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Relocating to Cambridge by Dr. Sukanya Data

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Over the years, I was fortunate to interact with mentors, well-wishers and friends who gave me valuable advice on various choices. I am extremely grateful to all those who supported me and were always available to guide me. I would like to do my bit and share whatever I learnt so far regarding my academic choices and decisions. As a first step, here is the blog post on relocating to Cambridge. This might be of interest to anyone planning to visit Cambridge or to pursue their doctoral studies at the University of Cambridge. 

My PhD journey started in October 2015 at the University of Cambridge, UK. I was super excited by the prospect of making it to Cambridge for my PhD. I boarded Air India from Indira Gandhi International airport on 29th September 2015, along with my friend who was also going to Cambridge for her doctoral studies. Air India offers the ‘Maharaja’ scheme which allows students departing from India to other foreign countries to carry extra luggage (Yippie!). This scheme could be opted only for flights leaving from India (and not vice-versa). This was helpful as I could carry more books under the Maharaja scheme. We boarded the flight late at night from Delhi and arrived at the London Heathrow International airport early morning. After completing the immigration checks at the airport, we boarded the National Express Coach from the airport terminal to go to Cambridge. It is a good idea to pre-book the coach tickets (keeping at least two hours in hand after the flight arrives at the London Heathrow airport) as time will be consumed in collecting luggage and completing other immigration formalities. Pre-booking coach tickets online also saves about £20 each way. I always find it useful to load the luggage on the trollies to after baggage claim. There are several coffee shops like Costa in the London Heathrow Lounge area to get a nice snack and warm coffee. For a coffee-person like me, I was naturally drawn to the aroma wafting from the store. It is also possible to book a cab to reach Cambridge from London Heathrow airport. It is good to pre-book the cab whenever possible because from my previous experience I can say that booking a taxi from the airport will be pricier than pre-booking. I would recommend Blackberry Cab Company as the prices have been the best so far, especially for airport hires. (Please note that I am in no way advertising or connected to Blackberry Cab Company! It was recommended to me by a friend.)

Going from the airport to Cambridge

The bus driver of the National Express Coach helped us to load our baggage in the bus and checked our tickets. We then boarded the bus and arrived in Cambridge in almost 3 hours. We got down at the Cambridge Bus Stop (the one that is next to the Parker’s Piece). Parker’s Piece is a green lush area in the Cambridge city centre. I had saved two or three cab numbers in my phone. The most popular cab companies in Cambridge are Panther and Camcab. As I did not have my UK telephone sim card, I had enough money in my India Vodafone sim card that enabled me to make a phone call to the cab company and get the taxi at the bus stop. My second back-up plan was to borrow a cell phone from a fellow passenger if I was not able to call the cab companies from my Indian phone number. But fortunately, recently since 2018, both the cab companies (Panther and Camcab) have launched their online app which enables the users to book the cab online (you just have to link your payment card so that the booking could be done). The app could be downloaded, and payment details could be pre-added from India itself. But in 2015, we did not have this app.

Living in Cambridge, first steps

At Cambridge, you are allotted to one of the 31 colleges of the University once you are accepted for your doctoral studies. In my case, my first college preference was Churchill College and I got that. Then the cab dropped me to the Churchill College. People are very helpful here and don’t shy away to take help. For example, in my case, I was unable to lift heavy baggage and hence I requested the cab driver to help me carry my luggage to the Porter’s lodge at Churchill. Every college has their own Porter’s lodge where students go and are greeted by friendly porters. Once you go there, you can collect your room keys and sign some forms and then voila, good to go! I asked the cab to wait for me as my residence was few blocks away from the Porter’s lodge. I was so excited to step into my room in the cottage. It was a beautiful cottage with a pebbled driveway in the front. The cottage had two floors. Each floor had a shared kitchen and shared washroom facilities. I was so thrilled to see my room as it was very spacious (18 m2) with a king size double bed and a large window overlooking the entrance of Fitzwilliam College. I had a nice basin as well inside the room. I was too tired on the first day to cook any meals. So, I went to the City Centre with my friend (who was with me from Delhi). We went to one of the most famous supermarkets (Sainsbury) in the City Centre at Sidney Street to buy essentials like bread, milk, jam, some utensils, orange juice and chicken wafers (for sandwiches). The City Centre looked amazing with all the narrow-cobbled streets around Sainsbury. By 8 pm, most of the shops got closed and the streets looked deserted (we joked that it is typical Cambridge to go to study early!). We then went to Nanna Mexico to have the ‘Big Ass’ burrito filled with guacamole, chicken and beans.


Next day, I went to my graduate administrator’s office at my college to complete the remaining formalities such as signing some papers, getting m­ore information about my course and most important ‘how to read and navigate the college map’! I collected my University ID card and used it to access my ‘Pigeon hole’ where we get our postal mails. ‘Pigeon hole’ is the Cambridge way of referring to one’s post-boxes in the mail-room. I was thrilled to visit my college on the first day. There was a lounge kind of an area commonly known as the ‘Buttery’ where hot drinks, snacks and other items such as milk and fruits were served. There was a nice sitting area around the Buttery full of colourful cosy sofas. Then there was this huge college dining hall upstairs where students, staff and visitors usually had their meals. Churchill has the largest dining hall out of all the colleges in Cambridge. It was the first time when I was introduced to the concept of English brunch comprising warm potato hash browns, bacon strips, roasted tomatoes, fried mushrooms, sausages/veg cutlets, poached or scrambled eggs, baked beans in tomato sauce and fried bread. Phew! That’s a lot. Further, the dessert accompaniments of this ideal lazy English brunch were usually warm pancakes drizzled with toffee sauce, maple syrup or honey and plain toasted waffles with hot chocolate sauce. There are several colleges in Cambridge which boast of great brunches such as Murray Edwards, Pembroke (for the warm excellent Sunday waffles), Queen’s and Darwin. But I guess my personal favourite was at Wolfson college where every Saturday at 12 noon, I used to have a hearty English brunch comprising two poached eggs, fried mushrooms, two hash browns, veg cutlet and two warm pancakes (or crumpets) laced with toffee sauce.  Yes, I remember all the menus vividly and distinctly! Wolfson College makes one of the best toffee sauces I’ve ever tasted. It is extremely smooth and silky, and the pancakes belong to a different league altogether with this excellent sauce.

After completing the necessary college formalities, the next things in my to-do list were to open a bank account, buy a sim card and most importantly a bicycle! Opening a bank account was relatively easier as the banks were not brimming with people and hence, I was able to open my account shortly in the bank. After this, I went to buy a bicycle. Being new to England, I was not aware of some of the popular websites/social media sites which people used to buy bicycles. Mind you, if you plan to stay in Cambridge for a couple of years, cycling will be a life-saving skill as it is quite useful to go around the city in a bike (better than the buses which are often unreliable). Some of the most common sites to buy a bike are ‘Gumtree’ and several groups on Facebook such as ‘Second-Hand bikes in Cambridge’. However, I went on to buy a brand-new bike! There are several shops in Cambridge which sell bikes. I went to the one at the Market Square as it is centrally located in Cambridge. When I went inside the shop, I saw a nice pale-yellow ladies’ bike with a nice basket which I liked immediately. I got the bike and the lock for a good price £225….it lasted me for about 5 years. Not a bad deal at all! The bike-seller warned me to always lock my bike when parking it as Cambridge is known for its notorious bike stealing thefts. I am happy to report that in all these years, I saved my bike from the theft. That reminds me that Market Square is also famous for several food stalls where people from different countries sell and it is an excellent opportunity to taste different cuisines. I am particularly fond of the Hong-Kong based food stall which sells fresh warm, hot noodles. The falafel wraps are also quite tasty filled with a rainbow of colourful vegetables like purple cabbage. Maybe in my next blog, I will describe some of my favourite eateries in Cambridge (will save it for now!). After the market square trip, I went to Grand Arcade (a mall in central Cambridge full of different shops) to purchase my sim card. There are many different companies available in the UK to buy sim cards such as Gif Gaf etc. But I am quite fond of the Lyca and Lebara phone plans given my good experience with Lyca in France. I went to the Carphone store in the Grand Arcade to buy a Lebara sim card plan. The staff at the Carphone store were very helpful and they helped me to activate my number. Soon, I had all the necessary things to be in the city: bank account, bicycle and phone sim card.