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The Cambridge experience is really about extra-curriculars

Nobody can HACK (hehe) just doing academics

Cambridge Cantab extracurricular Freshers Freshers Week Oxbridge societies wholesome

Walking through the Grafton on Saturday, surrounded by housemates and familiar faces, the buzz in the air as thousands of people descended upon Midsummer Common stirred something kind of primal in me. Childlike excitement for the explosions in the sky.

Fireworks night is a special event, but it only comes around once a year. Getting my fix for excitement throughout the year turns me towards the many societies, charities and teams that litter the universities non-academic landscape. It took me a while to really get stuck into some of these, but three years on and a load of stash later I’m here to share why you should get involved.

A quick note, however. Everyone is different, you all have different skills, interests and talents. Don’t feel you have to be amazing at something before starting it, or that you have to do every society you come across. Trying new things, things that you might be generally awful at is part of finding your grove.

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All the stash

Jumping in at the deep end can be daunting for freshers, or even for older hands. Find a topic that you like, events that interest you and just go for it. For me, it was mental health, as I became an SMC Rep in Lent of my first year and I haven’t looked back since. Starting in college can be a nice first step. There is less pressure or competition for places and lots of sports teams are more chill and willing to take complete newbies. If you come to Cambridge with a passion, there will be a society that will let you continue it. Don’t be limited to your previous experience, though – exploring the weird and wonderful underbelly of Cambridge life is a joy.

Time and energy are precious currency for students. While there is external pressure, that DoSes and supervisors will often place upon your extracurricular time, the far more important factor in deciding what to do is your own expectations and choices. I would by lying if I said the number of extracurricular activities I take on hasn't affected some parts of my degree. That was my choice, however. It was conscious and thought-through based upon what I wanted to do in these short three/four years.

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And I'm so HAPPY about it ©Sid Neelson

University is a very special time – it’s unique time in our lives, one that we probably won’t get again. Yes, your degree is important, but like any full time job, it’s not the only thing that should take up your time. This is a time to explore, to have fun. Laugh, drink and be silly. If you are seriously worried about not fitting it all in, go for low commitment or just show up to an event that doesn’t require sign up.

On a note of caution, about that last point, don’t ever feel you should always be busy. Be wary of FOMO, it’s often unfounded. We all need rest, to calm and relax. Going hell for leather all day, apart from rare moments of sleep will undoubtedly leave you in a worse state than if you missed one Cindies night or Union event.

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They're not all as fun as this © Freddie Dyke

Most of my project are driven by passion. Be it netball, mental health or ball planning. While many of them start as just something that would be interesting or fun, they develop into deeply personal experiences that have enriched my time here. That same fireworks thrill fills me just before the guests are let in, or when we get some progress from the university. Not every activity has to be this explosive. There is simple enjoyment to be had after a victorious netball match, or even a hard-fought loss.

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My proudest moment on the court

First and foremost, I love science. Always have and always will. With any long-term relationship, we sometime needs time apart and the chance to explore different avenues. I am forced to take a break occasionally, to write this column or order a metric ton of glitter. Coming back to the lab having not fried my brain the night before on the intricacies of a chromatin remodeller makes micro pipetting bearable.

At times there can be an obsession around the amount of extra stuff you can do, or even the type of stuff. Not overly surprising. For better or worse, competition is rampant at this university. I’ll give the exact same advice I give about working: go at your own pace, ignore what other people are doing and don’t care what anyone else thinks about you. If it all gets too much, don’t worry about dropping some of it.

Finally, it doesn’t have to be serious, organised or official. If you enjoy it then that is all that matter.