Friday, November 30, 2007

I’m free!

Finally, no more coursework! My lectures all ended last Wednesday but we the chemical engineers still have to finish two coursework (we call them exercises, which often cause confusion for non chem-engers since the term makes people think they’re not that significant). Handed them both early this afternoon, well before the 4:30 p.m. deadline.

I guess students are pretty much the same everywhere. Even in Cambridge, I saw people queuing up at the department’s reception at 4:30 handing their work in, still warm from the printer. I mean, really… if you can start doing your work just two days before and hand them in during the deadline, then why wouldn’t you just finish them in the first two days after they’re issued and get it all over with? Surely it’ll be less stressful that way.

On another note, I’m going to Wales next Monday until Wednesday for this engineering competition. I somehow got dragged into participating by a friend. Still, they pay for the hotel accommodation, and I got the chance to visit Wales again… sounds good to me.


Monday, November 26, 2007

Skating Rink

There’s a new temporary ice skating rink open in Cambridge at Parker’s Piece, a grassy field area near the town centre. I’ve seen it since two weeks ago but at that time I just wondered what the white-roofed construction was. The rink just started operating for the past few days and I guess I’m not the only one being excited by it. More like the whole of Cambridge population, judging by the number of people there.

Now, I know that ice skating rinks are no big deal in places like, say… London, but we never had one for the past two years that I live here, so I have a valid reason to be excited. What I need to do now is to find a few people to go skating together. Preferably those who don’t know how, so at least I won’t be embarrassing myself alone by falling down all over the place.


Friday, November 23, 2007

It’s Christmas, well… sort of

The thing about Cambridge is that it’s essentially a university town (or city, if you prefer). Which means that come December this picturesque place will be reduced to something resembling a ghost town since everybody will be gone. I’ve lived through this twice already so take my word for it. What this means is that it will be pointless to decorate the city in December for there’ll be nobody to appreciate it. Hence, events that are related to Christmas are happening now: Christmas lights on the street (even though they’re still not switched on), Christmas dinners and formals etc. etc.

We had the chemical engineering Christmas dinner last Tuesday. Last year it was held in Teri-Aki, a sushi restaurant which, even though the food was okay, doesn’t have the Christmassy feel to it. As a result, this year it’s held in a more appropriate English pub called The Anchor. Nice enough place. It’s next to the river, which is always a plus. To be honest, I’ve never been inside a pub in Cambridge to eat before, so it was quite an experience.

Just to note, I’ve been in a pub in Cambridge before. There was this young lady who played a game with her friends in which they have to bring a person they don’t know with them so she just grabbed me while I was walking along King’s Parade. Went to the pub, sat for like 30 seconds and left. Pretty hilarious though.

And the best pub food experience for me was when me and my dorm mates ate at the Olde Swan Inn in Llantwit Major, Wales. We were quite an international bunch: a Malaysian, a Ugandan, a Londoner with a Maori heritage and a Pakistani/American. I still remember that I ordered quesadillas, and that we all shared a humongous plate of nachos. An amazing gastronomical delight, that’s what it was.

Anyway, back to the present (or more precisely, the very recent past), the Christmas dinner was good. Had to choose the wild mushroom soup and stuffed trout instead of turkey or steak due to my dietary requirements, but that was good too (I’ve never actually tasted turkey, wonder what it’s like). Ended the meal with ruffled by chocolate (essentially a chocolate cake with cream and raspberries and a mint leaf; Christmas colours, see?). Many went to a pub afterwards, though I don’t see the point of paying to get into a bar when you don’t drink and will probably not dance but instead having to see other people get drunk and listen to some music blaring in your ears. So I went with some friends to one of our rooms and just chilled out and talked about guitars, Mike Tyson, interesting suicide attempts, St John’s porcelain cups, German punks, accordions and some other random bits and pieces.

Lectures end next Friday, so a lot of other people (me included) are waiting in anticipation and counting the days for December to arrive. In the meantime, there’s another Christmas dinner on Tuesday, so that ought to get me through the week.

Season’s greetings everyone.


Thursday, November 22, 2007


Saw this near the department the other day. Frankly, I was quite surprised.


Thursday, November 15, 2007


Hey ho! Sorry I haven’t written much lately. After that morose account of my mental health in my last post, I was tempted to bury it by writing other more cheerful posts, but nothing much is going on recently that are of significant interest. I’ve been meaning to write about this famous pub in Cambridge and I really want to have a picture to go with it but I can’t bring myself to act like an annoying tourist and just stand there with my camera phone. I’ll just wait for the right opportunity to snap a picture or two when no one’s looking, I guess.

And yeah, Cambridge students, especially those from colleges like Trinity or Kings, do tend to get annoyed when tourists like Asian tour groups or French school kids come and take pictures/stare while you’re eating in the hall, walking across the college or going to the shower wearing a bathrobe.

Lately, I’ve figured out that the best way to get rid of worrying about work is to get up and do them. This is based on the principle that you don’t worry about them if they’re finished. Then one night I was about to slip into bed when I started thinking about a coursework that has a deadline which is three weeks away. So I got up, went to my study table and worked on it in the middle of the night.

I guess I need to abandon this philosophy if I want to get some sleep.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

Annoying Mental Snag

For those of you who are close enough to me, I’m pretty sure you’ve heard this phrase countless time:

“I wanna be a student forever.”

And I’m also pretty sure that by now you’re sick and tired of hearing it. But I can’t help it, though. I really like student life. You study and make friends and do whatever and not worry about things like money and stuff. Okay, maybe that last bit isn’t true for everybody, but I suppose as long as you have a sense of thrift and self control, you’ll be fine. Plus, in the context of an oversea student, you get holidays of more than a month in duration and you can travel and you can skip one day of lectures to nip down to London… the list goes on and on. I suppose one of the reasons why I’m enjoying it so much is that I never had problems with my studies. Well, not big problems anyway. I was alright with SPM, I breezed through the IB and now I’m coping well with lectures. I don’t really experience one of the major causes of stress for students: academics. Maybe that’s why I’m so content and happy with the student life.

Which brings me to a major problem. I guess you can say that it’s not really a problem; it’s just in the mind. I was too complacent with my life that whenever I’m faced with something that reminds me of a life after graduating (i.e. the real world, where you get a job and such), I tend to get distressed. It’s like a reminder: ‘Well, tough. Life has been a smooth sailing for you and now that’s all gonna change’. This also explains why I took such a long time to prepare a CV. Everybody in my department is applying for summer internships and I thought, ‘Hey, I should too.’ But somehow, I really don’t feel like starting to write it.

Such an annoying mental snag.

Everything’s alright now. Well, mostly. I finished my CV some days ago and that removed a huge chunk of my distress away. One of those things that the more you progress in doing it, the less nervous you become. I’ve started applying to companies now, and I hope that by the time the interviews roll around, I will have stopped being so despondent and am actually looking forward to it. I think this also made me value the time I have now even more. After all, it will be less than two years now, and I won’t be able to do a lot of things that I can do now when that time comes.

On a more cheery note, I’ve made plans for the winter! Going travelling with some friends. Perks of being an oversea student in Europe, eh?


P.S. The ‘CV and Cover Letter’ book from Cambridge’s Career Service is a total lifesaver. I bow down to whoever compiled that thing.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Careers Fair

The Cambridge University Careers Service just organised a careers fair today. The event lasts for two days with different companies coming and explaining to us students about what they do, whether they’re recruiting and how to apply for jobs or, in my case, summer internship applications. Today’s fair is more oriented towards science, IT and engineering whereas tomorrow will be more about banking and finance so I went to today’s one. To tell the truth, in order to apply for summer internships they mostly just tell you to go to their website and fill an online form, so unless you’re really interested in what the companies’ representatives have to say or you want to ask them specific questions, there isn’t much point in going. With the exception, of course, for the freebies!

The different companies usually have some freebies like pens etc. that they give to people visiting their counter. Since I’m not the kind of person who visits every counter just to get the freebies unlike some people, I don’t get that much stuff. Still, after a day, this is what I ended up with.

Embarrassingly enough, I realised that amongst the free stuff, I’ve also brought this home. Drat! What on earth am I supposed to do with this?


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Guy Fawkes

Monday night was Guy Fawkes Night in the UK, which means one thing: fireworks!

Nevertheless, somehow this year I didn’t manage to enjoy it as much as previous years, probably because after two years of watching it they became a bit repetitive. Plus the fact that this is organised by the city council, so it can’t really compare with the May Ball fireworks or ones from cities like London. Still, it was good times. Had some cotton candy (this is probably the only time of the year that I’m eating something like that).


Friday, November 02, 2007

Sports stuff

One of the things I miss about AC is that it has its own outdoor and indoor pool so whenever I felt like swimming I just dragged a few friends and did some laps. Cambridge doesn’t have a university pool, unfortunately, so I finally decided to register with the local swimming pool. It can be quite crowded at times but at least it’ll satisfy my craving for swimming.

Oh yeah, have I ever mentioned that I only started learning how to swim when I arrived in the UK? It was good times, but was sort of a torture. I guess I’ll write a bit about it someday.

We just had our first UCCMixed (i.e. Cambridge 3rd team) match in the local league tonight. Two games overall, we lost the first one (that I didn’t join) and we won the second one (that I joined). Does that tell you anything, hee hee?

Well… actually, we played against different teams so you can’t draw any conclusions from that =(

I was told by one of my team mates that I have a very weird upper serve. This is confirmed by other people there. When he first saw it, he was like, ‘How’s that gonna go in?’ And then it came flying into the court. Honestly, I’ve never realised since I never watched myself play, and I don’t know whether having a weird serve is a good thing or not. I probably got the technique wrong or something.

Sorry for the shaky pictures. Were taken with my mobile phone when I was outside the court.


Thursday, November 01, 2007

My Cambridge Interview Experience

Okay, as promised, I think I’ll share a bit about my experience in having an interview in Cambridge. Unlike a lot of other universities that only have ‘interviews’ as in ‘we just want to see your face and have a chat’ session, in Cambridge you’ll need to expect a proper, serious interview. Only then will they decide on giving you an offer. Or not. Before I start, I just need to say that this is just my recount of my own interview, so it should by no means be treated as ‘a definitive guide to Cambridge interviews’ or something like that, since there are different types of interviews and I only know about my own. To clarify, I applied to Cambridge to do Chemical Engineering.

It started when I looked at the Cambridge prospectus to prepare for the application process. To tell the truth, with so many colleges being featured in there and they all seem pretty similar, the prospectus confused me a bit. Of course, at that time I knew nothing about the different colleges, which one is richer, bigger, more famous etc. etc. In the end, I just decided to choose a college that has the type of interview that I like: Trinity.

Pretty funny that even without prior knowledge, I end up in one of the richer, bigger and more famous of the lot.

Depending on the subject, some colleges have a normal interview, an interview with Thinking Skills Assessment or TSA (sort of like an IQ test in a way), or an interview with a technical test. I realised that my people and social skills are probably mediocre, average at best, so I ignored the normal interviews. My mock TSA test (they have a model of the test online) is around 60-ish %, not bad but definitely not outstanding so I ignored those too. That left me with the interview-with-test type, which is okay for me since I’m definitely comfortable with the technical test compared with just an oral interview. At least now I have something to fall back on when I screw up in the oral interviews by either:

a) failing to be eloquent and charming or

b) spewing complete crap when asked questions like ‘What can you contribute to Cambridge?’, ‘What are your strong points?’ and ‘Why do you think you want to study in Cambridge?’ or

c) (and this is what most people dread about Cambridge interviews) being utterly gobsmacked and speechless when asked questions like ‘What do you think about extra-terrestrials?’ or ‘If you could make up a word, what would it be?’ or some other bizarre questions of that nature.

So among the interview-with-test type colleges, I picked Trinity at random. My application was accepted and they asked me to go to Cambridge (since I was in the UK at the time) for my interview. That was in December 2004.

So I went there, stayed the night, and did the test the next day. It was a combination of physics, chemistry/material science and maths. The thing to remember here is that if you find the test hard, then you shouldn’t worry about it. They purposely made it so that you won’t be able to answer everything, and that’s for a reason which will be apparent later.

Some time after the test, I walked to the place where my dreaded oral interview is going to be held. I went in. There were two people: a woman who dyed her hair red and another blonde woman (I don’t know who the first person is but the second one is my current Head of Department and Director of Studies). I sat on the chair, and the interview began.

The good thing: they don’t ask me some mind boggling questions that you have to bullsh*t your way through i.e. situation (b) or (c). I think you can still get those kinds of questions though, even in an engineering course interview so it’s wise to be prepared anyway. The bad thing: lo and behold, they have the test answers that I wrote with them! So here’s the reason they make the test difficult: they go through your answers, and they note which questions you have difficulty with, and they ask you about them in the oral interview. Personally I think it’s kinda cruel. The purpose of this is so that by presenting a problem that you don’t know and giving you hints during the interview to guide you to the answer, they can see your thought process i.e. how you think to solve the problem. One of the questions that I couldn’t answer is about unit cells, which honestly is not in the IB syllabus and the only time I’ve encountered them was when I read Chemistry 9th edition by Prentice Hall. They have this crystal lattice model in front of me to demonstrate the unit cell and I swear I can feel the gears in my brain grinding as I try to work out the answer. Fortunately, I managed to solve it, and I think they were impressed. So am I, if truth be told.

There was a question which leads you to estimating the density of air. It began with ‘The weight of air in this room is about the same as half a dozen eggs…’ or something like that. Normally this is a killer question for me since I am horrendous at estimating things. I can’t guess the distance/weight/height of things without actually measuring it. However, I was proud of the answer that I gave: I basically ignored the question and wrote ‘Well, in the data book that I’ve read, the density of air to three s.f. is…’ and I put down the value. I think the interviewers had a laugh from it. Just to clarify things, no, I don’t go around memorising values in the data book. That would be stupid. I just did a number of physics questions some months before and since I had to look up the value a few times, it sort of sticks in my head. So I guess I’m just lucky.

Well, that’s the short (or long) of it. Hope I didn’t bore you. I got an offer afterwards asking for a 42 and 7,7,7 in higher subject. For those of you who are/were doing the IB, you’ll realise that this is a very cruel offer. Still, they’re Cambridge, so I guess they can afford to do that. So, the lesson? The interview’s just halfway. You still have to work hard afterwards to meet the offer.

That about sums it up, then. I usually stay in Cambridge in December so sometimes when I see the current interview candidates, some relaxed, and some nervous, unsure, waiting in anticipation… I can’t help smiling and be reminded of the time when I’ve been through what they’ll undoubtedly be going through. Can't help but wish them all the best either, since I know how challenging it can be. Good luck!