Don's diary

October 24, 1997


Got back from Oxford on a rambling grey bus, which eventually reaches Cambridge after lurching along the scenic route for three hours. I had been there to hand in my MSc dissertation, due in at noon today, at the examination schools. The clerk of the schools was surprised and said "a bit early, aren't you?", claiming that most students rush to hand in their work at five minutes to 12. I can believe that, but I was not going to take any chances.


Yesterday was officially the last day of my graduate course. Today I am a member of the faculty, for it is the first day of my new job as a junior research officer. I hope I will not get challenged entering the staff toilets. I decide I had better start dressing in some less studenty outfits. I am very impressed that I am allocated my own office and spend some time taking down the crusty telephone lists left on the walls by the previous occupant. This room has been used as a graveyard for dead computer hardware; luckily the computer officer arranges for the unwanted equipment to be carted away. Get given my password and try to log in to my PC. Next is a meeting with people who will be working with me on the project. A massive international conference in the field is being held in Cambridge in August next year and I am already asked to help organise a satellite meeting. Did not manage to do much real work on my first day, but hope that I will find out more about our project tomorrow.


Spend some time trying to get used to my PC and reading my colleagues' notes in order to understand the ins and outs of the research I will be doing. Discover the common room, apparently the place to find out what is going on in the department. Go to the university library to get a reader's ticket and try to look plausibly like a university officer. Get a ticket with full borrowing rights, a privilege that would probably have been a lot more useful while I was researching my dissertation over the summer.


Left the door of my office open today in an effort to find out who else works here. This is definitely not like being on a corridor in halls, as most people here do not even know the person in the office next door.


New staff induction at the university centre. Fifty or so new staff members are warmly welcomed by the pro vice chancellor. We learn the Cambridge jargon - for example a syndicate is a university committee, and not a way of bringing more Lottery money into the university. We hear about the monastic roots of Cambridge, particularly a new spin on the tradition of vocation: "People here work very long hours for not much money". The future of the university post-Dearing casts a long shadow, particularly as college fees are an endangered species. We touch on how to get a college fellowship, a useful piece of insider information I pass on to colleagues later. Get given a talk about "how the university works" - just as well someone round here knows. I emerge feeling most inspired, especially by one speaker, who used to be a researcher not only in my department, but also in my very own office. Collect the new staff guide, the first edition in 800 years apparently. Circulate at the coffee break, making an effort to introduce myself to people. Decide that this frenzied socialising is a lot like the first day of starting university as a student. Leave at lunchtime as the afternoon session is on juggling teaching and research, glad that this should not be a problem for me as I am only permitted to do four hours teaching a week anyway. When I return I find the department deserted. Ask the only person I can find if everyone has gone down to the pub for Friday lunch. Am told that this is unlikely, as people only go out together anywhere if someone is leaving. Realise I have still got quite a bit to learn about the culture of the place.


Cambridge is clogged up in the fashion typical of the new academic year: family cars in which the driver has zero visibility, a bicycle strapped on the top and a dazed-looking fresher staring out of the back. Parents look harassed as they negotiate the new pedestrianised areas of Cambridge. Weary-looking council employees in yellow jackets raise and lower the bollards to enable cars to approach the central colleges. As a fledgling academic I cause much confusion by going to the university outfitters in Cambridge to order an Oxford MSc gown. Situation is resolved by me talking to their Oxford branch over the telephone in the back room. The salesman apologises that he cannot send it that day, but this weekend is one of their busiest, with the undergraduates returning. The man explains to me that there is not much call for MSc gowns, which perhaps explains why it costs nearly five times as much as a BA gown. Being a professional intellectual has its price.

LAVINIA MITTON Junior research officer, department of applied economics,University of Cambridge.

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