Ilya will start his PhD in Switzerland in May Ilya Carey

NatSci student, Ilya Carey, decided to start a YouTube channel during the long vac before his third year. Now a bone fide content creator, Ilya discusses his thoughts on the Varsity ski trip, being scouted for Big Brother and his side hustle of selling stick insects.

Ilya submitted his final thesis for his MPhil in Biological Sciences in December, spending a year looking at DNA replication initiation in human cells. After spending Michaelmas working as a supervisor for a second-year BioNatSci paper at Selwyn and Clare, he is currently taking a well-deserved break before starting a PhD program in Switzerland in May. We arranged to meet as Ilya was on the train travelling from Toulouse to Barcelona and we later reconvened once he arrived in Barcelona.

“Ilya is, in some ways, the nepo-baby of Cambridge studytube”

Ilya decided to start his YouTube channel principally for two reasons. First, “to make a bit of money”– he’d previously earnt £12 an hour working at a tutoring company to teach A-Level Chemistry. Secondly, he thought he would be “good at giving application advice” as he had a “good understanding of the admission system”. He admits that his first few videos were “quite shit” and doesn’t “really look back at them”, but he also notes that making good content isn't easy.

Ilya is, in some ways, the nepo-baby of Cambridge studytube. His college aunt was the infamous Jesus College YouTuber PaigeY and he wasn’t afraid to tap into “a bit of nepotism to boost the channel”. Alongside his early content describing his “interview experience, the Cambridge application process and his personal statement”, Ilya interviewed other Jesus College-based YouTubers like Astrid Godfrey. He also discussed the process of getting into Graduate Medicine with Shirley Bekker. He said that his channel boosted in popularity when it was shared by PaigeY and Ali Abdaal.

@ilyacambridge This is a very personal issue that strikes me very hard #CambridgeUniversity #oxforduniversity #uni #uk ♬ original sound - Ilya du soleil

Ilya says that he likes to share the stories of “impressive individuals” on his channel. He spoke with a fellow NatSci Jonathan Bostock who represented Great Britain in the 2018 International Chemistry Olympiad, winning a gold medal. Ilya said that “doing well in an Olympiad can be a gateway for getting into Oxbridge” and getting advice from current students can be really “valuable”.

“Not knowing how to study is a significant barrier” for students getting into Oxbridge. Ilya admitted that he, perhaps like the majority of Cambridge freshers, “didn’t have to develop good study techniques until my first year”. He’s a big advocate for studying efficiently, which is reflected in some of the more popular content on his channel.

Ilya filmed a video called “CaMbRiDgE iNtErViEw (colourised)” while he was “cooped up” during Michaelmas 2020 with COVID, describing it as his “first funny video”. He’s “not sure what inspired it”. Despite initially “worried about whether it was funny or not”, Ilya showed it to his housemates who encouraged him to post the video, which eventually was submitted for the Cambridge Footlights Online Smoker.

Ilya is critical of the “toxic productivity” perpetuated on social media – with StudyTubers – unironically “getting up at 4 am and reading a book”. “That’s what people want to see, what gets the views”.

Among the things he has documented is a recent side hustle of growing stick insects. “These Pokemon, bland little things become fancier as they undergo their developmental stages”. He was given a dozen stick insects by a friend-of-a-friend in his second year and resorted to selling the eggs that they laid on eBay, making a 100-pound profit.

@ilyacambridge Sigma cambridge students would just say yes #oxforduniversity #cambridgeuniversity #university #oxbridge #student #intelligence#interview ♬ original sound - Ilya du soleil

Ilya’s been on the last three Oxbridge Varsity ski trips and decided to “do a few Max Fosh-style videos” in the Val Thorens ski resort. “In general, they’ve been fun”.

“With 3000 Oxbridge students in the alps, the Varsity ski trip is the biggest, oldest, and probably poshest ski trip in the world.” Ilya recounted how “on the coach to the resort, some girls from Oxford were talking about their trust funds and how to avoid inheritance tax”. It “came across a bit out of touch”.

While Oxbridge students are typically “defensive about their privilege”, flexing their privilege “really comes out” on the ski trip.

Ilya worked as a supervisor for the Part IB BioNatSci paper, Evolution and Animal Diversity, teaching four students at Selwyn and Clare. The Department would “take anyone to be honest” and “no training of any sort, or guidance, was provided – you kind of have to turn up and supervise”. Ilya says he has a bit of “imposter syndrome” about his abilities as a supervisor. Although Ilya said “he probably wasn’t the best supervisor, he adds: “I was better than the worst supervisor I had, a PhD student who hadn’t studied as an undergrad at Cambridge, who couldn’t answer questions or get back to me”. As Ilya had sat the same Tripos paper three years ago, he hoped that he could provide his students with useful practical guidance on how to do well.

According to Ilya, “the supervision system at Cambridge is a lottery” and the “pay isn’t good”. The Cambridge supervision system does not enumerate supervisors for marking, but Ilya further elaborated that he “was not told how to mark essays” and had to be inspired by previous supervisors. He hopes that there could be “better communication from DoSes and course organisers”. He got into a disagreement with one of the DoSes about asking for 10 hours of work for 8 supervisions when he provided a few ninety-minute supervisions. While this was eventually resolved, Ilya remarks that “there’s no way he could be a supervisor long-term”.

“The average Cambridge student wouldn’t fit on Love Island”

As Ilya starts a new chapter in Switzerland, so does his channel, which will be renamed soon as Ilya tries to get away from Cambridge. He will be working on Evolutionary Biology, editing DNA in Bacteria and working in bioinformatics. Although he has “years to decide”, he wants to do “something he enjoys rather than Consulting or Banking”, and maybe will go into industry or academia if he enjoys research.


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On the topic of a potential career in reality TV, Ilya commented that the “average Cambridge student wouldn’t fit on Love Island” as “most Oxbridge students don’t have the same social skills or experience with partners” and there are “some emotionally and socially stunted students”. Yet, the Cambridge STEM stereotype clearly hasn’t put off “someone who scouts for Big Brother” from getting in touch with Ilya to be on the show.

Although he’s not sure that he will get enough allocated holidays on his PhD program to cover a six-week stint in the Big Brother House, Ilya hopes to accept it if he “gets an offer to be on the cast”. While Ilya is moving on from Cambridge, he may end up gracing our screens very soon.