The idyllic backdrop to your stressesElla Jones

For so many of us, whether we're willing to admit it or not, Cambridge was always the goal. Sure, you told people you didn't really care or that you loved Bristol when you looked around, but secretly, deep down, this is what you desperately wanted. You would never have been happy somewhere else.

I'm not saying that there aren't other incredible unis or that you're better than somebody else because you shine with that gilded Oxbridge seal of approval – only your ego wouldn't have been satisfied by going to another university.

My mum always tells me, "when God wants to punish you, he answers your prayers". Well, that really rang true when I started at Cambridge. Suddenly you’re a part of this renowned institution – an institution dripping with prestige and global acclamation – and you feel this pang, this overwhelming concern that you are demonstrably out of place.

An array of queries and questions start to crop up on a daily basis: am I good enough to be here? Is that person more intelligent than I am? Is the point I just made in this supervision utterly irrelevant and contrived? Why the hell does everyone know what the anapestic hexameter is? Did I get taught that in school? Seriously, what is anapestic hexameter?

You have this constant worry that at some point, someone is going to turn around and tell you that there was some admissions mistake, and that you are actually not supposed to be here at all. Because, as you suspected, you are just a moron.

Senate House: Cambridge's academic pressures manifested in brickElla Jones

Impostor syndrome is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a "fraud". It is most commonly found in women. First discovered in 1978, the syndrome is now widely recognised as customarily affecting high achievers or academics. The likes of Meryl Streep, Albert Einstein and Serena Williams have all suffered with it during
their careers.

While a Cambridge career is slightly different, it is a career nonetheless. You start off, metaphorically, as the tea bitch. You do not know anyone in the office. You do not understand how the photocopier works. You are yet to learn which sandwiches to avoid on the lunch tray or that Pete from accounting tends to get a bit handsy at the Christmas party. You are the bottom of the pile and it seems that whatever you try to do you invariably get wrong.

However, slowly but surely, you work your way up. You make friends with Simone and together you hide from your boss and smoke fags in the loos. You figure out how to cheat the vending machine and work the coffee dispenser in the conference room. You claim a parking space as your own and other people don’t use it. After a while, you are established.

Maybe you are the least intelligent person in your supervision group. Maybe you are not destined for a first. But frankly, it doesn't matter

After two years at Cambridge, you start to get the hang of it. You realise that there are people here who are far more intelligent than you are, but also that there are also people here who you genuinely think are complete imbeciles; some of the content you produce will be excellent, but some of it will be truly, truly horrendous; some weeks
you’ll catch a break, and others you’ll feel like you’re about to drown in your own inadequacy.

Unfortunately it's not the case that when you reach your final year, as I now have, the self-doubt melts away and your academic life falls miraculously into place. I am not alight with joy for my first supervision of term on Thursday – in fact, I am full of dread. Not because I don’t know my DoS or even because I’m wildly under-prepared (which I am): it's because I still can’t pronounce any of the names of the Greek playwrights I’m studying, and I’m desperately hoping that I can avoid saying ‘Aeschylus’ for the duration of the meeting. Otherwise I will undoubtedly pronounce it incorrectly, make a fool of myself, have to be pitifully corrected and, once again, attest to my existence as a complete fraud who shouldn’t really be here.

Although you’ll find your feet in so many ways in and around Cambridge, that underlying uncertainty is not something that you’ll necessarily grow out of in your three years here. Unlucky.


Mountain View

Don't tell me that words can't hurt

But I wasted so much of my first year worrying about whether I was supposed to be here that I missed the opportunity to actually enjoying being here. Maybe you are the least intelligent person in your supervision group. Maybe you are not destined for a first. Maybe there was someone better than you who missed out on a place here. But frankly, it doesn’t matter.

The next three years are about to move at an incredibly fast pace, and forgetting to enjoy the opportunity you now have is the only really stupid thing you could do with your time here.

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