Kirsten Drew/Unsplash

Every year, society fairs are staples of any freshers’ week calendar. They promise free stuff, an early chance to meet people from other colleges and a seemingly endless array of societies looking to entice you into joining. Having successfully navigated through my college’s smaller fair the day before, I set off to the uni-wide one on Parker’s Piece feeling somewhat confident. How hard could writing my name down for a few more things I’d probably never actually attend be? 

The ones who had the easiest job recruiting freshers were those behind the stalls of careers-based societies. I’m talking the investment banking, law and insert any other generic industry here type ones. These are the holy grail for humanities students such as myself for whom unemployment or teaching can quickly seem to be the two most likely options if nothing is done to improve your employability, to use that ghastly term. Slapping the logos of some of the top firms on their posters was a sure-fire way to flex their graduate-salary boosting credentials. These stalls had no trouble attracting students, even in their multiple and seemingly competing incarnations. I never did understand what the difference between 180 Degrees Consulting, the Cambridge Consulting Network, and the Cambridge Consulting Society was exactly. Maybe next year. 

The rugby team assured me that ‘good chat’ was much higher up in the list of desirable attributes than the ability to actually play rugby

Of the rest, some tried to entice you with sweets, others went for the more brute force method of forcing a laptop in your hand and demanding your CRSID. Some embraced stereotypes of themselves, others were clearly eager to recruit a wider array of new recruits. These had all been features of the much smaller college fair, which included the sight of the rugby team confronting their stereotypes by necking Coronas behind their stall. They seemed sure on only two things; that training was strictly optional, and that the complementary tie was objectively ugly. They also assured me that ‘good chat’ was much higher up in the list of desirable attributes than the ability to actually play rugby. To someone who was more interested in the socials than the matches and who is not immune to the odd questionable clothing choice, this sold me straight away. I can since report that the inaugural social definitely didn’t stray far from this philosophy. Walking around Cambridge in a suit and tie on top and rugby kit on the bottom proved a sure-fire way of bonding as a team, even if it did eradicate any vestige of coolness I’d been able to accumulate in the first few weeks. But hey, I guess in sport you have to make sacrifices.

The much larger fair on Parker’s Piece provided some similar moments of levity. Wading my way through the people and stalls, it often felt like an obstacle course as your attention shifted from the Taylor Swift appreciation society one minute to the Marxist Society the next. That’s not to say that these societies’ stalls lacked the salespersons’ charm. Upon winding up the budding Marxists by jesting that I was more of a UKIP guy myself, rather than recoiling in disgust, they said they were always looking to hear alternative points of view.

I can only hope my junk inbox kicks into action soon

It remains to be seen how many of these brief interactions and QR code scans translate into regular events in my calendar, as much as those permanent mailing lists try to hold my inbox hostage. Six weeks in and with reading lists coming thick and fast, I’m now realising maybe I was being too optimistic in my ability to juggle so many commitments. I now suspect much of my year will be spent attempting to separate emails from my supervisors from invitations to wine-tastings, psychedelic discussions and talks on economic pluralism. I guess I can only hope my junk inbox kicks into action soon.