a 20-year period, Christian recently completed an MPhil in Criminology at Darwin College following undergraduate study in Cardiff.

Raised on a council estate in Hampshire but spending time as a child in various care homes, Christian had his first run in with the law at age 6 and began truanting from school and taking drugs from the age of 12. Christian injected heroin for the first time aged just 18. Several decades of intermittent imprisonment followed, including spells at the foreboding Dartmoor prison. But despite the hostile prison environment and the heavy cloud of addiction, Christian, inspired by his mother, sought to educate himself as best as possible.

He read extensively including novels by Hugo, Dumas, Solzhenitsyn and Hardy whilst in jail. Pursuing his musical talents – Christian plays the saxophone, guitar and sings – have also always been of great interest. Not wanting his own children to follow the same path that he, and Christian’s father who was an alcoholic, had followed, Christian entered a rehabilitation centre and moved to a new city to begin a new chapter of his life at the age of 35. Christian credits the help he received at the centre, as well as moving away from the town where he grew up and where the temptation of drug use was often too hard to resist, as significant factors in him being able to start out in adult life a second time.

He first got in contact with a Cambridge professor whilst researching his undergraduate dissertation on music in prisons

Christian hasn’t touched heroin since 1997, and in the years after his release he worked as a construction worker before, following redundancy in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008, he sought to pursue his academic interests. He first got in contact with a Cambridge professor whilst researching his undergraduate dissertation on music in prisons, and once he graduated, applied to study at Cambridge University. Now, just over 20 years since he turned his back on addiction and resultant crime, Christian, father of four and the first person in his family to attend university, looks forward to potentially continuing his academic career by pursuing a PhD.

Another interviewee this week was Ulysses Chow who worked as a private investigator in Hong Kong before his arrival in Cambridge in 2017. Most commonly employed to investigate suspected extramarital affairs and custody cases, Ulysses spent up to 8 hours a day watching, recording and taking photos of his targets. The intimate nature of private investigating became clear to Ulysses as he uncovered aspects of his targets’ lives which they believed to be entirely secret, with significant consequences for them and their families. Now a second-year law student, Ulysses is comfortable with the legal status of investigating, but views his days as a private eye as being behind him.


Mountain View

Juggling babies and a bachelor's

Switchboard also spoke with Joshua Agbo, who recently graduated with a PhD from Anglia Ruskin University, arriving in the UK with an already established academic career in his home country of Nigeria. A published author prior to his arrival in Cambridge, Joshua seeks to publicise alternative narratives of African history, becoming involved in Cambridge-based efforts to decolonise the curriculum.

To listen to our interviews this week in full, our Maturing with Age episode can be found on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and all other major podcast platforms where all our episodes from last year are also available to download. Each week Switchboard seeks to connect listeners with people in Cambridge with interesting stories to tell. If you have heard any unusual stories from around Cambridge this week, please don’t hesitate to contact us at