New year, new you

Ilona Harding-Roberts reflects on the positive life (and uni) lessons she has learned from Michaelmas

Ilona Harding-Roberts

lona Harding-Roberts

Ah, Michaelmas. A weird term for all. If you are a fresher, it was most likely a blur of excitement, nerves, library hours and severe hangovers. If you’re a second or third year, with your eyes open to the reality of Cambridge, then I can relate to the mix of excitement and weary anticipation a new term brings.

If we’re being honest with ourselves, terms don’t always go to plan. First term of last year, I found myself completely overwhelmed – both with the nerves that accompany a huge change, and the shock of moving to somewhere like Cambridge. At my lowest points, I was drinking dangerously, missing meetings and important admin deadlines, cutting my family off, and just generally not coping. Yet I still enjoyed the term so much I couldn’t wait to get back – I just had to have a little talk with myself first. So here, for all of you who’ve had a bad first term (or even just a bad week), are my top tips for turning it all around:

"What I mean is, don’t just get into a pattern of going out because it’s what you always do – doing something wacky, like going to a life-drawing class with friends or even just staying in and doing your nails, can be just as much fun (honest)"

Nightlife negotiations

Good news! You don’t have to go to Cindies, Friday Life, Fez and Lola’s all in one week to have a good time here! Honestly, the clubs in Cambridge are of questionable quality anyway, with the expense, space, and queues being just some of the problems. For Lent, I’d recommend going out only when and if you want to.

What I mean is, don’t just get into a pattern of going out because it’s what you always do – doing something wacky, like going to a life-drawing class with friends or even just staying in and doing your nails, can be just as much fun (honest). Plus, it makes the nights you do go out really exciting and fun, rather than just another Cambridge ritual doomed to lose its sheen.


My end-of-Michaelmas supervision report included the word “catastrophic” – no lie. My first essay was so bad I was told it should be “ripped up and thrown in a fire”. Needless to say, on the academic side, I really wasn’t doing too well. I went into panic mode about this, obviously, but decided I had to turn it around.

During the holidays, I read the books I should have read, spent time looking at my papers, and – as cheesy as it sounds – learned to love my degree. Even though it hadn’t been the most restful break, I came back fresh, more organised (thanks to my expensive investment in a Paperchase daily planner, £8.99), and ready for Lent. Don’t panic, though, if you didn’t work over Christmas – it’s unlikely that your situation was as bad as mine, and even if it was, there’s still time to turn it around.

The important thing to remember is that your degree is not your life, and that it should be at least marginally enjoyable. Tell yourself you’re a talented, brilliant and bright student, who deserves their place – and make use of the opportunity you’ve got here.

Friendship groups and their dynamics

£8.99 well spent – although the schedule was definitely not stuck to...Ilona Harding-Roberts

Before starting any university, one of the most common worries is about making friends. Everyone is in the same boat, though, which means you do eventually realise that most people are lovely and friendly. However, by the end of Michaelmas, I started to realise that uni isn’t about the number of people you know, it’s the strength of your relationship with them.

Appreciate the people you can drink tea with in your pyjamas. Cherish those who have seen you in your worst state, and have stuck around for the aftermath. Do nice things for the people you care about, and check on their wellbeing as much as they check on yours. In this place, you need it.


Before coming to Cambridge, I had obviously heard of the big dogs: the Union, the Footlights, Varsity, and others. In my head, to be successful and happy here, you had to be a part of all of these and more besides – that, after all, was the point of Cambridge. I was so worried in Michaelmas that I was failing myself and wasting my time here by not being a part of these that I stopped focusing on the things I actually needed to be doing – like my degree.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your extra-curriculars, or even by the people around you spinning a million plates at once, try to remember that you do have a lot of time here. Go for things, take opportunities, but also be prepared to walk away from the things that just aren’t for you. That way, Lent will be full of your favourite things to do, not just activities you’ve pushed yourself into.


Mountain View

Enough brain to go around?

Self-applied pressure

And finally, a little note on the pressure we put ourselves under (which is often immense). Shortly after arriving here, it’s expected that you’ll adjust to the intense work hard, play hard lifestyle. But this isn’t necessarily healthy, especially when you’re trying to maintain it for eight weeks. Take me seriously when I say you need some time to yourself, to relieve the stress of Cambridge, whether it’s academic or social.

Take this pressure off with a bubble bath, some chilled tea-and-biscuit evenings, or just some good old fashioned sleep.

Trust me, you’ll feel like a new you