This guest post is by Dr Helen Bettinson (History 1982) Development Director at Fitzwilliam College.
What do the pelvic parasites of Richard III, 3D imaging in catalysts and the Old Testament have in common? They were all topics of conversation at High Table last week, when I had the pleasure of dining with three Fitzwilliam postgraduate students. Each spoke engagingly, with passion for her research topic, for yes, all three were female.
There has been much coverage in the media in recent weeks of the shocking findings of a Cambridge student survey on sexual harassment. It makes for upsetting reading and we must thank those who had the courage to speak out not only about very serious incidents but also the low-level day-to-day misogyny they encounter. Like my fellow Tutors, I take the matter of sexual bullying and assault very seriously.
But I’d like to remind us of the other face of university and college life, of the extraordinary opportunities for intellectual and personal ‘growth’ for both women and men. Our female students perform at the highest levels in sport, music and drama. They organise student committees and sit on college committees including Governing Body. Their views, energy and leadership are integral to the running of Fitzwilliam College. Just as importantly, they have fun!!
Looking across Cambridge, we are slow at converting women lecturers into professors, but our quota of female Heads of House has shot up. Here at Fitz we are very proud to have our first female Master – not because she is a woman, but because she was the strongest candidate in a very impressive field.
One of the reasons I love my job is the opportunity it gives me to meet not only the ambitious young women currently studying here, but also the inspiring slightly older (!) women who have passed through Fitz in previous decades. Recently I’ve met the most senior woman in the Treasury, the Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan police, an advisor to the Home Office on Gangs, the CEO of a City investment firm, a High Court Judge – plus teachers, doctors, academics, entrepreneurs, a novelist and an art curator. Cambridge can be a passport to fulfilling careers such as these, not because of the ‘old boys network’, but because it offers intellectual and personal challenges that help build confidence and ambition as well as equipping our young women with the skills needed to take them on.
As a Fitz alumna from one of the earliest intakes of women, it’s fantastic to see how far we’ve come in the thirty-five years since the College became mixed, and especially so at the postgraduate level. Talents are recognised and supported here, and in my twin roles as a Graduate Tutor and Development Director I’m proud to be a part of that.
Nicola Padfield MA, Dip Crim, DES became Master of Fitzwilliam College in October 2013. She is a Reader in Criminal and Penal Justice at the Law Faculty, University of Cambridge, and has been a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College since 1991.