Cambridge's postgraduate pioneers

Postgraduate students at Cambridge walk in the footsteps of giants – Francis Crick, Elizabeth Blackburn, Stephen Hawking, Iris Murdoch and Eric Hobsbawm all pursued PhD research at the University.

I've worked with and learned from some of the brightest minds in the field and met so many inspiring people.

Olivia Remes, Cambridge Institute for Public Health
But as Cambridge prepares to welcome prospective students to its first Postgraduate Open Day on 2 November 2016, we catch up with eleven new generation thinkers who are already making exciting advances in a wide range of academic fields.
 
 
Olivia Remes, Cambridge Institute for Public Health
 
Olivia’s research focuses on mental disorders and draws on the European Prospective Investigation of Cancer (EPIC) study, one of the largest, European cohort studies looking at chronic diseases and the way people live their lives.
 
Olivia’s research has already attracted widespread interest. In a recent review of scientific literature published in the journal Brain and Behavior, Olivia revealed that women are almost twice as likely to experience anxiety as men. The study also found that people from Western Europe and North America are more likely to suffer from anxiety than people from other cultures. Olivia has also explored the relationship between deprivation and anxiety disorders.
 
Olivia said: "The University of Cambridge is a great place to study at, because it is committed to excellence in research and teaching, and is dedicated to inspiring innovation. I've worked with and learned from some of the brightest minds in the mental health field and met so many inspiring people. The college system also makes it easy to meet people from all over the world and make many friends - you feel like you are part of a community. I have enjoyed and continue to enjoy every moment here."
 

 

Jonny Hanson, Department of Geography
 
Jonny came to Cambridge from Northern Ireland and his research explores the relationship between people, snow leopards and snow leopard conservation in two protected areas in Nepal: the Annapurna Conservation Area and the Sagarmatha (Everest) National Park. Jonny is identifying the human factors which are both critical for and detrimental to snow leopard conservation, including assessing household conflict with snow leopards and conservation efforts. In particular, Jonny’s study examines how attitudes vary under the contrasting management regimes at his two field sites, as well as varying degrees of livelihood dependence on livestock. Jonny’s work in Nepal has included surveying 705 households and conducting seventy qualitative interviews with local people who share the mountains with snow leopards
 
Jonny said: “Cambridge offered me the opportunity to pursue my twin passions for big cats and livestock farming in what is arguably the best place to study conservation in the world. The unique interdisciplinary setting, crossing both academic boundaries and the divide between research and practice, also helped me to expand my own intellectual and personal horizons. I feel that my time at Cambridge has helped to prepare for me for a lifetime of promoting coexistence between people, other animals and the rest of nature.”

 
Rosie Freer, Department of Chemistry 
 
Rosie works in the Vendruscolo Laboratory which seeks to understand the molecular origins of neurodegenerative disorders, including the Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. In 2016, Rosie was the lead author in the discovery of a gene signature in healthy brains that echoes the pattern in which Alzheimer’s disease spreads through the brain much later in life. The findings could help uncover the molecular origins of this devastating disease, and may be used to develop preventative treatments for at-risk individuals to be taken well before symptoms appear.
 
Rosie said: “Taking the next step in my academic career and beginning a PhD at Cambridge was in some respects a daunting prospect, but my colleagues here have created a supportive and inspiring environment where I have been able to thrive. Even as a new member of my team, people took the time to listen to my ideas and help with my projects, which meant a great deal to me. From learning new languages to attending talks on fields I never even knew existed, Cambridge has broadened my horizons in many unexpected ways - the past few years have been an adventure which I am excited to continue on.”
 
 
Robert Green, Department of Earth Sciences 
 
Robert has studied at Cambridge at undergraduate (Natural Sciences), Masters and PhD level. He is now a Post-Doctoral Research Associate in Seismology at Cambridge. In 2014, as part of his PhD research, Robert assessed the tremors around Barðarbunga volcano at the start of Iceland’s biggest volcanic event for 200 years. This involved installing a seismic station just hours before the magma erupted at the surface.
 
Robert said: “Most people think of a volcano as being a large mountain where molten rock comes straight up from under the ground and erupts directly from the summit … but this one was different. Instead the molten rock moved 46 kilometres underground away from the volcano before it emerged in a completely different place. When it did, the eruption formed a curtain of fire the height of Big Ben.”
 
"My best experiences of research life in Cambridge have been how students were always seen as a central part of the group, rather than small cogs in the large machine. We were never allocated uninteresting side-projects to do, we were always central to the most active and exciting research ideas within the group. I was trusted to lead our fieldwork campaigns and make important decisions, and the vast range of skill I learnt from this, besides my scientific ones, have been absolutely invaluable."
 
Robert is now part of a team using the data collected in 2014 to investigate the process by which the Bárðarbunga-Holuhraun magmatic dyke fractured its way through country rock and how it came to the surface
 
 
Victoria Bartels, Faculty of History 
 
Victoria is working on masculinity, arms, armour, and the culture of warfare in Sixteenth-Century Italy and Germany. Victoria came to Cambridge after obtaining an MA in Italian Renaissance Art at Syracuse University and a position in the Valuations Department at Sotheby's, London.
 
Victoria’s research has already gained numerous plaudits, and raised some eyebrows along the way. In 2015, the Guardian newspaper revelled in Victoria’s work on the evolution and demise of the codpiece, as part of their coverage of the TV adaptation of Wolf Hall.
 
Victoria has also explored the vast archives of the Otto di Guardia, a powerful magistracy in Renaissance Florence. Weapons were prohibited in Florence in an effort to maintain peace but Victoria found that men often wrote to ask the Otto for permission to wear or carry, in public, banned weapons. Speaking at the 62nd Annual Meeting of the Renaissance Society of America in Boston, Bartels used this research to shine a light on the ways in which Renaissance men used weapons and armour in their daily lives to promote a masculine image.
 
Victoria said: "I chose Cambridge because I really admire the work of my supervisor, Professor Ulinka Rublack. Having the opportunity to work with her, in addition to the other historians and graduate students at the History Faculty made Cambridge the ideal place for doing my PhD. The Fitzwilliam Museum is another incredible asset to have on hand, as their rich collections are extremely useful for my field of study.”
 
 
Christopher Moore, Institute of Astronomy 
 
In 2015-16, Christopher was part of the LIGO Collaboration, an international discovery team which observed ripples in the fabric of spacetime called gravitational waves, arriving at the earth from a cataclysmic event in the distant universe. This confirmed a major prediction of Albert Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity and opens an unprecedented new window onto the cosmos
 
Christopher said: “This team has been looking for evidence of gravitational waves for decades – a huge amount of work has gone into it, and I feel incredibly lucky to be part of the team. This discovery will change the way we do astronomy.”
 
Christopher has since been involved in developing a new method for detecting and measuring one of the most powerful, and most mysterious, events in the Universe – a black hole being kicked out of its host galaxy and into intergalactic space at speeds as high as 5000 kilometres per second.
 
 
Alex Kendall, Department of Engineering
 
Alex came to Cambridge after studying mechatronics engineering at the University of Auckland, and is now a member of the Engineering Department’s Machine Intelligence Lab. Alex’s broad research interests lie in artificial intelligence, robotics, control, mechatronics, computer vision and related technologies. Alex is teaching machines to see and has helped design systems for driverless cars, using deep learning techniques, which can identify a user’s location and orientation in places where GPS does not function.
 
Alex said: "I came here because of the fantastic history of cutting-edge research. The resources are amazing and I have a brilliant supervisor - he has been the perfect mentor to get me started in the field. I've also had great support from my College and being at Cambridge has opened doors to present my research on the world stage."
 
 
Josephine Hughes, Sensor CDT team
 
An international team of Cambridge Masters students (including British, Chinese, Swiss and Italian members) recently published research with the potential to transform the lives of millions of older people around the world. As part of their Master of Research programme at the University’s EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Sensor Technologies and Applications last year, the ten students were given 12 weeks to develop an integrated suite of wireless devices to enable family members and carers to monitor the wellbeing of an older person, remotely and with minimal invasion of privacy.
 
Professor Clemens Kaminski, Director of the Sensor CDT, Cambridge said: “The team has made a genuine contribution to society by sharing the advances which it has made. The experience will stay with them for the rest of their careers.” 
 
Team member Josephine Hughes said: “The opportunities which Cambridge has offered have been phenomenal. In my masters, I had the unique opportunity to work on a team challenge with 10 other students from other disciplines to develop a full prototype of a wireless monitoring system.  This has led onto a PhD in Robotics, which is a fascinating research area, with opportunities to present at conferences, teach, supervise and work on a myriad of robots!”  
 
 
Olivier Grouille, Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS)
 
Olivier is examining key differences between French and British anti-jihadist counter-terrorism from 1975 to the present day. Drawing on a wide range of evidence, including interviews with senior figures in Government, the military, intelligence services and policing – in Britain, France and the United States – Olivier seeks to explain the complex internal and external drivers of French and British policy in this area. Central to Olivier’s work is an in-depth comparison of domestic and overseas approaches, relations with the United States, and relevant policy, legal, military, intelligence and policing aspects. Among other subjects, Olivier is examining the UK’s current use of drones in counter-terrorism and France’s reaction to recent lone wolf attacks at home.
 
Olivier said: “One of the greatest challenges I face is the speed with which the situation is changing in both countries. But this is also what drives me and makes the work so interesting. After studying languages at Cambridge as an undergraduate, I began a career as a defence and security professional. It’s great to come back to Cambridge to pursue my academic interest in this area – one of the key attractions for me was the flexibility and encouraging attitude at POLIS.  While there are other universities with impressive counter-terrorism specialismsPOLIS gives me access to a wide range of experts, including specialists in EU defence policy and the Middle East.” 
 
 
Markus Kunesch & Saran Tunyasuvunakool, Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP) 
 
Markus and Saran are both members of the Relativity and Gravitation research group in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics. They were recently part of a team of researchers, from Cambridge and Queen Mary University of London, which successfully simulated how a ring-shaped black hole could cause general relativity to break down. The pair helped show how a bizarrely shaped black hole could cause Einstein’s general theory of relativity, a foundation of modern physics, to break down. However, such an object could only exist in a universe with five or more dimensions. Ring-shaped black holes were ‘discovered’ by theoretical physicists in 2002, but this is the first time that their dynamics have been successfully simulated using supercomputers. Using the COSMOS supercomputer at the University of Cambridge, the researchers were able to perform a full simulation of Einstein’s complete theory in higher dimensions, allowing them to not only confirm that these ‘black rings’ are unstable, but to also identify their eventual fate.
 
 

Postgraduate study at the University of Cambridge

Cambridge’s postgraduate student body comprises more than 9,500 students and is more diverse than ever. Over half of Cambridge graduates come from outside the UK and the University offers more than 300 postgraduate courses across more than 50 Faculties, Departments and Centres.
 
More information about the Postgraduate Open Day on 2 November 2016.
 
A series of short films about Postgraduate Study at Cambridge is also available here.

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