This guest blog is written by Robyn Hardisty, current Fitz PhD student and MCR Treasurer.
The Foundation lecture this year was given by Professor Shankar Balasubramanian, and entitled ‘Decoding human genomes on a population scale’. Shankar, an alumnus of the College (Natural Sciences, 1985), is the Herchel Smith Professor of Medicinal Chemistry in the Department of Chemistry, and also leads a research group at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, which is based at the Addenbrooke’s campus. Shankar had a seminal role in the development of next-generation DNA sequencing, and has since gone on to be a world leader in the field of nucleic acid chemical biology. He also happens to be my boss! I am currently a second year PhD student in his group, so obviously the lecture was not to be missed and it was my pleasure to give the vote of thanks at the end.

Professor Balasubramanian and the Master.

Professor Balasubramanian and the Master.

Nicky’s introduction was, as always, highly entertaining. After having dug out Shankar’s College file, she was able to reveal a number of interesting facts about his student antics. While naturally being described as a very competent student, Shankar was also revealed to be both an enthusiastic DJ and College football player, while also heavily involved in university access for ethnic minorities.

Shankar’s lecture focused on the history of DNA sequencing, his role in the development of next-generation sequencing technology and the impacts this has had on modern medicine. Shankar managed successfully to engage a largely non-scientific audience, while still managing to slip in a few chemical structures or ‘hexagons’. From stimulating discussions with colleague Professor Klenerman in the pub, he revealed how the method flourished, leading to the development of a spin-out company and the first DNA sequence, among others, of the human cancer genome. With continual improvement of this sequencing platform, routine human genome sequencing can now be done for around $1000. This is only a very small fraction of the original cost it took to sequence the first human genome only a decade ago. The availability of low-cost sequencing has enabled us to enhance our understanding of DNA, and has and will continue to progress medicine and advance personalised healthcare.

The post-lecture reception in the Upper Hall.

The post-lecture reception in the Upper Hall.

After the lecture, there were some absolutely excellent questions and the discussion carried on throughout the evening. The reception following the lecture took place in the lovely Upper Hall, followed by a spectacular dinner – where credit is due to the Fitzwilliam catering team. I was lucky enough to be sat at high table, and was opposite the legendary chemist Stuart Warren. Warren was not only a great heterocyclic chemist, but co-authored an undergraduate textbook ‘Organic Chemistry’ which is cherished by all natural science undergraduates across the country. Warren, funnily enough, taught Shankar as an undergraduate, and really enjoyed being lectured by one of his former students.

Fitz PhD student Robyn Hardisty thanks the speaker.

Fitz PhD student Robyn Hardisty thanks the speaker.

Overall, the night was a great success and I was glad to be a part of it!

Nicola Padfield

About Nicola Padfield

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.

Posted in Master's blog

51v4YAO6uRLA couple of years ago I read Guy Standing’s intriguing book The Precariat: the new dangerous class (2011). It made a lot of sense to me: a terrifying number of people live and work precariously, on the edge, with very short-term jobs, and no stable social protection. Standing gives many examples of the exploitation of this ‘underclass’ and points out (obviously enough) that ‘the precariat’ risk producing new instabilities in society. They are increasingly frustrated and ‘dangerous’ because they have no voice (and are thus, for example, vulnerable to the calls of political and religious extremists). Standing tries to identify a new kind of ‘good society’, with the state providing for example, an unconditional basic income for everyone. To me, it was a depressing but convincing read. I suppose I then forgot about using this new label (though not the issue, of course). I should probably have read his more recent book: A Precariat Charter: from denizens to citizens (2014). This year’s equivalent bestseller may be Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st century (which the Economist tells me, somewhat surprisingly, has been read more in English than in the original French).

I was then invited to take part this week in a conference hosted by colleagues in the University of Poitiers, France on “Franco-British perspectives on precariousness: principle(s) – law(s) – practice(s)”. Lizzie Richardson, Bye Fellow in Fitz led me to a bit more reading: I was particularly impressed by Louise Waite’s explanation of the subject for geographers in Geography Compass. Precariousness is not only a condition but also, as she says, a “point of mobilization” in response to that condition. Clearly in France, and elsewhere in Europe, the concept of ‘la précarité’ has been co-opted to argue for more social and economic justice, what Louise Waite calls a “possible rallying point for resistance”. Precarity is both a description, and a political tool. Read more…

Nicola Padfield

About Nicola Padfield

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.

Posted in Guest posts

“During my week the serious is barred; no business allowed. Drinking, noise and games and dice, appointing of kings, feasting of slaves, clapping of frenzied hands … Such are the functions over which I preside.” — Saturn in Lucian’s Saturnalia

This double guest post comes from Bursar Andrew Powell, and Sophie Clarke, student President of the Ball Committee.


Programme cover

Programme cover

Andrew Powell: Thursday 4 December was the night of the biennial Fitzwilliam Winter Ball – our answer to the May Ball season. My wife and I attended on ‘Cinderella’ tickets which expire at midnight – too old to last the pace now, but good to feel a part of it. We enjoyed the Footlights, Neptune’s Maze, the Casino in The Grove and the music. Unlike others we didn’t have the nerve to be spun at high speed in the Round Up ride and sadly we couldn’t get in to hear headline act the Hoosiers. The pork burgers, crêpes and chocolate fountains were good consolation. Read more…

Nicola Padfield

About Nicola Padfield

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.